Miss Arendt, said Mr. Laqueur in his review of Jacob Robinson’s book And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight (NYR, Nov. 11) “had stumbled on what seemed a hornets’ nest but is in fact a very intricate and painful problem.” This sentence would be true if it read: “She stumbled on what in fact was a hornets’ nest because she had touched upon what seemed an intricate problem and is indeed a painful one.”
Reviewing Robinson’s “full-scale attempt to refute” my report of the Eichmann trial, Mr. Laqueur was so overwhelmed by his author’s “eminent authority” that he thought it superfluous to acquaint himself with the subject under attack. He accepts Mr. Robinson’s basic distortion, contained in the subtitle of his book, “The Jewish Catastrophe and Hannah Arendt’s Narrative,” which implies that I recounted part of “Jewish contemporary history,” while in fact I have criticized the prosecution for taking the Eichmann Trial as a pretext for doing just that. (Needless to say, I would never have gone to Jerusalem if I had wanted to write a book on “contemporary Jewish history.”) Mr. Laqueur believes that I asked “why was there not more active resistance” among the Jews, while it was the prosecution that had brought up this question; I had reported this incident and dismissed the question twice as “silly and cruel, since it testified to a fatal ignorance of the conditions of the time” (pp. 11 and 283 of the second edition). He claims that I have been unaware of the “particular vulnerability” of the Jewish communities in the face of organized persecution, whereas I actually have enumerated these vulnerabilities—no territory, no government, no army, no government in exile, no weapons, no youth with military training (p. 125). He insists that I “argue that justice was not done in Jerusalem,” while I actually argue that despite a number of carefully enumerated irregularities, the very opposite of “countless” ones, justice was done insofar as the trial’s “main purpose—to prosecute and to defend, to judge and to punish Adolf Eichmann—was achieved,” a passage even quoted in Robinson’s book.
Nowhere did I say, as Mr. Laqueur claims, that “Eichmann was hanged…by the wrong court and for the wrong reasons,” or that “irreparable harm was done to the rule of law.” On the contrary, I justified the competence of the court and the kidnapping of the accused (pp. 259-265) and stated that the trial in Jerusalem was “no more, but also no less, than the last of the numerous Successor Trials which followed the Nuremberg Trials.” Finally, Mr. Laqueur—knowing neither my book nor the trial in Jerusalem—believes that I attacked the court proceedings as a whole, whereas what I attacked was the prosecution. (The conflict between bench and prosecution ran like a red thread through the proceedings; I reported it, and sided in nearly all cases with the bench—which was rather common among the members of the press.) Had Mr. Laqueur been at all familiar with the subject matter, he would not have been so naive as to identify “betrayal and collaboration,” for the whole point of the matter is that the members of the Jewish Councils as a rule were not traitors or Gestapo agents, and still they became the tools of the Nazis. (The distinction was made by the witnesses for the prosecution; if the members of the Jewish Councils had been scoundrels, there would be no “problem,” let alone a “painful and intricate” one.)
After misinforming the reader about the subject matter of my book, Mr. Laqueur proceeds to enumerate my opponent’s “formidable credentials.” He deplores that Mr. Robinson’s name is not well known among “students of political science,” which is true, and not “one to conjure with in literary circles,” which is untrue: Since the appearance of my book, Mr. Robinson’s name has become famous, particularly in New York’s literary circles, and especially among writers for Partisan Review and Dissent. Paralleling the publisher’s blurb, Mr. Laqueur draws attention to this “eminent authority on international law” and assures us that “his standing is high among students of contemporary Jewish history” (something of a let-down, for the publisher had claimed eminence for this field as well). He rounds out the picture with praise of “unrivalled mastery of the sources,” “great erudition,” and “aweinspiring,” “almost obsessive” scholarship. Finally, he tells us what Mr. Robinson’s present position is: He “coordinates research between the various institutes devoted to the study of the Jewish catastrophe” (“throughout the world,” as the publisher has it), but he does not tell us what these institutes are. Are they too numerous to be enumerated? Hardly. They are the Yivo (the Yiddish Scientific Institute) in New York, the Wiener Library in London, the Centre de Documentation Juive in Paris, and Yad Washem in Jerusalem. There are reasons not to be too specific in these matters. Mr. Laqueur himself, the reviewer of Mr. Robinson’s book, is Director of Research in one of the co-ordinated research centers, the Wiener Library.
