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The Eichmann Letter and Ban Ki-Moon

January 31, 2016 | by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Excusing evil, again.

Two stories made the headlines this past week – and to my mind there is an ironic connection between them.

The first is a revelation about one of the chief architects of the Holocaust. It was never disclosed until now but it serves as a remarkable and fascinating footnote to Israel’s execution of Adolf Eichmann for his unspeakable crimes against humanity and the Jewish people. In the aftermath of Eichmann’s trial which found him guilty of a major role in the death of 6 million, we now learn that he sent a letter pleading for his life and a pardon on the grounds that “I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.” He was only, as he went on to say, “acting under orders” – the very same justification used by his codefendants at the Nuremberg trials.

No guilt, no remorse, no repentance – because Eichmann was able to rationalize the most barbaric acts perpetrated by the Nazi regime under his direction.

No guilt, no remorse, no repentance – because Eichmann was able to rationalize the most barbaric acts perpetrated by the Nazi regime under his direction. In his evil mind, an excuse was sufficient for self-justification; a reason warranted absolution and forgiveness.

The letter, handwritten by Eichmann in German, and other original documents from the case, were made public for the first time last Wednesday by Israel’s current president, Reuven Rivlin, during an event to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The then Israeli president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi rejected Eichmann’s plea. The hanging of Adolf Eichmann, the only time Israel ever carried out capital punishment, was meant to send a clear message to the world and to future generations that unmitigated evil dare not seek to be pardoned by rationalizations and that no explanations may ever be considered cause for justification.

In a handwritten note attached by Ben-Zvi to the telegram rejecting Eichmann’s appeal, the president wrote a biblical quotation: “But Samuel said, ‘As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women” (Samuel I 15:33).

Absolute evil requires condemnation, without explanation or qualification.

The revelation of Eichmann’s letter, especially as it coincided with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, was a stark reminder of a truth the world needs desperately to recognize if it hopes to avoid a repetition of the tragedy which blackens the memory of the twentieth century: Absolute evil requires condemnation, without explanation or qualification.

And then, in an unparalleled irony which brings into question the very legitimacy of the United Nations, the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon made clear that it is precisely this very idea that he neither accepts nor comprehends.

In response to the contemporary violence and terrorism plaguing Israel – terrorism of almost unimaginable cruelty – Ban Ki-Moon expressed his reaction to these horrific acts as events which need to be understood as “only human nature in response to the occupation.” They may on the surface seem wrong, he explains, but we can’t forget that Palestinian terrorism has a reason. It is no less than a response to Israeli provocation – and the meaning of its response, in all of its manifold perorations, according to Ban Ki-Moon, is nothing less than “human nature.”

Let’s try to absorb the full meaning of the Secretary-General’s slander against our supposedly human – and God given – nature. Webster’s dictionary is a good place to start. Human nature, Webster’s tells us, is “the ways of thinking, feeling and acting that are common to most people.”

So “common to most people” would be some of these recent Palestinian expressions of politically motivated response to grievances:

  • Stabbing a mother to death in front of her six children
  • critically wounding thirteen-year-old boy by stabbing him while on his bicycle
  • murdering Jews whose only crime aside from their identity as Jews was to gather together for prayer in a synagogue
  • randomly shooting to death people enjoying a coffee in a Tel Aviv café

The list goes on in gruesome and horrifying detail. It is a story of ceaseless cruelty which ought to shock the civilized mind by its depravity.

But this is what the Secretary-General of the United Nations, an organization ostensibly created to bring about the best of human kind, really believes is the truth of human nature – a truth which can then explain the prevalence of evil as nothing more than an expression of our innate and unalterable state of being.

For anyone who shares the biblical belief that human kind was created in the image of God, we dare not excuse evil behavior with the rationalization that we are really no better. Human nature at its source is rooted in our spiritual essence. Our souls seek to do good. True, free will allows the possibility of evil. But it can only sicken us when we see how people pervert their spiritual essence and ignore their divinely granted real “human nature”.

The Holocaust was made possible by people who felt their evil could be excused, that their crimes could be justified. How sad that 70 years later, the spokesman for the nations of the world repeats the same canard camouflaged only by slightly different verbiage. It would be tragic if we didn’t react with well-deserved outrage at the suggestion that by our “human nature” we could readily commit cruel acts of violence and murder – because a world which agrees with that obscene proposition would be but a step away from making it a reality.


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