Monday, August 22, 2022

Linda Kinstler's "Come to This Court and Cry"

Linda Kinstler is a writer and Ph.D candidate in the Rhetoric Department at U.C. Berkeley. She was previously a Marshall Scholar in the UK, where she covered British politics for The Atlantic. She is also a contributing writer for a contributing writer for The Economist’s 1843 magazine, was managing editor of The New Republic, where she covered the war in Ukraine, and has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Columbia Journalism Review, and many others.

Kinstler applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Come to This Court and Cry: How the Holocaust Ends, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the beginning of my account of the assassination that is at the center of my narrative, the 1965 killing of the "Latvian Lindbergh" and former Nazi accomplice Herberts Cukurs. I detail how Cukurs, having fled Europe and settled in Brazil, made no secret of his identity and history: unlike other Nazis who took refuge under false names in South America in the early post-war years, he did not believe that he had anything to hide. His bravado made him an easy target for the Israeli security services: Jewish survivors living in the same neighborhood started surveilling Cukurs and sending photographs of his activities onward to Jewish organizations--they hoped he would be prosecuted and punished for his complicity in perpetrating genocide. (One such surveillance photograph adorns the cover of my book.) Page 99 begins to convey the strange and still unresolved facts of this assassination: We still do not have a clear sense of why Mossad chose to go after Cukurs, in particular, for the records of this particular mission have never been released. The best account we have of the mission comes in the form of a pseudonymous memoir written by the lead assassin, titled The Execution of the Hangman of Riga: The Only Execution of a Nazi War Criminal by the Mossad. The memoir is a strange and fascinating document: on page 99 I start to describe the explanations it provides for how and why the mission began, and then go on to poke a few holes in this version of the story.

Does my book pass the Page 99 Test? I'd like to think so: the page details an episode that is absolutely integral to the detective story that drives the book. It's part of my description of the "scene of the crime," so to speak, the site of the assaassination that was meant to deliver a kind of justice in the absence of a formal legal proceeding. Page 99 establishes some critical facts that are absolutely necessary to understanding why this story carries such immense legal, historical, and moral weight: One of the curious things about this assassination is that it the lead agent, Yaakov Meidad, also participated in the mission to kidnap Adolf Eichmann from Buenos Aires. A few years after Eichmann's famous trial and hanging, Meidad was sent back to South America with a new target: Cukurs. These two cases are linked in so many ways, not only by the figure of Meidad but also by the questions that surround them. Why was Cukurs killed instead of kidnapped and brought to trial? Does an assassination avenge the deaths of his victims in ways that a trial would not? What is lost when survivors are denied the opportunity to confront a perpetrator with the full force of his crimes? In some ways the assassination accomplished its goals--it ended the life of a man who had been complicit in mass murder--while in another sense, it undid the justice that it hoped to achieve by making Cukurs a martyr and opening the door to conspiracy theories that would, eventually, glorify him as something of a lost national hero. I would encourage readers who open the book to page 99 to look at page 98 as well--this is one of my favorite narrative moments, and perhaps the one that captures the overall tenor most fully. There, I voice my own reluctance at recapitulating other people's versions of the story, at rehashing the details of the assassination, but of course I have to do so in order to show the reader how these explanations don't quite make sense, how there is something conspicuously "off" here. I write there that Cukurs was a dead man from the moment he started cooperating with occupying German forces in Riga. "Mossad called him 'The Deceased,' well before he was murdered. And yet his death gave him life." Those two lines are a kind of summation of the underlying tension that hums beneath the whole book--I hope that readers find this strange story as compelling and maddening as I did.
Visit Linda Kinstler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue