Sparking a flurry of heated debate, Hannah Arendt's authoritative and stunning report on the trial of German Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann first appeared as a series of articles in The New Yorker in 1963. This revised edition includes material that came to light after the trial, as well as Arendt's postscript directly addressing the controversy that arose over her account. A major journalistic triumph by an intellectual of singular influence, Eichmann in Jerusalem is as shocking as it is informative - an unflinching look at one of the most unsettling (and unsettled) issues of the 20th century.
©1963 Hannah Arendt (P)2011 Tantor
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
This book is amazing. In it, Arendt struggles with three major issues: 1) the guilt and evil of the ordinary, bureaucratic, obedient German people (like Eichmann) who contributed to the attempted genocide of the Jewish people, 2) the complicity of some jews in the genocide (through organization, mobilization, passive obedience, and negotiations with the Nazis, 3) the logical absurdity the Eichmann and Nuremberg Trials, etc.
In this book (and the original 'New Yorker' essays it came from) Hannah Arendt isn't going for easy, cliché answers. She isn't asking rhetorical or weightless questions. While some of her positions might not be fully supportable, the very act of asking tough questions (that don't fall into easy boxes) is a gift to humanity. Arendt's tactic of giving no one an automatic free pass, while also not allowing people like Eichmann to become cartoonish characters of evil, allows her the room to push the idea that the potential for evil exists not just in dark, scary places, but in well-lit, and very efficient bureaucracies and we all (even Israel) might be asked to push or pull a lever if we aren't paying close attention.
Arendt was severely criticized over her opinions, as expressed in this book. Rather than demonize Eichmann or give him a pass as one who was following orders, she showed the banality of his crimes. Monstrous deeds carried out by a mid level bureaucrat sitting behind a desk,. With the passage of time readers, unlike those in the 1960s, can read this work and use a collective knowledge of the Shoah, which was not available when it was first published.. I suggest serious students of history read about all Eichmann's crimes before reading this narrative of how he was called to account by the Jewish people. Arendt gets full marks for courage to swim against the stream of the public opinion of her time.
Anyone except for a hard-core neo-nazi finds it incredible that educated men like Himmler, Heydrich, and Adolf Eichmann could be brainwashed by their paranoid delusional schizophrenic leader (who was not a normal married family man as they were) into murdering millions of innocent people simply because of their religion. Men in the SS were clearly not morally sound especially at the highest levels, yet Hannah Arendt somehow manages to explain how this horrific catastrophe transpired as seen through the prism of the over-ambitious, social-climbing, deeply insecure Eichmann. He shouldered so much of the responsibility for the Holocaust after the death of Heydrich that even the men who out-ranked him found it convenient to pass the buck on him when they were tried for war crimes
at Nuremberg. Once he evaded immediate capture in 1945, the fifteen-year manhunt only reinforced his legend as the one major butcher still alive in Latin America (other than Dr. Joseph Mengele), therefore his trial in Israel became a worldwide sensation. This is a classic work and the first book ever published that expertly examined the mind of a seemingly harmless figure who was nonetheless an unrepentant mass murderer. Wanda McCadden was the only obvious choice for the narration, thus making a classic work that much more of a classic piece of work.
Listen while I work, ride, drive & run.
Hannah Arendt, the author, was a courageous woman with an incisive mind. I have been weary of accounts of the Nazis but this book (and related film) provide a timeless, dispassionate accounting and analysis of the slaughter of millions of souls. Should we think we've left that gruesome history behind us, the author provides an inadvertent reminder that the very same evil lurks at the heart of every risk-averse yet ambitious network of bureaucrats. Alas, we've already forgotten.
