Literature of the Holocaust
maintained by Al Filreis
Student paper on Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem
The enthusiastic efforts of all those that have spent their time in the pursuit of former Nazis that successfully evaded capture by the authorities that tried their compatriots at Nuremberg state their reasons generally to be a pursuit of justice. Arendt makes the same case for the events surrounding the trial of Eichmann at Jerusalem. Justice, she implies, demanded that Eichmann be tried "fairly" for his crimes, and justice likewise demanded that he be convicted; whatever else was accomplished, the fact that this purpose was met argues that the trial, to her, was ultimately justified. Objections to the trial are that while it was not done neatly or completely correctly, its ultimate objective is beyond the reach of such semantics.
"The purpose of a trial is to render justice . . . ; even the noblest of ulterior purposes . . . can only detract from the law's main business" (p.253). The fact that the charges against Eichmann were based on laws formulated after the crimes themselves was justified to Arendt by the simple fact that the same thing occurred at and after Nuremberg, where the war criminals were given to the respective nations against whom their crimes had been committed. As the Jewish people are and were a nation even before a territory to mark it existed, a fact that is not disputed, they should likewise be accorded the right to try Eichmann as one who committed crimes against the Jewish nation (p.258).The argument against Jerusalem holding the trial because of lack of impartiality likewise was countered by the Successor trials, all of whom were judged by people whose nationality was that of the victims (p.259). The last feature of the Eichmann trial that Arendt acknowledges as irregular involves the kidnapping and forced extradition of Eichmann against international law. "Its justification was the unprecendentedness of the crime and the coming into existence of a Jewish State . . . [and the fact that] the realm of legality offered no alternative . . . " (p.264). Since Eichmann had to be tried by a Jewish court, any laws that prevented such from occurring were allowed to be broken.
Several other problems with the trial were mentioned, though not adequately addressed, by the author. Apparently German witnesses who had taken part in the activities concerned were not allowed to give testimony without risk to themselves (p.129). Presumably the lack of this important testimony was dismissed by Arendt as irrelevant because the cause of justice had been served by having Eichmann convicted by a Jewish court. In fact Arendt seems to dismiss the various purposes of the trial by Ben-Gurion and others that included to inform the world and the next generation of Jewish people how they were persecuted by the Nazis and to help discover other Nazi war criminals as misguided, but does not seem to conclude that their very presence in the atmosphere of the trial seemed to prevent any type of fair judgement. Just the idea that not only Eichmann, but all of the crimes against the Jewish people (p.l9) were on trial should have implied the possibility that the court might be more biased and subjective than would be allowed normally. "With such rhetoric the prosecution gave substance to the chief argument against the trial, that it was established not in order to satisfy the demands of justice by to still the victims' desire for and, perhaps, right to vengeance" (pp.260-261). This seems to be exactly why Eichmann was tried, with only vague and general regard for true fairness and just consideration to the defendant. Arendt gives the disturbing implication that as long as this desire for vengeance, thinly disguised as a quest for justice, was met, all other imbalances in the trial are justified. In other words, the desire for the end accepts anything necessary to achieve it.
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