The Eichmann Trial

By Deborah E. Lipstadt
  • Overview
  • Reader's Guide
  • Additional Resources
  • News and Reviews

Overview

“Lipstadt has done a great service by untethering the [Eichmann] trial from Hannah  Arendt’s polarizing presence, recovering the event as a gripping legal drama, as well as a hinge moment in Israel’s history and in the world’s delayed awakening to the magnitude of the Holocaust. . . . Her conclusions about Eichmann in Jerusalem are rendered calmly and with devastating fairness.” 

—Franklin Foer, The New York Times Book Review

“A thoughtfully researched and clearly written account of the courtroom proceedings and of the debates spurred by the trial.” —David Pryce-Jones, The Wall Street Journal

“Contains interesting and informative insights on this historic trial . . . [it is] a valuable contribution to an ever-increasing library of Eichmann books.”

Washington Independent Review of Books

“An authoritative analysis of the historical and legal issues involved in a trial of international significance. Highly recommended.” 

Library Journal

“A penetrating and authoritative dissection of a landmark case and its after effects.” 

Publishers Weekly

"Having covered the Eichmann trial myself, I can warmly recommend Deborah Lipstadt’s important analysis of its fascinating perspectives.”

—Elie Wiesel

“An excellent work of historical and political analysis by an accomplished writer. Compellingly written, it grips the reader from its opening pages. With this book, Deborah Lipstadt consolidates her standing as one of the major figures in the Jewish world today.”

—Anthony Julius, author of Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England

“Just in time for its fiftieth anniversary, renowned historian Deborah Lipstadt has reworked the Eichmann trial. This book is a powerfully written testimony to our ongoing fascination with the proceedings, the resonance of survivor tales, and how both changed our understanding of justice after atrocity.”

—David Gergen, professor, Harvard Kennedy School

The capture of SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann by Israeli agents in Argentina in May of 1960 and his subsequent trial in Tel Aviv by an Israeli court electrified the world. The public debate it sparked on where, how, and by whom Nazi war criminals should be brought to justice, and the international media coverage of the trial itself, is recognized as a watershed moment in how the civilized world in general and Holocaust survivors in particular found the means to deal with the legacy of genocide on a scale that had never been seen before.

In The Eichmann Trial, award- winning historian Deborah Lipstadt gives us an overview of the trial and analyzes the dramatic effect that the testimony of survivors in a court of law— which was itself not without controversy— had on a world that had until then regularly commemorated the Holocaust but never fully understood the millions who died and the hundreds of thousands who managed to survive. As the world continues to confront the ongoing reality of genocide and ponder the fate of those who survive it, this “trial of the century” offers a legal, moral, and political framework for coming to terms with unfathomable evil and with those who perpetrate it. In The Eichmann Trial, Lipstadt infuses a gripping narrative with historical perspective and contemporary urgency.

