Evil, yes. Banal, no.
April marks the 50th anniversary of the Jerusalem trial of one of the architects of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann. Deborah E. Lipstadt, history professor at Emory University, revisits Eichmann’s capture and trial in a slim book aimed at understanding the context, including the way that, for the first time, the testimony of survivors became public. Until then, survivors’ unwillingness to discuss their wartime experiences had kept the focus on the dead. Our cultural memory of the trial, distilled from Hannah Arendt’s reports on the trial for The New Yorker, are, Lipstadt notes, constructed from the court records; Arendt was absent from court. The voices of human survivors of genocide make this evil anything but banal, as Eichmann himself admitted in his memoirs, available only to scholars. Lipstadt was granted access because she had to defend herself on libel charges in a British court against an inveterate Holocaust denier. She won.