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Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963)

by Hannah Arendt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,628552,873 (4.16)69
Hannah Arendt's authoritative report on the trial of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann includes further factual material that came to light after the trial, as well as Arendt's postscript directly addressing the controversy that arose over her account.
  1. 40
    The Nuremberg Interviews by Leon Goldensohn (Ronoc)
  2. 20
    The Eichmann Trial by Deborah E. Lipstadt (rebeccanyc)
    rebeccanyc: This book describes the ins and outs of the trial and puts both the trial and the Arendt book in historical context.
  3. 20
    Bruder Eichmann : Schauspiel by Heinar Kipphardt (MeisterPfriem, MeisterPfriem)
  4. 20
    Men in Dark Times by Hannah Arendt (Ronoc)
  5. 21
    Hunting Eichmann: how a band of survivors and a young spy agency chased down the world's most notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (EduardoT)
  6. 10
    Criminal Case 40/61, The Trial Of Adolf Eichmann: An Eyewitness Account by Harry Mulisch (marieke54, uhibb-l-kutub)
  7. 00
    Justice at Nuremberg by Robert E. Conot (TheLittlePhrase)
  8. 00
    Hannah Arendt (film) by Margarethe von Trotta (JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: Der biografische Film von Margarethe von Trotta über Hannah Arendt stellt den Eichmann-Prozess in den Mittelpunkt. Der Film enthält sowohl fiktionale als auch Dokumentarausschnitte aus dem Prozess. Das Buch "[...] von der Banalität des Bösen" wird zum Prüfstein ihrer Freundschaften.… (more)
  9. 11
    A Train of Powder by Rebecca West (inge87)
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Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
review of
Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jersulalem - A Report on the Banality of Evil
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - January , 2012

I haven't previously read anything by Arendt but I'm sure that I'm far from the 1st to remark that she's an astonishingly rigorous & painstaking scholar & critic who 'spares no-one' in her analysis. One of the ironies of her depth didn't, however, become apparent to me until I reached page 122 where she writes:

"Much of the horribly painstaking thoroughness in the execution of the Final Solution - a thoroughness that usually strikes the observer as typically German, or else as characteristic of the perfect bureaucrat - can be traced to the odd notion, indeed very common in Germany, that to be law-abiding means not merely to obey the laws but to act as though one were the legislator of the laws that one obeys. Hence the conviction that nothing less than going beyond the call of duty will do."

& this is, indeed, a great way to describe Arendt's thoroughness in her fairness & comprehensiveness in this bk. Arendt deliberately goes further than the court does in Eichmann's trial (at least according to her own report) - both in her analysis of Eichmann's apparently peculiar vulnerableness to expression thru cliché & 'euphemism' (a nazi specialty) & in the court's (alas, understandable) avoidance of elucidation of Jewish cooperation in the genocide of their own people.

I decided to read this b/c I'm currently making an ambitious sampling movie called Robopaths culling from an abundance of sources that basically reinforce my not-particularly original contention that robopaths [people who follow orders w/o any internal free-thinking resistance] enable the genocidal plans of megalomaniacs. & as one of the main texts that I'll be extensively quoting from in Robopaths, I cd've hardly picked a more relevant source.

Reading Eichmann in Jersulalem makes me re-realize why I've found the lifestyles of punk anarchists so strikingly 'valid'. It seems to me that many punks have learned a particular lesson of Nazi Germany & Imperialist America & Britain (etc) well - even if often mainly intuitively: viz: that ALL nations & other entities that oppressively shape a group identity have to be resisted from the inside w/o being so naive as to think that "it can't happen here" (as Sinclair Lewis &, later, Frank Zappa, satirized). In other words, if Nazi Germany had had a resistance culture like anarchistic punk built into it more than maybe there wdn't've been so many Good Germans who 'went w/ the p(r)ogram'.

Unfortunately, Nazi Germany probably did have "a resistance culture like anarchistic punk built into it": viz: cabaret culture & what the nazis called Entartete Kunst und Musik (degenerate art & music) &, alas, it wasn't strong enuf to withstand the shocking tide of Hitler's methamphetamine-fueled mania & the average German's lazy willingness to be lead into sado-masochistic obedience. An obedience that psychologist Stanley Milgram researched later w/ great clarity in the USA w/ more-or-less identical results that the nazis got: IT CAN (& does) HAPPEN HERE. Fortunately, Milgram's intentions were cautionary - but I'm sure that many führers in the USA (governmental, religious, military) have taken note of how this caution cd be thrown out w/ other 'undesirables'.

