Suppressed Letters on Adolf Eichmann and Vincent Foster
Live and Learn
To comment on this article go to BÕManÕs Revolt.
Esquire magazine has called it Ōthe premier literary-intellectual magazine in the English language.Ķ I began subscribing to The New York Review of Books and reading it rather religiously when I was a graduate student in the late 1960s. I recall that in those days one of the regular contributors who made the greatest impression upon me was Noam Chomsky with his critical analysis of U.S. foreign policy. Only when the subject of the magazineÕs article concerned something that I already knew quite a bit about did I have misgivings about what I was reading.
As the years passed and my knowledge grew, so did my doubts about the reliability of The New York Review of Books. If they were wrong when they wrote about something in my area of expertise, I wondered, might there not be a good chance that theyÕre also wrong when theyÕre writing about something that I know less about? To some extent my disillusionment with the NYR paralleled my growing disillusionment with Chomsky, and I had long since dropped my subscription by the time I wrote ŌChomsky, the Fraud,Ķ ŌChomsky, the Fraud, Part 2Ķ and ŌChomsky, the Fraud, on 9/11.Ķ
One of the saving graces of the magazine is that it publishes quite long letters to the editor. I felt that in those instances the NYR was providing a sufficient breadth of opinion for me to make up my own mind, even though they always permitted their writer to respond to criticism and to have the last word. As it turned out, I was giving them too much credit, but I didnÕt know it until I put them to the test, myself.
We shall discuss that instance later, but first we turn our attention to the most recently suppressed letter. It comes from David Merlin of the Committee for Open Discussion of the Holocaust. * It concerns one of those subjects about which I claim very little special knowledge, Hannah ArendtÕs writings on Adolf Eichmann. I have only a generally favorable impression of the late scholar Arendt mainly from having read her book The Origins of Totalitarianism some years ago. It struck me as insightful and informative at the time, although I canÕt say for sure that it would if I were to read it in light of what I have since learned. My impression of Arendt is also favorable from the fact that she was among those Jewish American intellectuals along with Albert Einstein and Sidney Hook who signed the letter published in The New York Times in 1948 warning the people of the United States about Menachem Begin and his Irgun party. Max Blumenthal recently agreed with me after a presentation on his new book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, at the National Press Club that the current leaders of Israel are the direct intellectual heirs of the people that Arendt et al. warned against in 1948.
As for Eichmann, before reading MerlinÕs letter I knew only that he was a Nazi government official who was implicated in whatever happened to large numbers of Jews detained in concentration camps during World War II, that he escaped to Argentina after the war, and was eventually tracked down by IsraelÕs Mossad, transported to Israel, and tried and executed. I will admit to some skepticism about the charges against him because, among other things, I knew that many of the claims of German atrocities came from confessions obtained through torture, in particular the confession of Auschwitz Camp commandant, Rudolf Hss.
I had also detected a strong similarity of the treatment of the Confederacy in the wake of their defeat to that of the Germans after theirs. Captain Henry Wirz, the commandant of the Andersonville POW camp in Georgia was hanged as a war criminal, but only after he rejected an offer that his life be spared if he would implicate Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The evidence is strong that Wirz was not only innocent of war crimes but was, in fact, one of the most admirable and upstanding men to serve in the officer corps of either army. Had the Confederacy won the war, itÕs entirely likely that quite a number of Union POW camp commanders would have ended up in the dock.
With that background, we read the Merlin letter with great interest, but with little hope that it would be printed:
12 December 2013
Letters to the Editor:
I am writing to comment on Mark Lilla's article, Arendt & Eichmann: The New Truth (Nov. 21, 2013).
Professor Lilla defines his approach to history at the beginning of his article:
"Every advance in research that adds a new complication to our understanding of what happened on the Nazi side, or on the victims', can potentially threaten our moral clarity about why it happened, obscuring the reality and fundamental inexplicability of anti-Semitic eliminationism."
I find this a very strange view of history. History is made up of complicating details because humans exist in complicated relationships. Details are necessary to understand history. But Professor Lilla leaps over the details to his greater "moral clarity". He does this with the excuse that a historian is "obliged to render the mass of material into a coherent object of thought and judgment. Without a profound simplification the world around us would be an infinite, undefined tangle..."
