Commentary Magazine

Eichmann, the Law & Logic

To the Editor:

Many thanks for Harold Rosenberg’s intelligent, imaginative, and poignant article on the Eichmann Trial [“The Trial and Eichmann,” November 1961].

It fully exemplifies Rosenberg’s characteristic aptitude for clarifying the subtle relationships and discordancies between the requirements of drama and the requirements of the law court. Yet his skill at keen, ironic analysis is not practiced at the expense of feeling. For the nature of his engagement is never in question.

His statement strikes me as masterly. And it never once loses track of the justice in the “choric” outcry, however technical it becomes in its discussion of the rhetorical machinery involved in any such forensic presentation of a cause.

Kenneth Burke
Andover, New Jersey



To the Editor:

I have been an avid reader of much that has appeared in print on the Eichmann Trial—both in the English and the Yiddish press—but nothing compares in brilliance and originality with the piece by Harold Rosenberg. . . .

David Tabak
Brooklyn, New York



To the Editor:

. . . . May I congratulate you on Harold Rosenberg’s article on the Eichmann Trial; it is by far the best thing I have read on the subject.

G. F. Hudson
St. Antony’s College
Oxford, England



To the Editor:

Harold Rosenberg, in his most impassioned article, makes a statement that Nazi murder was based upon a principle separate from and far worse than anti-Semitism. . . . I feel that to argue thusly is to take a cue from the defense—which claimed that to have been a cog in a Nazi operation was separate and distinct from participating in an anti-Semitic operation. A study and analysis of the Nazi methodology would, I think, reveal Nazism to have been anti-Semitism carried to its ultimate; namely, genocide.

With great insight Mr. Rosenberg states that all of the motives publicly espoused for the trial were “but a rationalistic disguise for a tragic retelling by multitudes—the terrible fate of their stricken relatives and ancestors.” Although the above may not have been purposefully intended, the trial did stimulate an emotional catharsis for all of Judaism. . . . The trial thus poses a prophetic question to all Jews wherever they may be: “What must be your responsibility and consequent course of action to help insure that anti-Semitism can never again result in the holocaust at the death camps?”

Roy Seidler
Torrance, California



To the Editor:

Among many interesting ideas, Harold Rosenberg’s “The Trial and Eichmann” supports one that is very popular and very misleading; the trial failed, by failing to show how anti-Semitism leads to concentration camps, how even “innocent dislike” of Jews can (or must) “implicate” “respectable” anti-Semites in the madness and criminality of others.

Suppose I dislike modern painters. Am I “implicated” if the Communists, who dislike them too, come to power and execute them? Is one who dislikes any group for whatever reason, justifiable or not, ipso facto guilty of conniving in, or tolerating, subsequent torture and destruction of its members? Is it impossible to dislike without murdering or favoring murder? I think it is as possible as it is to murder without disliking, as Eichmann asserted was his case (I would not consider it an extenuating circumstance) .

Unconscious fantasies do not differentiate much between dislike and destruction, and between wish and act; personality and social controls interpose themselves between such feelings and acts, or even expressions. Equating dislike with “readiness for murder” confuses the intra-psychic with external realities. The horrifying element in the Nazi case is that a dislike of many, and a sadistic fantasy of some, became a sadistic reality: Nazism (and, indeed, totalitarianism) is distinctive not because of dislike, or sadistic fantasies, but because society, instead of controlling them, carried them out.

We will not be able to eliminate dislikes or sadistic fantasies, but I think we should be able to prevent genocide, i.e. realizations. This is why the identification of dislikes with genocide, the accusation: all anti-Semites connived, by being anti-Semites, in the Nazi deeds, is, in my opinion, profoundly misleading.

Ernest van den Haag
New York City



Mr. Rosenberg writes:

Speaking of dislike, I dislike people who insert themselves into a serious discussion through misquoting and distorting what has been said. I refer to Mr. van den Haag. Using my feeling to illustrate the issue of his letter, I have no intention of murdering van den Haag and do not even favor his murder—to this extent his argument is sound. Yet my dislike would make it more difficult for me to react against those who might attack him, and once they got started my quiescence might encourage them to go further. If no matter how far they went, I continued to show my dislike and allowed it to justify the attack, I should implicate myself, obviously. For my dislike would become a means for cancelling in regard to van den Haag the claims of our common humanity and of justice. I trust that van den Haag will understand that he could be thus guilty against “modern painters.”

It seems to me that Mr. van den Haag is unwise to be so indifferent to dislike and to depend so much on “social controls” to shield him against its possible consequences. The feelings that people have and their moral attitudes count the most in periods of disorder, which is precisely the relaxation or washing away of “social controls.” In a dark night, Mr. van den Haag might not fare so well, and in a dark night of society, which is, of course, what Nazism was, all shades of anti-Semitism become a menace.

But where in my article was there an “identification of dislike with genocide”? And where did I write that “anti-Semitism leads to concentration camps”? I invite the reader to return to pages 374-75 of the November COMMENTARY and to judge whether Mr. van den Haag has contributed anything but the reduction of a concrete analysis to oversimplifying generalizations and redundancies lacking in historical reference (e.g., that totalitarianism is totalitarianism because society carries out “sadistic fantasies” instead of controlling them). My criticism was that the Eichmann Trial missed an “opportunity to expose the exact link between the respectable anti-Semite and the concentration-camp brute.” Mr. van den Haag’s appeal to “unconscious fantasies” is not an acceptable substitute for exact analysis, no matter how real these psychoanalytical catchwords may appear in the minds of cultural anthropologists. As to his triumphant point about “murdering without disliking,” I refer the reader to my elaboration of this matter on page 372.



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