Nonetheless, let's keep in mind that it's mainly governments (& big businesses) that're capable of appropriating, accumulating, & coordinating resources on such a large scale that tanks & trains & fighter planes can be made - & that such a process is dependent on the enforced cooperation of large numbers of people. DIY culture, on the other hand, is much smaller scale & more dependent on individual initiative &, hence, on individuality. It's my hope that such DIY culture is much less likely to be prone to the robopathia that made Nazi Germany so rapidly effective in its genocide. Maybe that's just wishful thinking insofar as Fundamentalist Islam seems to be pretty handy w/ total conformity combined w/ the individual initiative of IEMs (Improvised Explosive Devices). Fundamentalist USA doesn't have to have much individualized initiative since it's already got a big connection to mainstream power's control of resources.

At the risk of providing a Reader's Digest Condensed Book version of Eichmann in Jersulalem, I provide the following quotes that I've chosen as possible text for my movie Robopaths. Please don't read these & feel like you don't 'need' to read the entire Arendt bk. READ IT FROM COVER-TO-COVER! It's too important to neglect.

"Sixteen years ago, while still under the direct impact of the events, David Rousset, a former inmate of Buchenwald, described what we know happened in all concentration camps: "The triumph of the S.S. demands that the tortured victim allow himself to be lead to the noose without protesting, that he renounce and abandon himself to the point of ceasing to affirm his identity. And it is not for nothing. It is not gratuitously, out of sheer sadism, that the S.S. men desire his defeat. They know that the system which succeeds in destroying its victim before he mounts the scaffold . . . is incomparably the best for keeping a whole people in slavery. In submission, Nothing is more terrible than these processions of human beings going like dummies to their deaths" (Les Jours de notre mort, 1947)." - page 9

"Would he have pleaded guilty if he had been indicted as an accessory to murder? Perhaps, but he would have made important qualifications. What he had done was a crime only in retrospect, and he had always been a law-abiding citizen, because Hitler's orders, which he had certainly executed to the best of his ability, had possessed "the force of law" in the Third Reich. (The defense could have quoted in support of Eichmann's thesis the testimony of one of the best-known experts on constitutional law in the Third Reich, Theodor Maunz, currently Minister of Education and Culture in Bavaria, who stated in 1943 [in Gestalt und Recht der Polizei]: "The command of the Führer . . . is the absolute center of the present legal order.") Those who today told Eichmann that he could have acted differently simply did not know, or had forgotten, how things had been. He did not want to be one of those who now pretended that "they had always been against it," whereas in fact they had been very eager to do what they were told to do. However, times change, and he, like Professor Maunz, had "arrived at different insights." What he had done he had done, he did not want to deny it; rather, he proposed "to hang myself in public as warning example for all anti-Semites on this earth." By this he did not mean to say that he regretted anything: "Repentance is for little children." (Sic!)" - page 21

"According to his religious beliefs, which had not changed since the Nazi period (in Jerusalem he declared himself to be a Gottgläubiger, the Nazi term for those who had broken with Christianity, and he refused to take his oath on the Bible), this event was to be ascribed to "a higher Bearer of Meaning," an entity somehow identical with the "movement of the universe," to which human life, in itself devoid of "higher meaning," is subject. (The terminology is quite suggestive. To call God a Höheren Sinnesträger meant linguistically to give him some place in the military hierarchy [..]" - pages 23-24

"Before Eichmann entered the Party and the S.S., he had proved that he was a joiner, and May 8, 1945, the official date of Germany's defeat, was significant for him mainly because it then dawned upon him that thenceforward he would have to live without being a member of something or other. "I sensed I would have to lead a leaderless and difficult individual life, I would receive no directives from anybody, no orders and commands would any longer be issued to me, no pertinent ordinances would be there to consult - in brief, a life never known before lay before me."" - page 28

"Dimly aware of a defect that must have plagued him even in school - it amounted to a mild case of aphasia - he apologized, saying, "Officialese [Amtssprache] is my only language." But the point here is that officialese became his language because he was genuinely incapable of uttering a single sentence that was not a cliché. (Was it these clichés that the psychiatrists thought so "normal" and "desirable"? Are these the "positive ideas" a clergyman hopes for in those to whose souls he ministers? [..] )" - pages 43-44

"It was not until the outbreak of the war, on September 1, 1939, that the Nazi regime became openly totalitarian and openly criminal. [..] All officials of the police, not only of the Gestapo but also of the Criminal Police and the Order Police, received S.S. titles corresponding to their previous ranks, regardless of whether or not they were Party members, and this meant that in the space of a day a most important part of the old civil services was incorporated into the most radical section of the Nazi hierarchy. No one, as far as I know, protested, or resigned his job." - page 63

"This "objective" attitude - talking about concentration camps in terms of "administration" and about extermination camps in terms of "economy" - was typical of the S.S. mentality, and something Eichmann, at the trial, was still very proud of." - pages 63-64