In view of the recent vintage of Mr. Robinson’s “eminent authority” Mr. Laqueur’s information is deplorably vague. Let us see whether we can help the reader. Since Mr. Laqueur so closely follows publishers’ blurbs, we may note that in 1960 when Mr. Robinson’s last book was published, the jacket did not yet know that he was either “eminent” or an “authority.” Then, in the summer of 1963, a couple of months after the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem, he wrote a propaganda pamphlet for the (Bnai Brith’s) Anti-Defamation League, called Facts, directed against my book. The change in his worldly fortunes was sudden and radical. While on earlier publishers’ jackets he was mentioned as “special consultant on Jewish Affairs” at the Nuremberg Trial, he was now described as “special consultant” tout court—obviously a much greater distinction for an “authority” on international law, especially if one is aware of the minor role the crime against the Jewish people had played at Nuremberg. These still rather modest beginnings—compared to his present status—show already that, while Mr. Robinson recently acquired a number of startlingly new qualities, he also lost a few which up to then had been his very own. Nowhere are we any longer told that Mr. Robinson’s specialty is “Minorities Problems,” that he founded the Institute of Jewish Affairs, sponsored by the American and World Jewish Congress, where, with the exception of an article on the United Nations, all of Mr. Robinson’s contributions since 1940 appeared, and, most surprisingly, nowhere in Mr. Laqueur’s review is there any mention at all of Mr. Robinson’s very important role in Jerusalem. In the A.D.L. pamphlet, the reader is still told of his having been “a special consultant to the prosecution of the Eichmann trial,” on the jacket of the present book he merely “advised the Israeli on questions of documentation and law”—no special connection with the prosecution any longer!—whereas in fact, and according to the Israeli press handouts, giving “brief biographies” of the team of prosecutors, “Dr. Jacob Robinson” ranked directly after Gideon Hausner, the Attorney General, and was then followed by two Deputy State Attorneys; hence, Mr. Robinson was second in importance for the prosecution only to the Attorney General himself. From which one may conclude that Mr. Robinson had a personal interest in “prosecuting” me for a change, and in defending the case for the prosecution. It was, in fact, his own case.
Since Mr. Laqueur believes that the core of the conflict between Mr. Robinson and myself consists of the antagonism of “professional historians” and “amateurs…eager to write a roman à thèse,” he may be surprised to learn that prior to 1963 Mr. Robinson was not a historian—the Israeli trial authorities correctly mention his training as a lawyer—and that the present book, published in cooperation with the Jewish Publication Society, is in fact his first venture into the field of Jewish history. The best way to settle this difficult question of who is the amateur and who the professional is perhaps to consult the Guide to Jewish History Under Nazi Impact, a bibliography covering all languages, including Hebrew and Yiddish, published under the coauthorship of the late Philip Friedman and Jacob Robinson by the Yivo and Yad Washem in 1960. There, Mr. Robinson appears with two entries: a short preface to a book by Boris Shub (1943) and a five-page study on “Palestine and the United Nations” (1947), a subject totally unrelated to the question that came up during the Eichmann trial. But most surprising of all, at that time Mr. Robinson must have thought that I was much more a “professional” than he himself, for I appear there with four items, one of them a book more substantial and relevant to modern Jewish history and to the period in question than anything by the two authors.
