This blog entry appears during the time that we mark Yom HaShoah. It is also the time of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. I am reminded of a small article which appeared on the front page [upper half] of the New York Times on April 22nd 1943. The article read as follows:
The secret Polish radio appealed for help tonight in a broadcast from Poland and then suddenly the station went dead. The broadcast as heard here said: The last 35,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto have been condemned to execution. Warsaw is echoing with musketry volleys.
The people are murdered. Women and children defend themselves with their naked arms.
I am also reminded of some of those who buried the Oyneg Shabbes archival collection which documented the destruction. [The following material appears in Sam Kassow’s magisterial book, Who Will Write Our History?] Israel Lichtenstein wrote on the day he buried the archives:
I do not ask for any thanks, for any memorial, for any praise. I only wish to be remembered…. I wish my wife to be remembered, Gele Sekstein. She has worked during the war years with children as an educator and teacher, has prepared stage sets, costumes of children’s theatre… both of us get ready to meet and receive death. I wish my little daughter to be remembered. Margalit is 20 months old today. She has fully mastered the Yiddish language and speaks it perfectly… I don’t lament my own life or that of my wife. I pity only this little nice and talented girl. She too deserves to be remembered.
With Lichtenstein on that day was Nahum Grzywacz who was 18 years old. When they were burying the archives he heard his parents’ building was being blockaded. He wrote:
I am going to run to my parents and if they are all right. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. Remember my name is Nahum Grzywacz. [emphasis in original]
Also present was David Graber who was 19. As they buried the archives, Graber wrote:
What we were unable to cry and shriek out the world we buried in the ground. … We shall certainly not live to see it, and therefore I write my last will: May the treasure fall into good hands, may it last into better times, may it alarm and alert the world to what happened… in the twentieth century. We now died in peace. We fulfilled our mission. May history attest for us. [emphasis added]
None of these people seem to contemplate the possibility of survival. They hungered to be remembered.
May the history we write, read, and remember attest for them. They have attested for themselves
Deborah Lipstadt’s most recent book, The Eichmann Trial, is now available.
On Monday, Deborah Lipstadt wrote about eerie anniversaries. She is the author of the new book The Eichmann Trial.
I have spent much of the past few weeks talking about my new book, The Eichmann Trial. I don’t want to make this blog entry about the book. (To be blunt, I’d rather have folks read the book.) But something has struck me in the talks and interviews I have conducted.
For so many people the issue of the Eichmann Trial remains Hannah Arendt. They seem to have a hard time conceiving of the Eichmann trial independent of Arendt’s “analysis.” I am speaking of who abhor what she said as well as of those who espouse her views.
I take a more “middle of the road” or balanced perspective. Let me be explicit (for nuance, you’ll have to read the book. OK, I won’t repeat that again. Twice is certainly enough. Though, please note, I wrote read, not buy). When I speak about Arendt I try to discern where my audience – whether it be one person or a multitude — stands on the issue. I then try to stress the “other” side, i.e. if they hate – and that’s not too strong a term – her words I tell them the affirmative things she had to say about the trial and Israel. If they are enthralled with her views, I point out the glaring historical mistakes on which they are based.
Sometimes that leads to trouble.
At a talk I gave at the Center for Jewish History I assumed that many of the people in the audience were familiar with all the negatives that had been said both by and about Arendt. They knew of her [c]overt antisemitic – if not racist – comments about Israeli society and of her historically inaccurate statements about the Judenrate, the Jewish councils established in the ghettoes by the Nazis.
I, chose, therefore to speak of some of the insights she had and powerful statements she made about the significance of the Holocaust. I wanted to make it clear to them that there are a lot of grays when it comes to Arendt. Sure enough, I received a number of emails and comments accusing me of having “gone soft on Arendt.”
Conversely, when I have spoken with those, whose view of the trial has been completely refracted thorough Arendt, they hear me as critical of her and have also reacted viscerally. They defend her in a knee-jerk fashion and excoriate me for being critical of her.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if people set aside their preconceived conclusions and read what I have to say about her? (Oops, there I go again. Clearly this is the place to end this blog entry.)
It was the 50th anniversary of the start of the Eichmann Trial and the 11th anniversary of the verdict [judgment] in my libel trial in the UK when David Irving sued me for libel for calling him a Holocaust denier.
More significantly, on April 11th I spoke at the United States State Department to mark the anniversary of the Eichmann trial. In addition to State Department staff members, there were a number of diplomats present [Turkey, Morocco, Ukraine, and Israel among others], as well as friends and colleagues. It was quite meaningful that I was speaking about this seminar act of genocide to an audience composed in part of people who deal with genocide and persecution-related issues. One of the people with whom I spoke has spent years working to rid the world of land mines. Another had been involved in the genocide in Darfur. Another had worked on issues related to the former Yugoslavia. Tragedies all.
There was another factor that made this a meaningful moment. The audience was composed of Federal employees. My book is dedicated to three men who worked for a Federal institution, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. One of them, Special Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, gave his life for the institution. The quick response by the other two, Special Officer Harry Weeks and Special Officer Jason “Mac” McCuiston, prevented this tragedy from assuming far greater proportions.
I began by taking note of that fact and reading from the dedication. I was surprised by the emotion it evoked, not just from the audience, but from me. Soon it will be two years since the tragedy but the pain of that moment is still palpable.