Reader's Guide

Adolf Eichmann, a pivotal figure behind the planning and implementation of the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” was captured by Allied forces shortly after the end of World War II but escaped before he could be tried for his crimes at Nuremberg. A decade and a half later, he was discovered in South America, apprehended, and flown to Israel, where he was ultimately tried, convicted, and punished for his genocidal crimes against the Jews. In The Eichmann Trial, Holocaust historian Deborah E. Lipstadt recounts the events leading up to the trial, the courtroom drama itself, and the outcome of this historic trial – for the accused, his victims, and the entire world. The Capture Eichmann was living under a pseudonym in Argentina in the late 1950s, when a tip alerted prosecutors in Germany – and later the Israeli Mossad – of his whereabouts. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion approved a plan to apprehend Eichmann and bring him to Israel to face trial. He was captured in 1960. • Although Israel had not made finding Nazis an important priority, when Ben-Gurion was told of Eichmann’s whereabouts, he instructed Israel’s security service to bring him back so that he could stand trial.  Why do you think he didn’t simply tell them to “eliminate” Eichmann on the spot? •What were some of the objections to Israel’s apprehension of Eichmann? Were Jews’ objections different from those of non-Jews? Regardless of whether you think the operation was justified overall, do you think any of their specific objections were valid? •For some American Jews, Eichmann’s capture was a point of pride. But for others – such as Harvard professor Oscar Alexander – it was an embarrassment smacking of a Jewish desire for revenge. What do you think? •The operation caused considerable diplomatic tension between Israel and Argentina. The tension – and the widespread controversy surrounding Eichmann’s capture – may have lowered the chances of success for similar operations to bring to justice other former Nazis living in Argentina, and elsewhere. If so, was it worth it? •Why is it important to bring former Nazis to trial? So they can be punished? To clarify the facts, or resolve differing versions of what happened? To allow victims the chance to face their persecutors? To avenge the dead, punish the guilty, or create some kind of psychic and diplomatic closure? What is the ultimate value of such a trial? Facing Justice in Israel Israel did not exist at the time of Eichmann’s crimes. Because of this, some critics claimed that Israel lacked legal jurisdiction to try him. Others pointed to the fact that other international courts only handled disputes between countries, and nobody but Israel could claim to speak for the Jews as a people. Regardless of arguments on either side, the trial was the first time in two millennia that Jews sat in judgment of a non-Jew who had done them wrong. •Do you think Israel was the proper place to try Eichmann? If not, what other place might have been more appropriate? •“Acknowledging that Israel could not speak in the name of all Jews,” Lipstadt writes, “[Ben-Gurion] argued that it must speak for the victims of the Holocaust.” Do you agree – about either part? •Some observers argued that the Eichmann trial not only belonged in Israel, but that the trial demonstrated why Israel needed to exist. How could the trial have been used as an example of why the state of Israel was necessary? •Ben-Gurion’s belief that Israel was the right place to try Eichmann reflected his conviction that Israel played a special role in Jewish history and Jewish justice. How did Zionism and questions of Jewish self-determination affect the trial, and how it was perceived? The Trial The Eichmann trial was televised around the world in 1961 with daily news feeds in many languages, the first trial to become an international media event. More reporters  covered the Eichmann trial than the Nuremberg trials of 1945-6, where dozens of top Nazi officials had been tried for war crimes immediately after the end of World War II. •Why did this trial – of one man, 16 years after the end of the war – command so much attention? Was it the fact that it took place in Israel, or the timing, or that Eichmann’s capture included a certain amount of international intrigue? Were there other reasons? •How did the Eichmann trial differ from the Nuremberg trials? If Eichmann had been at the Nuremberg trials, how might his case have been different – in tone, content, outcome, impact? •During the trial, Eichmann claimed he was no anti-Semite, painting himself as someone who worked with Jews, even as a Zionist who’d been inspired by Herzl. Do you believe him, even a little? Does it matter whether he was personally anti-Semitic, or personally believed in Zionism? Why do you think he chose to portray himself this way in court? Testimony Unlike the Nuremberg trials, the Eichmann trial included first-person testimony from many Holocaust survivors. This wasn’t the first time any survivors’ stories had been heard, but it was the first time they were heard in such detail by such a large international audience, and the first time the crimes against the Jews were specifically placed center-stage in a legal arena. •How did the inclusion of so many survivors’ testimony affect the proceedings, the way they were perceived by observers, and the verdict? •Do survivors have a certain moral authority that others lack, because of their experiences? Do they lack a certain objectivity that others possess? What connotations does the word “survivor” have for you today? •Gideon Hausner, the prosecutor, asked survivors during the trial why they didn’t resist during the Holocaust. What was the purpose of this questioning in relation to the Eichmann case? Do you think it was appropriate or useful? What did their answers reveal – about them, about the Nazis, about widely held notions about the Holocaust? Media Coverage The journalists covering the Eichmann trial were remarkable not only for their numbers and their caliber – including Elie Wiesel, writing for the Forward – but also for their unique world views. One of the most controversial reporters at the trial was philosopher Hannah Arendt, who wrote about the trial for the New Yorker. •In her coverage of the trial, Hannah Arendt claimed that the Holocaust was not a crime against the Jews, but a “crime against humanity,” perpetrated on the Jews. What’s the difference? Do you agree with Arendt on this point? •One of the reasons Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem, which grew out of her New Yorker coverage, remains so controversial is its focus on the role played by Jews who collaborated with the Nazis. Why was this important for her? •One of the lasting phrases to emerge from the trial was Arendt’s use of the term “the banality of evil” to describe Eichmann’s drab, bureaucratic role in the extermination of the Jews. How do you understand this phrase? Do you think it’s an accurate description? •Do you have a specific definition of “evil”? Do you think it applies to the Nazis – to some or all of them? What about the other Germans, or Poles or Russians or Ukrainians who participated – actively or passively – in the Holocaust? Eichmann's Crimes In addition to addressing specific crimes that Eichmann was alleged to have committed personally, the indictment charged him with implementing the Final Solution more broadly. Thus, the crimes addressed at the trial included everything from overseeing death camps and forced deportations to plundering property and sending people to forced labor camps and ghettoes across Europe. •The judges declared that Eichmann’s trial should be a narrowly drawn trial of one man, not a “forum for clarification of questions of great import.” How narrow or broad do you think the trial should have been? What might it have achieved if it had been conducted differently? Would the outcome have changed? •“Hausner made the man in the glass booth look more mythic than real,” Lipstadt writes, noting that by over-emphasizing Eichmann’s importance, the prosecutor diminished the culpability of other top Nazis. “It may have served Hausner’s short-term rhetorical goal, but it did not serve the cause of history.” Do you agree? Considering that most of the other top Nazis – from Himmler to Heydrich – would never face their own trials, does it matter to you? •Eichmann was 55 years old when he was tried. Is there a point where it is no longer practical or morally imperative to prosecute Nazis for their crimes? The Verdict Eichmann was found guilty of most of the charges and sentenced to death – the only death sentence an Israeli civilian court has ever carried out. •Eichmann never unambiguously admitted his guilt. Does this mean that Eichmann “won on points,” as some observers have claimed? The court even found him not guilty on several specific charges. In the end, does this matter? Would it have been better or worse if the court has found him guilty on all charges? •In his statement following the verdict, Eichmann stated that he was being punished for other people’s deeds. Do you agree, even in part? •Eichmann was sentenced to death. Do you think this sentence was appropriate? If not, what punishment might have better fit his crimes? •Lipstadt herself was involved in a trial, defending herself against libel charges from a notorious Holocaust-denier. What does the persistence of Holocaust denial say about where we are today, 50 years after Eichmann’s trial? In what sense is the Eichmann trial still going on?