As a Revisionist, I take an opposite view. I believe that history is rarely gotten right the first time, particularly in time of war. It needs to be reviewed, discussed and revised. Rather than run from complicating details, we should understand and integrate them into as accurate a history as possible.
Professor Lilla puts theories of his "New Truth" to use in his review of Margarethe von Trotta's new film Hannah Arendt and in a broader critique of Ms. Arendt herself. We learn that "it can never be emphasized enough that the Holocaust is not an acceptable occasion for sentimental journeys." We learn that, however corrupt, oppressive, and stupid Jewish collaborators with the National Socialists were we should not judge them because (speaking in the first person) "I do not know, and it does not much interest me to know, whether in my depths there lurks a murderer, but I do know that I was a guiltless victim and I was not a murderer."
Above all, Professor Lilla is concerned with the "truth" of the film. The professor makes an amazing claim: Arendt held, "a position we now know to be utterly indefensible-as Arendt, were she alive would have to concede". This anathema is Arendt's portrayal of Eichmann as "not radically evil" and her shifting "of attention from anti-Semitism to the faceless system in which he [Eichmann] worked".
It is worth pointing out that most historians share Arendt's view of Eichmann. As the BBC History website reads: "He [Eichmann] adapted to fluctuating anti-Jewish policies, and endeavored to act with dedication, being motivated by unbridled careerism, concern for his status and rank, and feelings of frustration over his failure to achieve promotion, and over the disdain exhibited towards him and his inferior education."
Professor Lilla claims his "New Truth" is supported by "a great body of evidence", mainly accumulated over the past fifteen years. However, he produces only one quote from a book by Bettina Stangneth. Ms. Stangneth has, according to Professor Lilla's footnote 2, also shown that Eichmann was part of "an international network of ex-Nazis who received significant support from within the Federal Republic of Germany". Ms. Stangneth, according to Professor Lilla, recently unraveled the "confusion, intrigue, misinformation, and disinformation" which surrounded notes and tapes made by a mysterious Willem Sassen in the 1950's.
In fact, the Sassen notes and transcripts of the tapes are not news. They have been public and the subject of discussion since 1991. They are rambling and contradictory. How Professor Lilla cobbled together his Eichmann quote without including contradictory statements by Eichmann is not clear but seems to involve a liberal use of ellipses. The most interesting new information about Sassen raised by Ms. Stangneth is a draft letter dated 1956 and supposedly sent by Mr. Eichmann from Argentina to the West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, proposing that Eichmann return to Germany to stand trial. If true, that is a complicating detail indeed.
How did Eichmann trick Arendt into believing what was "utterly indefensible"? Like the Devil, Eichmann was a master of falsehood and disguise. Professor Lilla writes: "Arendt was not alone in being taken in by Eichmann and his many masks."
Professor Lilla's "New Truth" aside, there are many "complications" which support the belief that Eichmann "adapted to fluctuating anti-Jewish policies." For example, we know that Eichmann worked with Jewish American groups in the late 1930's to help tens of thousands of Austrian Jews leave German control. In 1937 he traveled to British-controlled Palestine to discuss the possibility of large scale Jewish emigration to the Middle East, but returned without success due to British resistance. In 1940 Eichmann worked on the Madagascar Plan. None of these plans were "eliminationist". They represented successive guidelines followed by German bureaucracy, followed in turn by Eichmann.
Eichmann's collaboration with Rudolf Kastner in 1944 resulted in at least 18,000 Hungarian Jews being sent to the Strasshof family camp near Vienna, and Eichmann originally spoke of transferring 100,000 people there. Most of the Strasshof detainees survived the War. One could discuss the role of Eichmann in the light of works like Christopher R. Browning's The Origins of the Final Solution, or Professor Arno Mayer's Why Did the Heavens Not Darken?, but suffice it to say that there truly is a "great body of evidence" which shows Mr. Eichmann had no role in formulating an "eliminationist" plan.
