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More on the Eichmann Memoirs

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Author: Moshe Kam

Date: Tue, 17 Aug 1999

There was a flurry of articles about the Eichmann memoirs in the Israeli Press last week. The memoirs were composed by the Nazi officer in the months before his execution in Israel in May 1962. The manuscript was stored in the State Archives of Israel since then. It was mentioned and quoted in a book written by Gideon Hausner, the prosecutor in Eichmann's trial. Eichmann's son Dieter has now requested the original manuscript.

In interviews given by the Attorney General of Israel, Elyakim Rubinstein, he indicated that Israel wants the document to published in Germany, with annotation and footnotes added by certain German scholars. Clearly a plain straightforward publication of the manuscript was ruled out.

Several articles in the Israeli press quoted the historian Yehuda Bauer claiming that Israel does not have enough researchers who can do the work at the required pace (though the manuscript was in the Archives for almost 40 years.) Bauer also stated his strong objection to allowing unrestricted access to the material.

The episode is truly bizarre. The right of the Israeli Archives to put restrictions on publication of this material is shaky at best, and the claim that Israel does not have the intellectual wherewithal to prepare its publication properly is equally strange; after all, holocaust research is and was done by a large number of Israeli scholars - including Bauer himself - for many years (and mostly at the State's expense.) If it is indeed an Israeli interest to have the material presented with annotation and footnotes, why are the Israeli scholars unable to do the work? Are they on a collective sabbatical? What other, more important tasks are they engaged in? Moreover, as soon as the manuscript is sent to Germany, the courts there will decide its fate, and if there ever was a legitimate Israeli interest in editing it before publication, this interest would play a very minor role in the proceedings.

Taking a broader view, it is not clear what are the Israeli officials and people like Bauer afraid of. They behave as if Eichmann was wronged, or as if he was not the arch-criminal that he was. There is no doubt that neo Nazis of all kinds will find in Eichmann's memoirs "facts" and "reasons" to justify their distorted views on the holocaust. No amount of editing and explanations would help such individuals. (Interestingly enough it is unlikely that the Eichmann book will be of great assistance to holocaust deniers; in his trial, Eichmann did not so much dispute the facts, as challenged the claim that he had legal responsibility for creating them.) There is no danger that the writings of this evil and wicked man will prove his innocence in the mind of informed readers, and as to uninformed readers, it is doubtful that they can ever be helped.

The case against Eichmann was solid. There have been and there may still be disagreements about some of the trial's procedures, and we all know of philosophical objections to his trial and verdict by Hanna Arendt and others. Still, with the exception of the usual lunatics, every serious student of Eichmann's activities will find his actions abominable and criminal, memoirs or no memoirs. Those for whom he was a martyr will continue to see him as a martyr, memoirs or no memoirs.

The continued activity surrounding the Eichmann's manuscript serves only to glorify it, attract popular interest, and make the book a best seller when it finally appears in print. The claim of the Israeli holocaust researchers that they are "too busy" to prepare the work for publication raises serious doubts about their professionalism and ethics. A quick and simple word-by-word publication will to serve the interests of all but the neo Nazis much better.

Moshe Kam,


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ARSmallLogoMr Irving: Dr Moshe Kam has clearly hit the nail on the head with this letter. When I obtained Eichmann's transcripts and reminiscences, dictated in 1956-58 in Argentina, in October 1991 it generated a worldwide furor, with newspapers printing major articles around the globe for several days. There was near-panic among the world's Jewish historians, and I did not at that moment understand why, not having at that time had the leisure or requirement to study the pages' contents in detail. I now understand better: the negotiations between the Hungarian Jewish leaders, who declared themselves willing, indeed eager, to sacrifice the Jewish "mob" as they put it to Eichmann, in return for his allowing the ten thousand or so elite to emigrate to Palestine, made a very unattractive story.

This, and other aspects of the case which Hanna Arendt also brought out in her book The Banality of Evil, were explanation enough. Hence (a) there was no rush to make snap up rights to the Eichmann papers; (b) Eichmann's published memoirs, which had appeared years earlier, were met with a press silence of such totality that it appeared to have been orchestrated.

The other thing that I find intriguing in all this is the jibbering fear of The Holocaust Deniers that squeaks out from between the lines of the news stories. They appear to be emerging as a real force in history after all.

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