Shortly after the appearance of my book, Mr. Robinson said he had found “hundreds of factual errors”—four hundred, to be exact, a figure which he later upped to six hundred. However, upon closer inspection it turned out that these were miscalculations; the number of mistakes can be counted only by the number of words I used. This would make it rather difficult to reply under all circumstances but is actually the least of the difficulties. Mr. Laqueur is vaguely aware of certain shortcomings in Mr. Robinson’s book; he ascribes them to a refusal to think, to “pause for reflection between footnotes,” and it is indeed true that the greatest difficulty in dealing meaningfully with this book is its complete lack of consistent argument or point of view. To be sure, Mr. Robinson has one overriding interest, namely, to contradict me line by line, and one overriding ambition, namely, to display his “erudition.” But while the former led him more often than not into a kind of super-quibbling the like of which I never saw in black and white (when I say: “According to international law, it was the privilege of the sovereign German nation to declare to be a national minority whatever part of its population it saw fit,” he replies: no, not at all, except that “there is no prohibition…in international law to declare part of a population a national minority,” p. 73), the latter tempted him into filling countless pages with complete irrelevancies—as for instance a four-page excursion into Hungarian history, complete with “basic sources,” though all his facts could be found in a one-volume Encyclopedia of World History. This is no proof of scholarship but of its very opposite.
In addition to these difficulties, the book displays in all innocence a total unawareness of the most common distinctions in the historical sciences. Such questions as: How many Jews lived in Rome in 1943? (Mr. Robinson’s figure, taken from the year 1925, is certainly too high.) When did the Hitler regime become fully totalitarian? (Mr. Robinson actually believes that this can be found out by consulting a Zeittafel, a chronological enumeration of events.) Are there connections between the Final Solution and the earlier euthanasia program? (Gerald Reitlinger, as I stated, has proved these connections “with documentary evidence that leaves no doubt”; Mr. Robinson prefers to ignore my statement as well as Reitlinger’s evidence, simply ascribing the discovery of these connections to me and claiming that they did not exist.) All these and many more questions are treated on exactly the same level, or rather they are reduced to the level of the first question, an isolated fact which, to be established, needs neither the context of a story nor the support of interpretation nor the judgment of the reporter.
Clearly, the number of “mistakes” one can discover in any book with the help of Mr. Robinson’s extraordinary methods is staggering. And we have by no means exhausted them yet. Mr. Robinson belongs among the happy few who are psychologically color blind; they see only black and white. Hence, when I described Eichmann as not at all stupid and yet entirely thoughtless, or point out that on the basis of the evidence he was not an inveterate liar and yet lied occasionally, and then proceed to give some instances where he actually lied, Mr. Robinson is firmly convinced that these are “contradictions,” “hopping back and forth,” in his inimitable jargon. Needless to say, my “contradictions” are almost as countless as my “mistakes.” All these methodological difficulties, however, which perhaps can be excused in a book written by a lawyer and meant to restate a prosecutor’s case, are overshadowed by a truly dazzling display of sheer inability to read.
In his Preface, Robinson charges me with “misreading” documents and books, and on page 2 of his book he starts to pile up examples of what he understands by reading and what by misreading, until at the end one finds oneself overwhelmed by a unique embarras de richesse. There are first the endlessly repeated instances in which Eichmann’s words, often given by me in indirect discourse and sometimes even in quotation marks, are misread for direct discourse of the author. Thus quoting from a passage, which is introduced in the original by “According to the version [Eichmann] gave at the police examination” and is liberally sprinkled with clear indications of indirect discourse (“as he saw it,” etc.), Mr. Robinson writes: “According to Miss Arendt, the story of Adolf Eichmann is a ‘bad luck story if there ever was one.’ ” But even when I quote verbatim from the police examination, in which Eichmann had described his visit to Auschwitz to meet Mr. Storfer and said: ” ‘We had a normal human encounter,’ ” and conclude the episode by saying, “Six weeks after this normal human encounter, Storfer was dead,” Mr. Robinson thinks that I “considered it a ‘normal human encounter.”‘ And since he apparently wrote his book without consulting the “primary sources,” namely the trial proceedings, he can write, “In the face of what she says [Eichmann] referred to ‘a cross-examination that lasted longer than any known before,’ ” completely unaware of the fact that Eichmann (in the 106th session) had said literally: “Above all I wish that…my sons can say…’Please, he was in the longest cross-examination that ever was known…”‘
