Years ago when I was a young boy, during one of our family vacations we happened to stop at a garage sale and I can remember buying a small handful of books to read for the ride home. One of the books I purchased was an old paperback copy of Isser Harel’s 1976 book The House on Garibaldi Street: The Full Account of the Capture of Adolf Eichmann. Reclusive and hunkered down in the backseat of the family car, I can remember reading Harel’s book and being enthralled by his daring account of how Israeli Mossad agents flew half way around the world and grabbed the fugitive Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. For whatever reason ever since I read that paperback I’ve always had a slight fascination with Eichmann’s capture and his subsequent trial. Therefore, during one of my frequent library visits when I happened to come across Deborah Lipstadt’s 2011 book The Eichmann Trial and despite having a huge stack of unread library books already on loan and piled near my bed I grabbed it. After finishing it several weeks ago I’m happy I did. Straightforward but sophisticated, Lipstadt’s well researched account of the 1961 Eichmann trial and the events leading up to it make for riveting reading.
By bringing one the Holocaust’s most wanted Nazi war criminals to Israeli to stand trial for his monstrous crimes, the modern state of Israel would unleash a flurry of never before asked legal questions. Did Israeli possess the right to try an individual for crimes committed before Israel existed as a modern nation ? And if so under the laws of which nation would he be tried ? If found guilty would Israel, a nation that had never imposed the death penalty in its history as a young nation, do so with Eichmann ? This would lead to much discussion and controversy, at least initially, among Jews world-wide regarding just who in the world has the authority to judge Eichmann, and in essence represent the all the world’s Jews. Is it the state of Israel ? The United States ? Individual Jews themselves ?
Much to my satisfaction Lipstadt’s book deals with not just the trial, but the events leading up to it, including a significant amount of biographical detail on Eichmann. Based on that information, the notion that Eichmann was just another boring and mindless bureaucrat following orders is utter rubbish. Lipstadt’s Eichmann is a dyed in the wool anti-Semite and zealously did everything within his power to carry out the vile orders of the Final Solution. He is certainly not worthy of the “banality of evil” label which many, probably somewhat mistakenly, have long associated with The New Yorker series and later book by Hannah Arendt.
Speaking of which I’m planning on following up this book with several other books that deal with Eichmann. Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem has been in my personal library for years and I think it’s about time I gave it another shot. Months ago from Quality Paperback Club I ordered Neal Bascomb’s Hunting Eichmann and as I write this I can see the book on top of a big pile of recently purchased books just longing for me to begin reading it. Lastly, a few years ago a co-worker of mine recommended David Cesarani’s Becoming Eichmann and after reading Lipstadt’s book I tempted to read that one, too.
Like I’ve said time and time again, good books make you wanna read more. Sounds like Lipstadt’s book is no exception. And for that matter, neither is that book I bought at a garage sale so many years ago.