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367 pages, Hardcover
First published January 1, 1963
...Eichmann rose to become the senior Nazi official in charge of deporting and transporting Europe's Jews to the death camps. Yet Arendt seems always to find a mitigating circumstance. ''He did not enter the party out of conviction, nor was he ever convinced by it,'' she writes. It was not any fanatical hatred for the Jews but a desire to advance his career that drove his work as a Nazi, she maintains. Although Eichmann had repeatedly visited Auschwitz and seen the killing apparatus there, Arendt, noting he did not personally participate in the slaughter, insists that his role in the Final Solution ''had been wildly exaggerated.'' She even has the occasional kind word for Eichmann, citing evidence, for instance, that he was ''rather decent toward his subordinates.'' Over all, Arendt concludes, Eichmann ''was not Iago and not Macbeth. . . . Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement, he had no motives at all.''
Arendt's solicitous treatment of Eichmann seems all the more unaccountable when compared to her relentlessly harsh portrayal of Europe's Jewish leaders. In a book dripping with sarcasm and scorn, Arendt reserves some of her bitterest comments for the Jewish leaders who cooperated with the Nazis. Had these leaders not so obligingly provided lists of Jewish residents, had they not so diligently compiled accounts of Jewish possessions, had they not so uniformly counseled submission to German deportation orders, many of the millions who perished during the war could have been saved, Arendt contends. ''To a Jew,'' she writes, ''this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story.''
He was in complete command of himself, nay, he was more: he was completely himself. Nothing could have demonstrated this more convincingly than the grotesque silliness of his last words. He began by stating emphatically that he was a Gottgläubiger, to express in common Nazi fashion that he was no Christian and did not believe in life after death. He then proceeded: "After a short while, gentlemen, we shall meet again. Such is the fate of all men. Long live Germany, long live Argentina, long live Austria. I shall not forget them." In the face of death, he had found the cliché used in funeral oratory. Under the gallows, his memory played him the last trick; he was "elated" and he forgot that this was his own funeral.
It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us - the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.
And just as you [Eichmann] supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people…as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world…we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.
What stuck in the minds of these men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique, which must therefore be difficult to bear. This was important, because the murderers were not sadists or killers by nature; on the contrary, a systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure from what they did.And in the centre of all this is a man sitting in the bullet proof glass cage, recounting the whys and hows and wheres of the gross injustice he perpetrated while Arendt carefully observes his various stances actuated by a thorough research and presents a ‘report’ that is worth reading for the sheer amount of information and new perspectives it offers for our perusal. Although all her arguments bear a force that warrants some sort of reaction even from the unaffected, there are instances where things appears to be stretched a little too far on her part especially when it comes to pass judgments on Eichmann’s character. And no, I’m not referring to the ‘banality’ which is most likely a foregone conclusion (and Arendt herself regretted the use of that word) but certain extraneous assumptions. The ‘banality’ however, whether that of a person or some invisible evil force can’t be dismissed in its entirety when one reads the following words:
Just as the law in civilized countries assumes that the voice of conscience tells everybody “Thou shalt not kill,” even though man's natural desires and inclinations may at times be murderous, so the law of Hitler's land demanded that the voice of conscience tell everybody: “Thou shalt kill,” although the organizers of the massacres knew full well that murder is against the normal desires and inclinations of most people. Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it- the quality of temptation.Maybe there are many philosophies at play here that I didn’t able to differentiate or even recognize but one thing that is apparent against the tragic backdrop of wars is the dwelling place of truth that usually gets blurred or wiped out under the layers of black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. Arendt has explored those very places in a manner that is admirable and brave.
What has come to light is neither nihilism nor cynicism, as one might have expected, but a quite extraordinary confusion over elementary questions of morality—as if an instinct in such matters were truly the last thing to be taken for granted in our time.I've been entertained by my fair share of WWII/Nazi/Holocaust media, a glut in the marketable masses of reality's intersection with fiction the never fails to rear its head every year. Of course, that's the US for you, with its isolation and capitalism and pride. It's no use saying that I wish I had never sought out such things to fill my time, for reasons of a complete undermining of reception of this book if nothing else. But oh, how I would like to.
For politics is not like the nursery; in politics obedience and support are the same.What I have faith in these days is a future of ever increasing alignment between morality and legality. In the present I only supplicate in front of a reassurance that there indeed exists a concept of progress between my modern day and the ones before. A progress more aligned with my personal sensibility of ethics and individual level of comfort, at any rate.
...and if he suffers, he must suffer for what he has done, not for what he has caused others to suffer.What we have here, in this book, is a collusion of time, place, and people. Hannah Arendt went to Jerusalem to report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, doing so through means of fact, analysis, and the lines of legal and politic that governments trundle along their way on. As a result of my reading, my thinking has undergone a paradigm shift on the level that it did upon encountering The Second Sex. The subject material differs, but my interpretation is the same: I can never afford to become cynical, for that implies I've learned enough to be so. Fear, anger, and a burning desire to know more? That's acceptable.