Another difficulty with Mr. Robinson’s strange reading habits comes to light whenever he accuses me of not offering “explanation” or “support” for my statements. In all these instances he would have had to turn the page, and in some instances a couple of pages, to find lengthy explanations, and while he may find this too complicated because he seems incapable of remembering what he read only a few short sentences before, it is, unfortunately, indispensable for reading books or documents. Thus he can for instance quote me correctly on one page: “To a Jew this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story,” and then on the very next page reply: “The destruction of six million Jews—not ‘the role of the Jewish leaders’—is the ‘darkest chapter’ of Jewish history,” as though he never read the qualifying clause. The difference between what I said and what Mr. Robinson makes me say is the difference between “patriotism”—“that wrong done by my own people naturally grieves me more than wrong done by other peoples,” as I put it in my reply to Gershom Scholem (Encounter, January 1964)—and a monstrous lie. And the alternative to assuming Mr. Robinson’s inability to read would be to charge him with character assassination. However, the alternative of bad faith is difficult to entertain in view of the fact that Mr. Robinson’s difficulties with sentence structure occasionally work against his own interest. Thus he begins his treatment of “Behavior of the Victims” (p. 187 ff.) by ascribing to me a description which was taken, word for word, from the Attorney General’s examination of witnesses during the 22nd session and was quoted by me for the deliberate purpose of denouncing Mr. Hausner’s attack on these survivors. Since Mr. Robinson honestly believes he denounces me and not his colleague, he finds now what he failed to discover when he advised him, i.e., that this “picture contrasts radically with reality,” which, of course, was my whole point to begin with.
Mr. Laqueur found in Mr. Robinson’s book a few inconsequential mistakes and believes that more could be found by “a team of researchers.” Actually, the book abounds in monumental errors, of which I can give here only two representative examples. The first concerns the Nazi legal system, a clear understanding of which was of course of the greatest importance for the Jerusalem trial. The second deals with the widespread anti-Semitism in Europe prior to Nazi occupation, because this was an important contributing factor to the success of the Final Solution.
- The discussion of the Nazi legal system occurs on pp. 274-276 of Robinson’s book, and only after having read these pages did it dawn upon me that the case for the prosecution had been presented in honest ignorance of it. That this legal system was actually criminal did not make it any less “legal” for those who lived in the country. Robinson obviously never heard of the famous Nazi slogan, Führerworte haben Gesetzes Kraft, “the Führer’s words have the force of law,” because he does not recognize it in the English paraphrase. Hence, he does not know that the Führer’s orders, whether given orally or in writing, “canceled all written law” (Hans Buchheim). He therefore believes that the sections in the German ‘Criminal Code dealing with murder made Hitler’s order “illegal,” and is in doubt “whether [the order for the Final Solution] emanated from Hitler or Himmler” (p. 371). Only a “specialist,” as Mr. Laqueur would put it, can judge how fantastic this doubt is. That many of these orders were secret is a matter of course, but this by no means prevented them from being legally binding, because, contrary to what Mr. Robinson thinks, promulgation was not “the very essence of the binding force of law” in Nazi Germany; he simply does not know that there exist five fat volumes of Verfügungen, Anordnungen, Bekanntgaben (Decrees, Ordinance, Notices) which regulated very important areas in the life of the German people and still were classified as “top secret.” (Four of these volumes, published by the Parteikanzlei, are available in the archives of the Hoover Library.) In short, the order for the Final Solution was binding law in Nazi Germany because Germany had become a criminal state, and nothing could be more preposterous than to assert that it “constituted nothing but an illegal secret promise of the Führer of immunity from prosecution.”