"Apart from the not very important industrial enterprises of the S.S., such famous German firms as I.G. Farben, the Krupp Werke, and Siemens-Schuckert Werke has established plants in Auschwitz as well as near the Lublin death camps. Cooperation between the S.S. and the businessmen was excellent; Höss of Auschwitz testified to very cordial social relations with the I.G. Farben representatives. As for working conditions, the idea was clearly to kill through labor; according to Hilberg, at least twenty-five thousand of the approximately thirty-five thousand Jews who worked for one of the I.G. Farben plants died." - pages 73-74

"Thus, for instance, a high official in the Foreign Office once proposed that in all correspondence with the Vatican the killing of Jews be called the "radical solution"; this was ingenious, because the Catholic puppet government of Slovakia, with which the Vatican had intervened, had not been, in the view of the Nazis, "radical enough" in its anti-Jewish legislation, having committed the "basic error" of excluding baptized Jews." - page 80

"The member of the Nazi hierarchy most gifted at solving problems of conscience was Himmler. He coined slogans, like the famous watchword of the S.S., taken froma Hitler speech before the S.S. in 1931, "My Honor is my Loyalty" - ctach phrases which Eichmann called "winged words" and the judges "empty talk" - and issued them, as Eichmann recalled, "around the turn of the year," presumably along with a Christmas bonus. Eichmann remembered only one of them and kept repeating it: "These are battles which future generations will not have to fight again," alluding to the "battles" against women, children, old people, and other "useless mouths." Other such phrases, taken from speeches Himmler made to the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen and the higher S.S. and Police Leaders, were: "To have stuck it out and, apart from exceptions caused by human weakness, to have remained decent, that is what has made us hard. [..]"" - page 92

"None of the various "language rules," carefully contrived to deceive and to camouflage, had a more decisive effect on the mentality of the killers than this first war decree of Hitler, in which the word for "murder" was replaced by the phrase "to grant a mercy death." Eichmann, asked by the police examiner if the directive to avoid "unnecessary hardships" was not a bit ironic, in view of the fact that the destination of these people was certain death anyhow, did not even understand the question, so firmly was it still anchored in his mind that the unforgivable sin was not to kill people but to cause unnecessary pain. During the trial, he showed unmistakable signs of sincere outrage when witnesses told of cruelties and atrocities committed by S.S. men [..] and it was not the accusation of having sent millions of people to their death that ever caused him real agitation but only the accusation (dismissed by the court) of one witness that he had once beaten a Jewish boy to death." - page 96

"The story is told by Count Hans von Lehnsdorff, in his Ostpressisches Tagebuch (1961). He had remained in the city [Königsberb, in East Prussia, Germany, in January, 1945] as a physician to take care of wounded soldiers who could not be evacuated [..] There he was accosted by a woman who showed him a varicose vein she had had for years but wanted to have treated now, because she had time. "I try to explain that it is more important for her to get away from Königsberg and to leave the treatment for some later time. Where do you want to go? I ask her. She does not know, but she knows that they will all be brought into the Reich. And then she adds, surprisingly: 'The Russians will never get us. The Führer will never admit it. Much sooner he will gas us.' I look around furtively, but no one seems to find this statement out of the ordinary." The story, one feels, like most true stories, is incomplete. There should have been one more voice, preferably a female one, which, sighing heavily, replied: And now all that good, expensive gas has been wasted on the Jews!" - page 98

"The legal experts drew up the necessary legislation for making the victims stateless, which was important on two counts: it made it impossible for any country to inquire into their fate, and it enabled the state in which they were resident to confiscate theit property. The Ministry of Finance and the Reichsbank prepared facilities to receive the huge loot from all over Europe, down to watches and gold teeth, all of which was sorted out in the Reichsbank and then sent on to the Prussian State Mint. The Ministry of Transport provided the necessary railroad cars, usually freight cars, even in times of great scarcity of rolling stock, and they saw to it that the schedule of the deportation trains did not conflict with other timetables. the Jewish Council of Elders were informed by Eichmann or his men of how many Jews were needed to fill each train, and they made out the list of deportees. The Jews registered, filled out innumerable forms, answered pages and pages of questionnaires regarding their property so that it could be seized the more easily; then they assembled at the collection points and boarded the trains. The few who tried to hide to hide to escape were rounded up by a special Jewish police force. As far as Eichmann could see, no one protested, no one refused to cooperate." - page 102

