Do Not Kill Adolf Eichmann
Selection from "The Case of Adolf Eichmann"
Published: 1961-01-01

There are points of similarity, it is true, between the Nazi wickedness and other wickedness at various periods of the world's history. The Jews, for instance, slaughtered the Amalekites down to the last man, woman and child because their god, they believed, had ordered his chosen people to do so, just as the Nazi slaughtered millions of Jews because their god, they believed, had ordered HIS chosen people to do so… "Never stir up mire," said a great Hasidic rabbi: "fix your mind not on past human sin, but on God and His goodness." We should do well to follow his advice. There is only so much room in our consciousness: the more we live in the presence of evil, the less we live in the presence of good. What I should like to hear broadcast is not the story of Nazi obscenities, but the story of Elizabeth Pilenko, who comforted a terrified Jewess at the entry to a gas chamber and then took her place; or of Rabbi Baeck, who after the death of his wife and 4 sisters was himself awaiting death in Thereseinstadt when he was liberated by the Russians: the Commanding officer suggested that a number of Germans who had taken refuge in the camp should be killed by the Jews, but the Rabbi firmly refused and restrained those of his own people who had thoughts of revenge. To be reminded of human goodness positively encourages, for the most part, the good in us: to be reminded of human wickedness at best negatively warns us against it, and may even, by a process of morbid fascination, reinforce our own evil…yesterday's cruelty should be forgotten as soon as is humanly possible, for nothing can be done about it. "Let the dead bury their dead": let the living beware of ignoring the living by concentrating on the dead.

I think of Ben Gurion with the greatest respect, but his reasons for bringing Eichmann to trial show a fundamental misconception of what our epoch requires. He wants young Jewry to know beyond question what their people have suffered. Dear God, do they not know already? There can hardly be a Jew, whether in Israel or in the rest of the world, but particularly in Israel, without a mother or father, a daughter or son, a friend or close relative, who bears no mark, if still alive, of the Nazi inferno…

But even if it were true that Jews, and young Jews in particular, were insufficiently informed about the suffering of their people, how could insistence on it be desirable? Would it make them spiritually healthier-better poised, better integrated, more at peace with themselves and the world? Or would it, on the contrary, reinforce those deforming emotions of insecurity, inferiority, superiority and all the rest of it to which history, since the beginning of our era, has doomed so many of them? The answer is the latter: but it is the former that jewish salvation imperatively demands…

This, however, must be said: what needs to be encouraged in the young people of Israel today is not an intensification of racial or particularist solidarity but a passion for human solidarity, for the solidarity of the whole human race: not a steadily growing nationalism, if war is to be avoided in the Middle East and so perhaps in the world, but a steadily diminishing one. For the final lesson of Auschwitz is really this: no one will ever be assured of life, freedom, and honour until every sort of particularism is abolished everywhere…

I have no doubt that…the Eichmann trial will end by increasing rather than diminishing antisemitism, little though overt protestations may initially suggest it. The more Jewish suffering is in the news, the more people tend to react to it with a sort of bored exasperation: "Some of them really are rather unpleasant" is what they are apt to begin thinking, or even "Some may have deserved what they got."

"…The fact is that antisemitism-the very symbol of human unregeneracy and unlikely to cease altogether much this side of the millenium-can never be combated by a self conscious insistence on Jewish suffering or an equally self conscious parade of the "Jewish contribution to history". It can be combated only by making no effort to combat it: only by an endeavor, undertaken with no ulterior motive, "to love mercy and walk humbly with thy God."

I come to the trial itself…the whole thing is a vast illegality. There is a precedent for it, of course, if a partial one, namely Nuremberg, but I am unaware that this evil example has ever been regarded, by legal opinion or the common feeling of mankind, as establishing a principle thereafter valid for international law. Objections to the current proceedings may be summarized under 3 heads:

  1. The very essence of a fair trial, as all but totalitarians understand it, is a 3rd party judgment. What happens when an Englishman is accused of murder He is tried by a Judge and 12 jurymen, no one of whom can have any personal interest, however remote, in the verdict or sentence: why, we even allow defending Counsel to have anyone he likes, without reason given, removed from the panel. And now imagine the Judge as the father of the alleged victim's mother and brothers and sisters! Would everyone not say that private vengeance would be far better than such a parody of justice? And yet that is precisely what is happening in Israel today. All 3 Judges; all 12 jurymen (if there are jurymen-the point is so relatively trivial that I see no point in looking it up); every Israeli from Dan to Beersheba-the whole body of them is emotionally involved, and most of them personally, as having dear ones who suffered, in the still living past, so unthinkably. And even if, as the judges have claimed, they can conquer their natural reactions and remember their duty; even if justice can really be done: it cannot, in such circumstances, possibly appear to be done\.