- In my discussion of the situation in the Netherlands, I stated that “the prewar Dutch government had officially declared [Jewish refugees] to be ‘undesirable’.” Mr. Robinson declares categorically as usual: “This never happened,” because he never heard of the circular letter, issued by the Dutch government on May 7, 1938, in which refugees are declared to be “undesirable aliens.” I would not have mentioned this if it were merely a factual error, but the point of the matter is that the attitude of the Dutch government was only more outspoken than that of other European countries. Refugees, and especially Jewish refugees, were “undesirable” all over Europe, and Mr. Robinson tries in all instances to present the situation of Jews in Europe prior to the Nazi occupation in rosy colors. (His only exception to the rule is Italy where anti-Semitic legislation actually was enacted, in 1938, only under pressure from Berlin—the evidence is too well known to be quoted. For reasons best known to Mr. Robinson, I suddenly stand accused of “whitewashing Mussolini.”) The rampant Jew-hatred in Eastern Europe and the rapidly growing anti-Semitism in Western Europe can be interpreted and explained in many different ways, but there is no doubt about the extent to which it facilitated later Hitler’s Final Solution. This attempt to deny the historical truth is especially noticeable in Mr. Robinson’s discussion of Rumania. The drift of his argument is to accuse me of “minimizing German influence in Rumania’s Judenpolitik,” and to deny, in the face of all evidence, that Rumania, in the words of Reitlinger, was the “nation which began its deportations to Russia before Hitler had even given the signal, but which was constrained…through jealousy of the Germans.” Mr. Robinson, because of his mistaken notions about scholarship, despises standard works (which explains, incidentally, why he is at a loss to find out how I “know” that Hitler thought Antonescu to be more “radical” than the Nazis (p. 362); I cited a famous remark of Hitler to Goebbels, well known to all “professionals”); he prefers to base his presentation on an admittedly highly “selective” (lückenhafte) collection of documents, prepared for the trial by the United Restitution Organization, a group established to press Jewish claims against Germany; it includes a research department whose raison d’être is of course to “prove” that all initiative during this period came from Berlin, and therefore to “minimize” indigenous anti-Semitism.
A major part of Mr. Robinson’s book is devoted to “Jewish Behavior in the Face of Disaster,” which in my book played a minor role. Even the admiring Mr. Laqueur thinks that this chapter is the most disappointing of Robinson’s book. And it is true that much of its space is wasted on proving what nobody ever doubted—namely, that the Jewish Councils were established by the Nazis—as well as on a thesis that no one at all familiar with concentration and extermination camps will ever believe—namely, that there was no deliberate and infernal blurring of the line between victims and executioners. In the center of these sections are the Jewish Councils, and Robinson’s main thesis is expressed in two sentences: First, “Legally and morally, the members of the Jewish Councils can no more be judged accomplices of their Nazi rulers than can a store owner be judged accomplice of an armed robber to whom he surrenders his store at gunpoint” (p. 159, italics added). The worst reproach one could level at the Jewish Councils would indeed be to accuse them of disposing of Jewish lives and properties as though they owned them, and no one to my knowledge has ever dared to go that far before Mr. Robinson, with his inability “to pause for reflection,” appeared on the scene. And since he cannot remember what he wrote on p. 159 when he comes to p. 223, we hear, second, that whoever “accepted appointment to a Council…did so as a rule out of feeling of responsibility,” hence was by no means forced at gunpoint. Mr. Robinson’s second thesis has become common property among writers for the Jewish Establishment. The first thesis had a certain success in New York’s literary circles, partly, to be sure, because they knew absolutely nothing of the whole issue, but partly also, I am afraid, because of a moral obtuseness which Mary McCarthy very pointedly exposed in Partisan Review. (No one, of course, ever combined the two before for obvious reasons.)
