The Trial and Eichmann
IN THIS HARSH world draw thy breath in pain to tell my story,” the dying Hamlet begged his friend Horatio. Telling can, apparently, require a sacrifice-in Hamlet’s view, the supreme sacrifice of remaining alive. Why tell it then? What good will it do? It is a shocking story; to repeat it can only induce bad dreams, particularly in the few survivors of the bloody tragedy. Also, the story is confused and points to no edifying conclusion. For Horatio to accede to Hamlet’s appeal, the passion of the friend and the poet must overcome the impulse of the man to seek relief from the past in oblivion.
Human beings, we assume, are entitled to peace of mind, and this privilege ought to be surrendered only if it can be demonstrated that the recalling of miseries will serve some useful purpose-that of social therapy perhaps, or of patriotism, or of progress toward a better world. Thus press reports of the trial of “The Attorney General versus Adolf, the son of Adolf Karl Eichmann” concluded their horrid accounts by arguing apologetically that virtuous ends might be furthered: “It is hoped,” ran the refrain, “that bringing these evils to light will prevent anything like them from ever happening again.” Dr. Servatius, chief attorney for the defense, asked in his summation that the case be determined in such a way as to “serve as a warning signpost for history” and a contribution to the cause of peace.
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