This is a very worthwhile read for the very troubling questions it raises about the shaky moral foundations of modern civilization. Hannah Arendt was sharply criticized by many for her approach to this book, including the subtitle “… the banality of evil.” I fully agree with that particular criticism. She was referring to the banal personality of Adolf Eichmann, who does appear as a self-deluded individual who found recourse in empty, rather “banal” clichés to justify his conduct and defend himself as a fundamentally decent person. The evil depicted in the book is, however, anything but banal. It was the unfathomable and almost incomprehensible mass murder by the Nazi government of all Jews they could capture in Germany and in other European countries they dominated.
The troubling question raised by the Eichmann case is how he (and so many like him) as a decent German “everyman” could have so lost his moral bearings that he became a willing instrument of state-sponsored mass murder directed at innocent civilian populations. He justified himself as following the established German legal order as directed by a great leader (Hitler), that obedience to state authority was a sacred duty as a German citizen, that he did what he could to lessen the sufferings of those whom he was transporting to death camps, and that he did not personally dislike Jews nor ever kill anyone himself. He had seen the death camps. He knew what was going on. Still, his main frustrations and worries seemed to center on bureaucratic confusion and infighting, slights to his authority as chief SS officer for transportation to the death camps, and his slow rate of career advancement given all that he had contributed to a smooth implementation of the transportation aspects of the “final solution” policy.
How could a truly decent person adapt his career priorities, personal talents, and otherwise normal day to day concerns to an enterprise that was fundamentally an instrument of incalculable evil and of untold and immeasurable sufferings? The answer in Eichmann’s case seems to have been a perversion of his moral sense such that the supreme and overriding good was to follow the dictates of Nazi government policy despite its flagrant violation of fundamental tenets of right and wrong he must have known since childhood. Wartime conditions, post Versailles feelings of resentment in Germany, the “stab in the back” myth as a supposed explanation for the German surrender at the end of World War I, a long German and Austrian history of anti-semitism no doubt played important roles. However, those circumstances do not excuse nor fully explain Eichmann. His story suggests that all human beings are fallible, subject to corruption of their moral sense, and capable under certain conditions of becoming untroubled instruments of horrible crimes.
We see such people today amongst the violent jihadists. We should best be on our guard against all political movements that seek to place some particular goal or policy above all considerations of right and wrong that have guided enlightened mankind throughout history.
I will recommend this difficult and soul wrenching read to anyone that struggles to understand history and humanity. It is a must read.
Written more than 50 years ago without the benefit of decades of modern research on the final solution Hannah Arendt's book seems to have weathered the test of time. Her portrait of Eichmann shows not a Nazi Monster but a dull witted bureaucrat who lacked a moral compass. He was involved in a crime that defies our imagination. His guilt was absolute by an reasonable standard. This thread is the smaller part of the book. Instead of supporting the motives of this political show trial Arendt controversially points out the unfairness of the trial. The political motivations both in Israel and the world are explored. She also speaks openly on the little kept secret that many former Nazi's were living comfortable successful and often open lives in Germany. She touches on War Crimes committed by the Allied powers that were never addressed. Her even handed treatment of the War and its post war Victors justice must not have been popular. At no point is she a Nazi apologist but she is a critic of the post war handling of accountability on both sides.
A Mac Man in a Windows World. Or is it?
I was impressed with the background Hannah Arendt brought to give context to the legal questions. I experience her thinking as remarkably on target most of the time, and it appears that she had an objectivity lacking in many other circles involved either in defense & prosecution. I was surprised that she was so strongly rejected by her peers for being willing to look at the consequences of cooperation or resistance. I felt she asked the right questions. It is sad to see anywhere that revenge is often sought instead of justice. I would hope today there is more international support for justice, so that crimes against humanity would not be tolerated. I didn't know to what extent many other countries joined the Nazi's terrible, unconscionable murder of different groups of people. Hannah Arendt brings this and more to our attention. It would do a lot of good if people today consider how events the past resembles the present. This was an important experience for me.
I'd rather heard more about the trial and less about what led to. Only because I've listened to so many other books and knew all the other details.
In the courtroom
This is good for anyone who knows nothing about the war crimes, otherwise skip it.
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