Professor Lilla seems to be a man with strong views on what is or is not a proper subject for a film, or what is or is not an acceptable excuse for crimes of collaboration. Those are moral or artistic judgments and I suppose those held by Professor Lilla's are as good as mine. But I believe it is hazardous for all when a professor feels justified in handing us a "profoundly simplified" account of history designed to protect (his) "moral clarity". And I feel constrained to dispute Professor Lilla's claim to being the holder of such an exclusive "New Truth".
Thank you for consideration of my letter.
Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust
On December 19, 2013, the NYR did print a long letter that was critical of LillaÕs article, but MerlinÕs letter did not see the light of day. LillaÕs response droned on at even greater length, but neither he nor the critic, Roger Berkowitz, got nearly as close to the fundamental question of EichmannÕs guilt as did Merlin.
The Foster Letter
That was the sort of treatment that I was expecting when I wrote my letter on May 7, 1996, on the subject of the death of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent W. Foster, Jr. My belief was that the facts that I assembled were so strong that no matter how much space they gave to the writer, Northwestern University professor Garry Wills, there was no way that he would be able to rebut me. Here is the letter:
Although I have been a reader of your magazine for many years, I must admit that I am not much of a fan of one of your regular contributors, Garry Wills. My opinion has never been so well confirmed as it was by his recent review article, "The Clinton Scandals." In spite of its considerable length, the article is still almost childishly superficial, and it could hardly have been more one-sided in its defense of the suspicious behavior of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Like most of the reviewers that the general public gets to read, Wills professes to be quite favorably impressed with James StewartÕs Blood Sport, especially the part I find weakest and most objectionable. Wills writes that "Stewart is very good on the character and situation of Vincent Foster..." and states confidently that he "rightly rejects all conspiratorial nonsense about FosterÕs death."
One would expect that the historian Wills would have done at least a tiny bit of primary research before pronouncing such a bold, blanket exculpation. Had he done so, he would have found that every single source that Stewart used to attest to FosterÕs general nature and to his specific state of mind shortly before his death is either someone who has, on the record, changed his story, or someone who chooses to remain anonymous. There are several of each, but the most notable example of the former is the supposed force behind StewartÕs book, the memory-challenged Clinton confidante, Susan Thomases. The top example of the latter, in all likelihood, is the composer or composers of the disjointed, peevish, sophomoric, fingerprintless note belatedly "discovered" curiously tumbling in torn-up pieces out of FosterÕs previously-searched briefcase, a note which Stewart, Wills, and the authorities choose to treat, without any foundation to date that would begin to stand up in court, as authentic.
Taking the known story-changer first, Ms. Thomases is the source of the indelicate and incredible new revelation in StewartÕs book that the gentlemanly and very private Foster confided to her, of all people, when they were alone together of an evening in her O Street rooming house scarcely a week before his death, that he held his wife of more than 25 years and mother of their three children in virtual contempt. Do I exaggerate? This is straight from the book:
"But then the conversation took a curious turn. One thing he had not missed about his life in Little Rock was Lisa, his wife. The marriage had not been what heÕd hoped for, and it hadnÕt been for years. She was completely dependent on him, and this had become a burden. He found he couldnÕt confide in her. LisaÕs recent arrival in Washington had brought this to the fore, just when Foster needed someone to lean on.
"Thomases didnÕt know what to say. Foster seemed calm, dignified—but infinitely sad."
And they say itÕs the skeptics who donÕt care about the feelings of the Foster family.
The fact that Vincent Foster had to be savvy enough to realize how it would certainly be taken for him to run down his wife after nightfall in the privacy of another womanÕs boudoir, even if he didnÕt mean it that way, is reason enough to doubt firmly that this extraordinary conversation ever took place. The fact that Ms. Thomases neglected to tell the FBI about it when they interviewed her as a part of Robert FiskeÕs investigation is another strong reason to doubt it. What she told her FBI interviewers is that she last saw Foster on the previous Wednesday or Thursday, about the time of the belatedly reported nocturnal tete a tete, but she believes they had lunch together with some other people. "She noted no change in his demeanor or physical appearance...His death came as a complete shock to her and she can offer no reason or speculation as to why he may have taken his life." And that would include marital difficulties, we must infer.
