LONDON, Feb. 29 (JTA) — Five large envelopes containing a 1,105-page memoir in the archaic Gothic handwriting of Adolf Eichmann may now hold the key to a dramatic libel trial currently being played out in London.
The memoir, written while Eichmann, chief engineer of the Holocaust, was in an Israeli jail awaiting execution in 1962 following his landmark trial, has been locked away in Israel’s National Archive for more than 35 years.
Now this document has been given new life and, unwittingly, new purpose in the hands of lawyers in London who are defending U.S. Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt.
Lipstadt is being sued by Holocaust revisionist David Irving, who claims he was libeled by Lipstadt in her 1994 book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” published in Britain by Penguin Books.
Irving, who denies that Auschwitz was a death camp and insists that the number of Jewish victims has been grossly inflated, maintains that his career was wrecked after allegedly being accused by Lipstadt of distorting historical data to suit his ideological perspective and being labeled a Holocaust denier.
Under British libel law, the onus of proof is on Lipstadt to show that her contentions are accurate: She has to prove that Irving possessed information about the Holocaust that he deliberately distorted, selected or suppressed to suit his own purposes.
Irving is making full use of this advantage in the courtroom by simply claiming that he is not an expert in the Holocaust, a subject that he told the judge he found boring. By asserting his relative ignorance of the subject, Irving increases the burden of proof on Lipstadt and her defense team.
But the Eichmann memoir — which is said to contain a meticulous record of the ghettoes and the cattle trains that took millions of Jews to the death camps of Eastern Europe — might change all that.
While the memoir has been kept under lock and key in Jerusalem for the past 40 years, it has been available to a handful of scholars. And Irving, crucially, is among the few who are believed to have acquired a detailed knowledge of the memoir.
In the past, Irving has claimed to have received two packages containing 426 pages of the document from a member of Eichmann’s family while he was in Buenos Aires during a lecture tour of Argentina in 1991.
He has used parts of the Eichmann account, presumably confident that they would never be made public, to support his contention that there was no systematic genocide and that Hitler neither gave orders nor had knowledge of any mass killings of Jews.
In a 1997 letter to Robert Jan van Pelt, a Holocaust historian who testified for Lipstadt earlier in the trial, Irving also cited the Eichmann memoir to cast doubt on the existence of gas chambers. He claimed that while Eichmann described an “experimental” truck gassing, he was never shown a gas chamber at Auschwitz.
Irving’s presumption that the Eichmann memoir would remain securely locked away might prove to be the fatal flaw in his case.
“There was no denial of the Holocaust there,” said Gavriel Bach, a junior prosecution counsel at the Eichmann trial in 1961 who went on to become an Israeli Supreme Court judge and was the first person to read the memoir.
“Eichmann tried to show that he was a minor cog in the machine and he had to obey orders, but he describes how terrible it was.”
Said Bach: “He wanted his family to see it, and to see his role. Maybe he wanted to convince his family he did not take a central part in the Final Solution.”
Now retired, Bach was Eichmann’s main contact with the outside world while he was in jail.
At one point, after witnessing the liquidation of a group of Jews, Eichmann’s memoirs, perhaps self-servingly, record his shock and his consumption of large quantities of alcohol as a tranquilizer to relieve his tension.
“In court,” recalled Bach, “he admitted it was the most terrible crime in history. He says how he almost fainted when he saw the geysers of blood coming out of the bodies in the ditches.”
Bach served on the panel of Israeli scholars and lawyers who decided Sunday night that the memoir should be given immediately to aid Lipstadt’s defense. A spokesman for Israel’s Justice Ministry said the panel agreed to give Lipstadt’s lawyers a copy of the memoir as soon as possible “so she can defend herself in a lawsuit brought by a Holocaust denier.”
And maybe, too, the final labors of the “Final Solution’s” chief logician will also serve, unwittingly, to put to rest the contention that the Holocaust never happened.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.