In an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, which you can read here, Deborah Lipstadt compared the recent trial of John Demjanjuk in Munich to the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. In her article, Lipstadt pointed out that “Coincidentally, this year is the 50th anniversary of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a case that, in its significance, appears to dwarf the Demjanjuk proceedings.” Lipstadt has recently published a book entitled The Eichmann Trial.
In comparing the two trials, Lipstadt wrote this:
But what happened at both of these trials is more important than the ultimate fates of the guilty. Now as then, the victims were given a chance to tell their story, not in a book, interview or speech, but in a court of law. At the Eichmann trial close to 100 witnesses testified about their suffering. At the Demjanjuk trial we heard from the victims’ children. They joined the prosecutor in pointing their fingers at the man who facilitated their parents’ murders. In other words, the Demjanjuk trial proves that while Eichmann himself may be history, the robust process that made Holocaust trials into something more than mere court proceedings is still effective.
Can the same “robust process” be used in place of “mere court proceedings” in any trial, or just in a trial involving Holocaust victims? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think a “robust process” can be used in a trial in America. Or in Germany, for any other crime. The victims of a crime in America have a chance to speak in court before the convicted criminal is sentenced, but I don’t think the victims are given the opportunity to tell about their suffering before the judge makes his decision on guilt or innocence. I would be very surprised if this can be done in a German court when it is not a trial involving the Holocaust.
Lipstadt also wrote this in her Op-Ed piece in the New York Times:
The Demjanjuk trial also underlines the lessons learned from Eichmann. Like Mr. Demjanjuk, Eichmann claimed he was only a small cog in the wheel. Both men argued that they did not have the choice to say no; it was kill or be killed. [...]
Both men could have said no with few consequences; no defense lawyer or historian has found evidence of someone being killed for refusing to participate in the Holocaust. But these men chose not to refuse.
According to Wikipedia, “In December 1939, he (Eichmann) was assigned to head RSHA Referat IV B4 (RSHA Sub-Department IV-B4), which dealt with Jewish affairs and evacuation, where he reported to Heinrich Müller. In August 1940, he released his Reichssicherheitshauptamt: Madagaskar Projekt (Reich Main Security Office: Madagascar Project), a plan for forced Jewish deportation that never materialized.“
Wikipedia also gives this information about Eichmann’s early career:
By 1934, Eichmann requested transfer into the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service) of the SS, to escape the “monotony” of military training in SS-Standarte Deutschland at Dachau. Eichmann was accepted into the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and assigned to the sub-office on “Freemasons” that was run by SS-Sturmbannführer Prof. Schwarz-Bostowitsch. After a short time, Eichmann had a meeting in the Wilhelmstrasse with Leopold von Mildenstein, a fellow Austrian, and was invited to join Mildenstein’s “Jews Section”, or Section II/112, of the SD at its Berlin headquarters. He later came to see this as his “big break”. Eichmann’s transfer was granted in November 1934.
So when Eichmann was invited in 1934 to join the “Jews Section,” was he given a chance to refuse to be part of the Holocaust? Did Mildenstein say to Eichmann, “Hitler is planning the genocide of the Jews. Do you want to participate or not?”
When Eichmann was assigned in 1939 to RSHA Sub-Department IV-B4, did anyone say to him, “This is the department that will be in charge of the transportation of the Jews to the death camps that Hitler is planning. Do you want to participate in the genocide of the Jews or not?”
Was it explained to Demjanjuk before he was sent to Trawniki for training that he was going to be trained to be a “death camp” guard and that he would be participating in the Holocaust?
In my humble opinion, neither Demjanjuk nor Eichmann was given the opportunity to refuse to participate in the Holocaust because it was not explained to them that they would be participating in the Holocaust if they accepted a job that was offered to them.
In Demjanjuk’s case, he was given the choice of being a prisoner in a POW camp, where he had a good chance of dying, or going to a training camp to learn to be a concentration camp guard. I doubt that it was explained to him that Hitler had given an order to kill all the Jews and that he might be assigned to work at one or more of the “death camps.”