This moral obtuseness (like tone deafness) is actually the most alarming aspect of the whole book. Mr. Robinson quotes endlessly from announcements and deliberations of the Judenräte, one more terrible than the next, and then mentions—as though this was no more than one among many legitimate opinions—an instance in which the rabbinate intervened and told the Judenrat in Vilna “that he had no right to select Jews and deliver them to the Germans” in accordance with the old prescription: If the Gentiles should tell you ” ‘give us one of yours and we shall kill him, otherwise we shall kill all of you,’ they should all be killed and not a single Jewish soul should be delivered.” At this point, not knowing what he is doing, Mr. Robinson raises one of the most disturbing “problems” of the whole issue, a problem I had been careful not to raise because it was not raised at the trial and therefore was not my business: the conduct of the European rabbinate during the catastrophe. It seems there was not one Rabbi who did what Dompropst Bernhard Lichtenberg, a Catholic priest, or Propst Heinrich Grüber, a Protestant minister, had tried to do—to volunteer for deportation.
These are serious and even terrible questions, and neither the present unanimity of Jewish official opinion nor any “coordination” of research will be able to prevent independent scholars from asking them and trying to find an answer. The greatest weakness of this unanimity is that it is of so very recent origin. History textbooks used in Israeli schools abound in the most extreme opinions on Jewish behavior; generally they are as unable to distinguish between the behavior of the victims and the conduct of the Jewish leadership as Mr. Hausner was when he questioned his witnesses. He complained about the lack of Jewish resistance in general terms because this was “a popular view among many Israeli writers,” who held that “Hitler was helped in exterminating all European Jews by appeasement tactics of Jewish leaders,” and because “Jews went to their death like sheep to slaughter.” (See Mark M. Krug’s “Young Israelis and Jews Abroad—a Study of Selected History Textbooks,” in Comparative Education Review, October 1963.)
Naturally, I know much more about this issue today than when I wrote my book and could only be marginally concerned with it. My insufficient knowledge of the intricacies of the problem came out in many letters from survivors, and the most knowledgeable and interesting one came from a colleague of mine who was in Hungary under the Nazi occupation and in Israel during the Kastner trial. (Rudolf Kastner had been the most prominent member of the Hungarian Judenrat.) He said that I was in error when I wrote “that Kastner was murdered by Hungarian survivors,” that “during the trial it came out that out of the four or five accused…there was only one who was not at one time or another in the service of the Israeli Security Service,” though “none of them was actually in the Service at the time of the murder.” And he told me, what I had not known, that “the Government did everything in its power to support Kastner. The reason for this, apart from the dirty-linen argument, was that there was and is a strong link between the Establishment is Israel and the leadership which was in charge in Europe during the war.” (Kastner was of course a case in point; at the time of his trial he was a high public officer in Israel although his role in Hungary was known to everybody.) This, and nothing else, makes the problem “intricate” in addition to “painful,” for it won’t be possible to elucidate it until the archives of the respective Jewish organizations have been opened.
To anyone willing and able to read, the result of Mr. Robinson’s long labors will look like a prime example of a non-book. But this is not to deny that its author is “formidable” and “aweinspiring.” It is formidable that the book found two respectable publishers and was reviewed in respected magazines; and it is awe-inspiring that for years now, simply on his having said so, the news has echoed around the globe that my book contained “hundreds of factual errors” and that I had not written a trial report but “scrutinized the data concerned with the Nazi extermination of European Jewry”—as a student paper recently put it, without, of course, meaning any harm. Even apart from these spectacular successes, how could anybody deny the formidableness of a man who represented the government of Israel, and thus can count upon its unflinching support, together with its consulates, embassies, missions, etc. throughout the world, is backed by both the American and the World Jewish Congress, by Bnai Brith, with its powerful Anti-Defamation League and student organizations on all campuses, and who has four coordinated research institutes at his beck and call?