Additional Resources

• The Newseum's Holocaust: The Untold Story has Deborah Lipstadt among its featured experts. The documentary dispells the myth of the Holocaust as a "secret." • VIDEO: Deborah Lipstadt on Charlie Rose, July 5, 2011

News and Reviews

Deborah Lipstadt for the Guardian: “Even a ‘remake’ of Jud Süss can never be neutral”

"Irrespective of how one feels about the film, there is a stunning irony inherent in this "remake". German law censors anything that promotes ideologies ruled to be dangerous to youth or anti-constitutional. One cannot, legally, buy a copy of Mein Kampf in Germany. Nor can one publicly display a swastika, deny that Auschwitz was a killing factory, or screen the original Jud Süss except in highly circumscribed settings. Any screening must be part of an educational or academic event and introduced by a historian. However, because this new film tells the story of the making of Jud Süss it can be shown, even though it re-enacts much of the original. Is censorship, even in the name of preventing the resurrection of nefarious ideologies, ever desirable?" Continue reading

Deborah Lipstadt writes “Why Murdoch’s BSkyB Bid Really is Worrying”

"I know many Jews who, in European terminology, would be classified as "centre left." They believe that the domestic and foreign policies of the Republican Party bode poorly for America. They abhor Sarah Palin and fear the Tea Party and what they consider to be its rather simplistic world view. Irrespective of where they live, their daily paper is The New York Times..." Continue reading

Deborah Lipstadt on Fox’s Lexical Choices

"Rupert Murdoch recently made a stirring pro-Israel speech to the ADL but, as his attempt to purchase BSkyB is being adjudicated in the UK, it is incidents like these that should carefully be kept in mind." Continue reading