Their face-value acceptance of the torn-up note as the work of Foster is even more damning of both Stewart and Wills. Both quote from it to show how wrought up Foster was about the travel office mess. Anyone with an iota of skepticism in his makeup, in light of the way in which the note turned up and the quality of the text, would have been suspicious of it, and one would have hoped that would include the investigating police. Suspicions should have been heightened when no photocopy of the note was released to the public or the press and longtime Clinton associate and Foster family lawyer James Hamilton wrote Attorney General Janet Reno pleading that the original note be given to the family for sentimental reasons and praising her decision not to release photocopies.
A rigorous evaluation of the note by detached, dispassionate experts was certainly in order. So what did the Park Police do? They located an uncertified, now-retired sergeant in the Capitol Hill Police who claimed some skill in handwriting analysis and gave him one and only one putatively known sample of FosterÕs writing for comparison. To absolutely no oneÕs surprise, he pronounced the note authentic.
In spite of the governmentÕs best efforts at suppression, an actual copy of the original note did eventually leak out to the Wall Street Journal, which published it. Strategic Investment newsletter then hired three recognized experts and supplied each with a minimum of 10 known Foster handwriting samples taken from Senate hearing documents on the case. On October 25 last year they held a news conference in a ballroom of the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, and explained in great detail why each had independently concluded that the note was an obvious forgery.
In legal language, the finding of those experts now represents the best evidence as to the authenticity of the not-quite-suicide note. IÕm sure that Professor Wills would reply that the newsletter involved is part of that ultra-conservative "Foster Factory," as the Wills-referenced March/April, 1996, Columbia Journalism Review called it, partly funded by Richard Mellon Scaife, who also supports the dogged reporter, Christopher Ruddy.** Interestingly, the CJR, as much as it tried to give a sinister cast to ScaifeÕs activities, neglected to mention this finding or the funding of the handwriting experts, one of whom, Reginald Alton, professor emeritus of English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, is perhaps the foremost authenticator of literary manuscripts in the world. One can only suspect that they, like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the major news magazines and broadcast networks chose to suppress this truly monumental news because they simply had no way to explain it away.
Finally, I would remind the historian, Wills, that it was, after the passage of several years, the revelation of the forgery of something called the Panizzardi letter that finally blew open the Dreyfus Affair in turn-of-the-century France. We hear it said in case after case that for there really to be a conspiracy and cover-up too many people would have to be in on it. I wonder if Professor Wills might hazard a guess as to how many score French officials and news people were ultimately in on the framing of Captain Dreyfus.
In this instance the NYR did not pick out a letter or two for Wills to respond to. Not only did it not print my letter, but, in an unprecedented move, it allowed Wills simply to characterize—or more correctly mischaracterize—the letters that it had received and to rebut those straw men. At that point it became clear to me that the editors of The New York Review of Books were simply pursuing an agenda and that agenda had nothing to do with the truth.
Apparently, nothing has changed at the NYR. The official propaganda line is that Vince Foster murdered himself, and the wealth of evidence to the contrary is simply to be ignored. Similarly, the official propaganda line is that Adolf Eichmann, like all high level Nazis, was simply an unfathomably inhuman monster and messy facts to the contrary are to be dismissed.
* I suspect that ŌDavid MerlinĶ is a pen name, perhaps for CODOH director, Bradley Smith, himself. Merlin appears not to exist apart from CODOH on the Internet. The letter to the NYR, though, appears to stand upon its own merit, apart from the credentials of its writer.
** My opinion of the journalist Ruddy plunged shortly after I wrote that letter. One may follow the plunge by reading parts 2 and 5 of my ŌAmericaÕs Dreyfus Affair, the Case of the Death of Vincent Foster.Ķ Short samples of the evidence against Ruddy can be found in the 1999 articles ŌFake Clinton Critic RuddyĶ and ŌMore Ruddy Trickery.Ķ
January 3, 2014