And these are merely the organizations in whose name Mr. Robinson has the right to speak. To them we must add his allies, also international in scope, though perhaps a shade less powerful. They are best represented by Dr. Siegfried Moses—State Comptroller of Israel now in retirement, President of the Leo Baeck Institute, with headquarters in Jerusalem, New York, and London, and on the board of the Council of Jews from Germany, with branches in the United States, Israel, Europe, and South America—who wrote me (in a letter in German, dated March 3, 1963) that he had come to New York with a draft statement against Raul Hilberg’s book, to be published by the Council of Jews from Germany, but that now he had to send me “a declaration of war” instead. (The Council did indeed publish a protest on March 12 against Hilberg and me, and it was considerably less than an act of war: it defended the activities of the Nazi-established Reichsvereinigung by citing the work done by its predecessor, the independent Rcichsvertretung, which was not under attack; admitted that Jewish “leaders and officials” had given “technical assistance in the execution” of Nazi orders; claimed “secret resistance” for which “no documentary evidence existed”; and finally mentioned a single known case where “Nazi orders had not been fully carried out” [italics added]—all of which, of course tended to prove my point.)
I do not know to what extent Moses, a high Israeli government official, was instrumental in measures taken by the Israeli government; the first reaction of the Israeli press to my book had been sympathetic: the Jerusalem Post printed a friendly report from its correspondent; Haaretz published long excerpts; and the Schocken Publication House asked for, and then cancelled, an option on the Hebrew edition. I was informed by reliable Israeli sources that Ben-Gurion himself had intervened to change this atmosphere. However, I am reasonably sure that Dr. Moses’s “war” consisted not in the harmless declaration of the Council but in organizing attacks by former functionaries of German-Jewish organizations who are now dispersed all over the world.
The “war” in America, at any rate, preceded by no friendly declaration, began on March 11, 1963, when the Anti-Defamation League sent out its first Memorandum—from Arnold Forster to all Regional Offices, National Commissions, and National Committees—informing them of the article series in The New Yorker, and stating its fear that my “concept about Jewish participation in the Nazi holocaust…may plague Jews for years to come“. (italics added). This was followed two weeks later by another Memorandum, which summed up the articles in five sentences and recommended this summary to “book reviewers and others when the volume appears.” The points to be attacked were as follows:
- “That Eichmann was, as he himself claimed, only a small cog in the extermination machine.” (Not even Eichmann, let alone I, had ever claimed this. It was the thesis of the Defense.)
- “That the trial did not fulfill an original Israeli Government hope—enlarging international law to include the crime of racial and religious [?] genocide.” (Just plain nonsense; no one had accused the Israeli Government of not fulfilling a non-existent promise.)
“That the Eichmann trial was little more than a legal circus.” (I never thought or said so, but this was indeed a wide-spread opinion, shared incidentally by quite a number of old and trusted Zionists: Martin Buber told me in Jerusalem that the trial was part of “Ben-Gurion’s policies of panis et circenses,” and a well-known Jewish journalist wrote me (in August, 1963): “No one can seriously question that the trial was a political and not a juridical act”—firmly believing, incidentally, that this was my opinion too!)
“That the Jewish victims of the holocaust in Nazi Europe failed, by and large, to resist the final solution,” which was, as I said before, the point insisted upon by the prosecutor.
“That Europe’s Jewish organizations, in the main, played a ‘disastrous role’ by cooperating with the Nazi extermination machine. As a result, the Jews, themselves, bear a large share of the blame for the murder of millions of their kinsmen killed by the Nazis.” (In other words, as everybody soon knew and repeated, my “thesis” was that the Jews had murdered themselves.)
This summary was then once more summed up for the press by Gideon Hausner himself: According to the New York Daily News (May 20, 1963), he “flew here to answer Hannah Arendt’s bizarre defense of Eichmann in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. The author would have you believe that Eichmann really wasn’t a Nazi, that the Gestapo aided Jews, that Eichmann was actually unaware of Hitler’s evil plans. The record, to the contrary, that Eichmann shipped 434, 351 Jews to the Auschwitz gas chamber.” (One really would like to know how Mr. Hausner arrived at this figure.)
Those who are familiar with the ensuing “controversy” will know that four of the A.D.L.’s five sentences were used from then on by almost every reviewer, just as Mr. Forster had suggested it, as though, in Mary McCarthy’s telling phrase, they came out of a “mimeographing machine,” which in fact they did, although it must be admitted that, apart from colleague Robinson, only Michael Musmanno, in The New York Times, reflected fully Hausner’s line. (With the result that the Jewish Center Lecture Bureau of the National Jewish Welfare Board recommended him to Jewish communities all over the country.)
Mr. Robinson’s present book is only the last, the most elaborate, and the least competent variation of this “image” of a posthumous defense of Eichmann, a book that no one ever wrote but of whose reality even people who had read my book became convinced and under this stupendous barrage, quickly changed their minds. It is in the nature of such campaigns that they gain in momentum and viciousness as they proceed. (A.D.L.’s first communication still stressed that mine was an “otherwise masterful report,” that “Dr. Arendt is a recognized scholar,” “a person of eminent respectability”—characterizations which must make them shudder today if ever they consult their old files.) This is due to the fact that the more successful the image-makers are the more likely they are to fall victim not only to their own fabrication but to its inherent logic. The image they had created was that of an “evil book”; now they had to prove that it was written by an “evil person.” When this happened there were still quite a few Jewish functionaries who thought that things had gone too far. Thus, I received a letter from an officer of the United Restitution Organization—on whose help Mr. Robinson so heavily relied—telling me that he could only “shake his head in uneasiness” when he read the “very vicious [gehässige] discussion, especially in the whole Jewish press” (mentioning, incidentally, the “New York Times and the London Observer“), and he singled out the articles “of Syrkin, Steiner, Nehemiah Robinson, Jacob Robinson, etc.” This was in July 1963; a few months later, this communication would have been impossible.
No one will doubt the effectiveness of modern image-making, and no one acquainted with Jewish organizations and their countless channels of communication outside their immediate range will underestimate their possibilities in influencing public opinion. For greater than their direct power of control is the voluntary outside help upon which they can draw from Jews who, though they may not be at all interested in Jewish affairs, will flock home, as it were, out of age-old fears (no longer justified, let us hope, but still very much alive) when their people or its leaders are criticized. What I had done according to their lights was the crime of crimes: I had told “the truth in a hostile environment,” as an Israeli official told me, and what the A.D.L. and all the other organizations did was to hoist the danger signal. At this moment, all those among us who still think “their honor precarious, their liberty provisional…their position unstable” feared that “the days of funeral disaster when the majority rally round the victim as the Jews rallied round Dreyfus” (in Proust’s great description of Jewish and homosexual society) were drawing close. It was of course a farce, but it was effective.
Or was it? After all, the denunciation of book and author, with which they achieved great, though by no means total, success, was not their goal. It was only the means with which to prevent the discussion of an issue “which may plague Jews for years to come.” And as far as this goal was concerned. they achieved the precise opposite. If they had left well enough alone, this issue, which I had touched upon only marginally, would not have been trumpeted all over the world. In their efforts to prevent people from reading what I had written, or, in case such misfortune had already happened, to provide the necessary reading glasses, they blew it up out of all proportion, not only with reference to my book but with reference to what had actually happened. They forgot that they were mass organizations, using all the means of mass communication, so that every issue they touched at all, pro or contra, was liable to attract the attention of masses whom they then no longer could control. So what happened after a while in these meaningless and mindless debates was that people began to think that all the nonsense the image-makers had made me say was the actual historical truth.
Thus, with the unerring precision with which a bicyclist on his first ride will collide with the obstacle he is most afraid of, Mr. Robinson’s formidable supporters have put their whole power at the service of propagating what they were most anxious to avoid. So that now, as a result of their folly, literally everybody feels the need for a “major work” on Jewish conduct in the face of catastrophe. I doubt that such a book is as “badly needed” as Mr. Laqueur thinks, but Mr. Robinson, in any case, is most unlikely to produce it. The methods used in the pursuit of historical truth are not the methods of the prosecutor, and the men who stand guard over facts are not the officers of interest groups—no matter how legitimate their claims—but the reporters, the historians, and finally the poets.
(Walter Laqueur will reply in the next issue.)
January 20, 1966