    If Eichmann was to be tried at all, he should have been tried either by an international court or by Western Germany: preferably the former.

  2. Eichmann was found guilty before ever his trial began, and is being condemned, at every stage of it, in advance of the verdict. The smallest attempt in this country to anticipate the result of the judicial proceedings-contempt of court, as we call it-is visited, if the contempt is flagrant, with the utmost severity: but whatever the case may be with the Israeli press, little of which I have read, the whole climate of public opinion everywhere has assumed Eichmann's guilt from the outset. The only question that has concerned people has been, What will be the sentence?
  3. Eichmann's defence is seriously hampered. The Minister for Justice from Tel Aviv, announced just before the trial began, that if anyone "with a Nazi past" arrived in Israel to give evidence on Eichmann's behalf he could have no hope of immunity. I have never read anything more offensive to the first principles of justice. You first make it highly improbable, by the venue chosen, that any witness will dare to come forward in Eichmann's defence: and then you make doubly sure by formally proclaiming that, if anyone or almost anyone does, he will be facing (presumably) imprisonment, or even, as Nazis might imagine, sentence of death. The subsequent modification of this ruling in certain particulars (a result perhaps of protests against it) was wholly insufficient, welcome though it was, to guarantee the proper conduct of a genuine trial.

A last question must be asked, before we come to the pith and core of this pamphlet. We must ask, is Eichmann guilty?

Guilty of what? Not of this particular crime, or of that particular crime, or of all the crimes put together, in perhaps the lengthiest Bill of Indictment ever offered to a Court of Justice. There could be little interest in asking that, for the essence of the matter at issue might easily disappear in a maze of legal technicalities. …

As to the guilt not of Germans collectively but of a very great number of individual Germans, this needs no mention: though in Germany too, as well as almost everywhere else, a small minority worked with unceasing devotion to save Jewish lives…

Should Eichmann be killed? No. Six million times no… I say to Ben Gurion, with the deepest sympathy and respect, "DO NOT KILL ADOLF EICHMANN."

If six million have been slaughtered, what can it profit to make the number six million and one? Will THIS lighten the awful darkness of cruelty and hatred that Auschwitz will cast over history, forever unrelieved unless something can be done to relieve it? Only one thing can lighten that darkness, can redeem and restore, however infinitesimally in mere numerical comparison, the human name: I mean a power, in whose dear ones have suffered so unthinkably, to spare-even to forgive, though I tremble to say it, for I would not add to their feeling of outrage-the very symbol of their agony.

I am always asking myself whether I should feel differently about all this if my wife had been tortured before my eyes at Auschwitz or Treblinka. I daresay I should: no one can measure his own weakness. But there are those who, mourning a murdered sister or son, have yet been able to plead for the murderer: there was Rabbi Baeck at Theresienstadt: and I cannot escape the conviction that if Israel-conditioned though she be, by a wrong unique in history, to revenge herself for it-could leap into spiritual freedom and choose mercy, then, by very reason of that uniqueness, the prophecy might yet be fulfilled, "salvation is of the Jews."

It will be asked what alternative I would propose to a sentence of death. To answer this is no part of my purpose. I plead for one thing only: that Eichmann's judge's may act in the spirit of what is best in the Old Testament as well as in the New-in the spirit of "Forsake evil; do good, and live" and of "Go and sin no more."

Source: The Case of Adolf Eichmann, London, 1961, by Victor Gollancz

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Author(s): Victor Gollancz
Title: Do Not Kill Adolf Eichmann, Selection from "The Case of Adolf Eichmann"
Sources: Excerpt from "The Case of Adolf Eichmann," London, 1961
Published: 1961-01-01
First posted on CODOH: June 29, 1995, 7 p.m.
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