And if he did not always like what he had to do...he never forgot what the alternative would have been. Not only in Argentina, leading the unhappy existence of a refugee, but also in the courtroom in Jerusalem, with his life as good as forfeited, he might have still preferred—if anybody had asked him—to be hanged as Obersturmbannführer a.D. (in retirement) rather than living out his life quietly and normally as a traveling salesman for the Vacuum Oil Company.According to the primary evidence Arendt utilized, Eichmann was deemed both sane and normal by six psychologists. He suffered from neither guilt nor anger, but from at most the frustration of one who has always been down on their luck, someone who joined a movement in history in hopes of a promising potential and never quite fulfilled it. His memory consisted not of the timeline of the war, but of the timeline of this potential: his study of Jewish texts, his interaction with fellow members of the S.S., the hows and wherefores of his coming to be and the end all question of his reasons for staying on.
The net effect of this language system was not to keep these people ignorant of what they were doing, but to prevent them from equating it with their old, "normal" knowledge of murder and lies. Eichmann's great susceptibility to catch words and stock phrases, combined with his incapacity for ordinary speech, made him, of course, an ideal subject for "language rules."Eichmann was banal in the least sense of the word. His lack of intelligence not only spelled his doom due to little caution and less attention paid to his bragging tongue, it also made him perfectly happy to appropriate the words the far more discreet Nazi Party told him and construct his thinking with such. In view of the Jewish Question, he termed himself both "expert" and "idealist", the former a lie and the latter a peculiar trait that led to largely respectful collaborations with Jewish Elders all over Europe regarding evacuations/deportations and related matters. Using these phrases, working towards a higher rank in the S.S., claiming responsibility for millions of deaths with both complete lack of guilt and oddly lofty sense of history; all of that, each and every time, made him "elated."
In [Eichmann's] mind, there was no contradiction between "I will jump into my grave laughing," appropriate for the end of the war, and "I shall gladly hang myself in public as a warning example for all anti-Semites on this earth," which now, under vastly different circumstances, fulfilled exactly the same function of giving him a lift.The facts here are ugly, awkward, and fucking sadistic. Eichmann's trial by sheer happenstance touches on, amidst so much more, the defining of "crimes against humanity", genocide versus "administrative massacres", the history of anti-Semitism and subsequent conflict between the Jewish understanding of pogroms and the world's views of crime and punishment, and the limits of current laws of warfare, and indeed the very terms of "justice", in the face of World War Two. Here, the trial in Jerusalem faltered in the face of a completely legal indictment and subsequent explanation of such, as did every other trial of WWII war criminals and lesser collaborators. Here, history will repeated, not because we do not know it but because we now know the punishment and, as such, can act accordingly. Here, the world took action, and one wonders whether that result was worth the trigger, and whether worse things could have happened had not the final push occurred.
Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it—the quality of temptation.A banality of evil is the necessity of mid-civilization crises of morality like this when it comes to eliciting a legal, political, worldwide recognition of what humanity cries for, religion aspires to, and human instinct, well. I don't have much faith in that last bit anymore.
But this was a moral question, and the answer to it may not have been legally relevant.
As for base motives, he had only done what he was ordered to do--to ship millions of men, women & children to their death with great zeal & the most meticulous care. Half a dozen psychiatrists had certified him as "normal"--"More normal at any rate than I am after having examined him", one was said to have exclaimed.And, in rereading Hannah Arendt's book, one comes to understand the reason for her subtitle, "the banality of evil", a phrasing that caused so much grief for this gifted writer, with a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Heidelberg, with her dissertation on the subject of love in Saint Augustine.
Another found that Eichmann's psychological outlook, his attitude toward his wife & children, mother & father, brothers, sisters & friends was "not only normal but most desirable." And finally, the minister who had paid regular visits to him in prison declared Eichmann to be "a man of positive ideas."
Without Jewish help in administrative & police work--the rounding up of Jews, done entirely by Jewish police--there would have been either complete chaos or an impossibly severe drain on German manpower.In Arendt's view, the prosecution, the judges & those in the courtroom were constantly trying to understand a mass murderer and to prove individual murder on someone who had not personally killed anyone.
The Nazis gave enormous power to members of the Jewish Councils, the locally recognized Jewish leaders--until, they, too were deported to Theresienstadt or Bergen-Belsen or Auschwitz. To a Jew, this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of our own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story.
It became an essential point of my inner life, around which many thoughts crystallized. This is why I did not escape. After conversations about the guilt among young people in Germany, which made a deep impression on me, I felt I no longer had the right to disappear.Eichmann in Jerusalem is a profoundly moving book, even more so with a 2nd reading. Following the execution of Adolf Eichmann just before midnight on July 31st, 1961, Hannah Arendt offers the reader a ray of hope by detailing the risks some good people took in sheltering Jews during WWII. "For the lesson of such stories is simple & within everyone's grasp. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can be reasonably asked for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation".
This is why I offered, in a written statement, at the beginning of this examination...to hang myself in public. I wanted to do my part in lifting the guilt from the German youth, for those young people are innocent of all events & of the acts of their fathers during the last war, which incidentally was forced on the German people.