The Jewish Book Week keeps an eye out for upcoming Nextbook Press publications The Eichmann Trial and Sacred Trash

"The next two titles in Nextbook’s Jewish Encounters series are not biographies like most of the previous volumes, but books sharply focused on events." Continue reading

The Eichmann Trial Reviewed: “Highly Recommended”

"Highly recommended for students, scholars, and researchers analyzing actions and motives of war crimes perpetrators and their victims during periods of political conflict and courtroom confrontation." Continue reading

The Eichmann Trial on Spotlight: Revealing the voice of the victim

"In the years after the trial, we’ve seen how survivors became the driving force in the creation of Holocaust memorials and memory. Although it would be simplistic to say that the trial alone was responsible, Lipstadt argued the message is to understand that the voice of the victim is tremendously crucial." Continue reading

The Eichmann Trial, “an Important Book”

"When I first opened this book, I thought: what can there possibly be to add to the story of the Eichmann Trial that has not been said already in these last 50 years? But from the first page on, I was mesmerized by the way in which Deborah Lipstadt describes and evaluates the event and its repercussions." Continue reading

The Eichmann Trial is “Anything but Banal,” says WSJ

"In "The Eichmann Trial," Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history at Emory University, presents a thoughtfully researched and clearly written account of the courtroom proceedings and of the debates spurred by the trial." Continue reading

“With her new book, The Eichmann Trial, historian Deborah Lipstadt attempts to refute Arendt’s main arguments”

"With her new book, “The Eichmann Trial,” historian Deborah Lipstadt attempts to refute Arendt’s main arguments. On the cover is an iconic image of Arendt—pearl-bedecked and pensive, a cigarette dangling from her fingers—and an entire chapter of the book discusses her arguments. Although other scholars have re-examined the Eichmann trial — most notably the Israeli historian Hannah Yablonka, in a book published in English in 2004 as “The State of Israel vs. Adolf Eichmann” — Lipstadt aims to reach a wider audience." Continue reading

The Eichmann Trial “a valuable contribution to an ever-increasing library of Eichmann books”

"Lipstadt’s book is not primarily a lawyer’s firsthand, play-by-play account of the dynamics of a “trial of the century.” Telford Taylor’s Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials (1992) is that kind of book. By contrast, Lipstadt seems more absorbed in taking on the historical debates about whether Eichmann was really just a “cog” in the Nazi machine, not even a committed anti-Semite but rather a minion who followed orders from above." Continue reading

The Eichmann Trial “Highly recommended for students, scholars, and researchers”

"Aimed at an academic audience, the book is replete with references to primary-source material and thus constitutes an authoritative analysis of the historical and legal issues involved in a trial of international significance. Highly recommended for students, scholars, and researchers analyzing actions and motives of war crimes perpetrators and their victims as well as for history buffs." Continue reading

The Eichmann Trial: Fifty Years Later

Fifty years ago one of the world's most notorious war criminals sat in a courtroom for a trial that would be among the first in history to be completely televised. Listen to the story on All Things Considered. Continue reading

Tony Hausner on the Eichmann trial, fifty years later

"The Eichmann trial was one of the first times the world heard that many Jews actively fought German tyranny." Continue reading

New York Times Book Review: “Lipstadt has done a great service”

“Lipstadt has done a great service by untethering the trial from Arendt’s polarizing presence, recovering the event as a gripping legal drama, as well as a hinge moment in Israel’s history and in the world’s delayed awakening to the magnitude of the Holocaust . . . . After recounting the trial so vividly, Lipstadt recounts the aftermath . . . . Her conclusions about ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ are rendered calmly and with devastating fairness. This is the right tone.” Continue reading

Franklin Foer, New York Times Book Review

The Eichmann Trial “an engaging, albeit sometimes painful book”

"Lipstadt's The Eichmann Trial is an important addition to the body of works related to the Eichmann trial, and the Holocaust. As such, it is ideal for use as a supplemental text in both high school and college courses dealing with the Holocaust, World War II, genocide studies, and international law. Continue reading

