Eichmann: The Simplicity of Evil
The 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, writes the American scholar Alan Mintz, was “pivotal” in turning the Holocaust from “a topic barely spoken of in public discourse” into “one of the dominant subjects of our time.” These words appear in Mintz’s introduction to Facing the Glass Booth, a collection of contemporaneous newspaper coverage of the trial by the Israeli poet and journalist Haim Gouri.* Translated into English four decades after its appearance in Hebrew in 1962, Gouri’s book now joins a small shelf of English-language volumes about this event, of which the most important remains Hannah Arendt’s controversial Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963).
Indeed, from now on it will be mandatory for anyone interested in the Eichmann trial to read these two books together, since they both complement and clash with each other strikingly. Arendt and Gouri were two highly perceptive observers who sat through the trial’s many months while writing about it for the publications that commissioned them: Arendt for the New Yorker, Gouri for the moderately left-wing Hebrew daily, Lamerhav. Yet in temperament, outlook, and identity, the two could hardly have been more opposed. Arendt, the German-Jewish intellectual and author of The Origins of Totalitarianism, was coolly cerebral; Gouri, a prominent literary figure of the so-called “Palmach generation” that came of age around the time of Israel’s 1948 war of independence, was a man of strong emotion. Arendt conceived of herself as a loner, philosophically above the fray; Gouri was socially and politically engaged. And whereas Arendt disclaimed any Jewish allegiances and was not especially well-disposed toward Israel, Gouri was Jewish and Israeli to the core.
About the Author
Hillel Halkin is a columnist for the New York Sun and a veteran contributor to COMMENTARY. Portions of the present essay were delivered at Northwestern University in March as the Klutznick Lecture in Jewish Civilization.