In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • “With All Malice”:The Testimonial Objectives of Charles Reznikoff
  • Daniel Listoe (bio)

Social life, like art, is a problem of appeal.

Kenneth Burke, Permanence and Change

It is testimony, if anything, that founds the possibility of the poem.

Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz

Before arriving at its famous closing phrase—“the banality of evil”—Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) presents a relentless and multi-layered meditation on the legal and moral questions posed by Adolf Eichmann’s crimes. Arendt was notoriously critical of the state’s method of prosecution, and credited the judges alone for keeping the trial from lapsing into a mere “play.”1 In particular, she rejected the state’s attempt to paint a “general picture” (181) of Jewish suffering, of trying to extract, from the specifics of the Holocaust, some supposedly larger lessons about existential threats to Jews in the world. In Arendt’s thinking, Eichmann’s crimes, “different … in essence” (267), could not be tied to some “general picture,” and were not approachable through an established logic that claimed a teleology from ghetto to pogrom to genocide. While Israel’s Attorney General, Gideon Hausner, was liable, before the crowds of the People’s Hall, to lapse into what she called “bad history and cheap rhetoric” (19), the witnesses he called to testify on the prosecution’s behalf posed, for her, a different set of problems.

Almost all those who took the stand, Arendt writes, were survivors and many had authored books about the Holocaust before testifying at the trial. Volunteering to perform “what they had previously [End Page 110] written, or what they had told and retold many times” (224) their contributions could, in her eyes, lend little insight to Eichmann’s particular actions while instead creating a chorus wherein “horror was piled upon horror” until the Diaspora itself appeared as a vast “calamity” (8).2 The Israeli writer and documentarian, Haim Gouri, had a much different response. He credits this chorus with making the trial so momentous. It was, he claimed, a revelation for any Israeli consciousness. The author of Facing the Glass Booth (1962) and director of the documentary The Eighty-First Blow (1974), Gouri comes across as Hausner’s ideal audience for the “cruel history lesson” (157). “Only someone listening day in and day out to the endless succession of testimonies by survivors all over Europe,” he writes, “could begin to comprehend the terrible realities” (156).

The differing responses of Arendt and Gouri can be explained by their assumptions about that to which testimony testifies, how it takes shape, and how it lives on. Gouri, despite making strident claims about the power of the testimony presented in Eichmann’s trial, and in spite of all of the interviews with survivors he himself conducted later as part of his documentary projects, is led to a paradoxical conclusion. He says there is, in fact, nothing to hear. In a quote from the poet Uri Zvi Greenberg, Gouri spells out what for him is the ultimate lesson of listening to survivors detail their experience: “As the seas swallows its prey, no trace remains on the water” (159; emphasis added). For Arendt, the fact of remainders is crucial. Even while she felt that little of the testimony presented in Jerusalem had any bearing on the moral and legal questions at hand, testimony itself was the defeat of annihilating principles. She had written that under totalitarian regimes, the “iron band of terror” always lost the battle to erase its crimes. She argued that actions taken by individuals in dark times are thus never worthless, never in vain, even when those gestures were sometimes just words. Many who speak out in defiance may well disappear into night and fog, but in the end, the past always returns: “It is true that totalitarian domination tried to establish these holes of oblivion into which all deeds, good and evil, would disappear, but … all [the Nazis’] efforts to let their opponents ‘disappear into a silent’ anonymity were in vain. The holes of oblivion do not exist. … One man will always be left alive to tell the story” (Origins 232–33).

One such story in Jerusalem was that of Zindel Grynszpan...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-4365
Print ISSN
0896-7148
Pages
pp. 110-131
Launched on MUSE
2014-02-05
Open Access
No
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