PODCAST: Sam Tanenhaus goes head to head on The Eichmann Trial

This week: Francisco Goldman discusses his new novel, “Say Her Name”; the historian Deborah Lipstadt revisits the trial of Adolf Eichmann; and Pamela Paul talks about Beverly Cleary. As always, Julie Bosman has notes from the field; and Jennifer Schuessler has best-seller news. Sam Tanenhaus is the host. Continue reading

Another “Important Contribution to the Jewish Library” in The Eichmann Trial

"Lipstadt infuses a gripping narrative with historical perspective and contemporary urgency." Continue reading

NYT Sunday Book Review: “Why the Eichmann Trial Really Mattered”

"It is a breathtaking admixture of genres (history, philosophy, journalism) and contains strong, often unconventional, moral judgments (especially her contempt for the Jewish leaders who cooperated with their murderers). It aims to render grand historical conclusions but remains unintentionally and inescapably personal." Continue reading

Deborah Lipstadt Speaks to PBS on Holocaust Remembrance

"On this Yom HaShoah I think it’s very important for the world to remember that evil begins with a single individual talking to another individual talking to another individual." Maybe they are motivated, as was the case in the Holocaust, by an age-old hatred, but it takes one person with another person with another person to make it happen, and that each of us as individuals have the power to say, “Stop.”" Continue reading

Deborah Lipstadt’s participation at Berlin’s Topography of Terror Conference on Eichmann trial makes waves

"A new exhibition about the trial at the Topography of Terror Museum here devotes a section to reappraising the work of the philosopher Hannah Arendt, pointing out that she failed to attend much of the trial, never saw Eichmann cross-examined and thus didn’t witness his “just following orders” defense crumble." Continue reading

Deborah Lipstadt Appointed to White House Advisory Post

President Obama said, “I am grateful these accomplished men and women have agreed to join this Administration, and I’m confident they will serve ably in these important roles. I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years.” Continue reading

Deborah Lipstadt Q&A

"In fact, one of the British papers stated, “Not since the Nuremburg Trials and the Eichmann Trial has there been as important a Holocaust trial.” [Jonathan] Rosen figured it would be very interesting given my perspective. I thought he was being ridiculous." Continue reading

The Eichmann Trial “arguably the best non-fiction book of 2011″

It is arguably the best non-fiction book of 2011...[Deborah Lipstadt] tells the story of this trial, what prompted it, how it was defended, the reactions on all sides, and how she won, in her introduction to this almost novel-like history of the Eichmann trial. Continue reading

Deborah Lipstadt at the Center for Jewish History

“The Eichmann Trial gives an overview of the trial and analyzes the dramatic effect that the survivors’ courtroom testimony had on the world.” Continue reading

Lipstadt’s Eichmann Trial is Really a “Mixed-Genre Text”

“Historian Deborah Lipstadt rakes over the evidence to throw a new beam of light on the past – the trial, the crimes and the key stakeholders. Inevitable, then, the work becomes a mixed-genre text: part history and part historiography, that uniquely absorbing domain specializing in how history itself has been studied." Continue reading

Eichmann Trial Features Thorough and Meticulous Research

“…A penetrating and authoritarian dissection of a landmark case and its after effects.” Continue reading

“Deborah Lipstadt” on What’s On Charlie Rose

“Deborah Lipstadt, Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and author of The Eichmann Trial, talks with Charlie Rose about her new book." Continue reading

The Eichmann Trial a “sober yet provocative analysis”

"As Lipstadt elegantly puts it, "The world heard the story of the Holocaust differently and stronger: The telling might not have been entirely new, but the hearing was."" Continue reading

Hadassah Magazine

Full Ha’aretz Interview with Deborah Lipstadt

Talking with Haaretz, prominent scholar discusses effect of Eichmann trial of perception of the Holocaust, as well as recent comments by U.S. envoy to Belgium Howard Gutman. Continue reading

About the Author

Deborah E. Lipstadt

Deborah E. Lipstadt

DEBORAH E. LIPSTADT is Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. She is the author of History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving (a National Jewish Book Award winner); Denying the Holocaust: … Continue reading

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