"What he fervently believed in up to the end was success, the chief standard of "good society" as he knew it. Typical was his last word on the subject of Hitler - whom he and his comrade Sassen had agreed to "shirr out" of their story; Hitler, he said, "may have been wrong all down the line, but one thing is beyond dispute: the man was able to work his way up from lance corporal in the German Army to Führer of a people of almost eighty million. . . . His success alone proved to me that I should subordinate myself to this man." His conscience was indeed set at rest when he saw the zeal and eagerness with which "good society" everywhere reacted as he did. He did not need to "close his ears to the voice of conscience," as the judgment had it, not because he had none, but because his conscience spoke with a "respectable voice," with the voice of respectable society around him." - pages 111-112 ( )
  tENTATIVELY | Apr 3, 2022 |
It's slow starting, and Arendt can be dense at times. But the picture she paints of Eichmann is oddly ordinary, not what you'd think a Nazi criminal would be like. Her take on the whole idea of Eichmann's trial is also interesting...overall, not a book I'd have picked up on my own had it not been an assignment, but it's not too bad. ( )
  ms_rowse | Jan 1, 2022 |
One of the most difficult books I've ever read, but quite worth it. "The banality of evil" largely describes the life of Eichmann, who was essentially a loser, helped into a position by his father, and then who played fairly minor roles in the Nazi administration. He boasted excessively about his role, and his role did bring him into contact with Jewish groups as a go-between, so at some point he was viewed as a major figure in the holocaust. He escaped to Argentina and lived in poverty there, bragging about his role during the war, and then was kidnapped by the Israelis and brought to a trial in Israel. The trial itself was seriously flawed, to the point where the conviction and execution created bad precedents for the future.

The best evidence seems to suggest Eichmann didn't play a particularly major part in the mass killings of the holocaust, and may not have directly killed anyone, but did facilitate forced displacements and other crimes.

The author certainly doesn't excuse Eichmann for his crimes -- she outlined the other similar precedents (Gestapo arresting someone overseas, and an Armenian private citizen who killed someone responsible for the pogrom against Armenians and using that as his defense), and essentially argued that the court should have conducted some things differently (permitted defense witnesses, excluded some prosecution witnesses who were irrelevant) and sentenced Eichmann to hang for different reasons than it did. I'm not really sold on that (I think simply assassinating him overseas would have been the morally and politically correct course of action), but it was interesting that for even questioning events to this degree she has been pilloried as an anti-semite or pro-nazi or whatever. ( )
  octal | Jan 1, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
Adolf Eichmann administrerte Nazi-Tysklands deportering av jøder til utryddelsesleirene, og sto i 1961 tiltalt for "forbrytelser mot det jødiske folk og mot menneskeheten". Filosofen og statsviteren Hannah Arendt, som selv hadde sittet i Gestapos fengsel, dekket rettssaken i Jerusalem som reporter for magasinet The New Yorker.
Det vår fornuft ikke kan fatte, hevdet hun, var at denne 55-årige, skallete, tynne, lutende og pregløse noksagt av en forhenværende SS-Obersturmbannführer, der han satt i glassburet i Jerusalem i 1961, kunne ha forvoldt så mye lidelse fra sitt skrivebord.

Hannah Arendts bok reiser de ufravikelige og ubehagelige spørsmål om ondskapens vesen i vår tid: Er så mye lidelse bare mulig fordi offeret umenneskeliggjøres som "undermennesker" av altomfattende ideologier? Er slike forbrytelser bare mulig fordi de kan dirigeres av skrivebordsmordere langt fra ofrenes skrik og nedverdigelser? Er slike massive folkemord bare tenkelig i et byråkrati som pulveriserer det personlige ansvar?

I dagens Europa er Adolf Eichmann en uhyggelig påminnelse om hvilke grusomheter et lydig menneske kan få seg til å begå, når ønsket om å tekkes sine overordnede overskygger alt.

"Det er min dype overbevisning at ondskapen aldri er 'radikal', at ondskap bare er ekstremt, og at ondskapen verken besitter dybde eller en demonisk dimensjon. ... Der ligger dens 'banalitet'. Bare det gode har dybde og kan bli radikalt."
Hannah Arendt i et brev til Gershom Scholem, 1963

"I Hannah Arendts person møtte jeg en hel epoke i europeisk politisk kultur. Hun er en personlighet som har fulgt meg siden, og som ingen kan unngå som ønsker å forstå 'vår tids byrde', de totalitære diktaturer."

Professor Bernt Hagtvet i det innledende essayet til Eichmann i Jerusalem. En rapport om ondskapens banalitet.
 

» Add other authors (30 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Arendt, Hannahprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Guérin, AnneTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McCaddon, WandaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Half a dozen psychiatrists had certified him [Eichmann] as 'normal'–'More normal, at any rate, than I am after having examined him,' one of them was said to exclaim."
"The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else."
"In Israel, as in most other countries, a person appearing in court is deemed innocent until proven guilty. But in the case of Eichmann this was an obvious fiction."
"For just as a murderer is prosecuted because he has violated the law of the community, and not because he has deprived the Smith family of its husband, father, and breadwinner, so these modern, state-employed mass murderers must be prosecuted because they violated the order of mankind, and not because they killed millions of people."
"The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal...that this new type of criminal...commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or feel that he is doing wrong,"
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Hannah Arendt's authoritative report on the trial of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann includes further factual material that came to light after the trial, as well as Arendt's postscript directly addressing the controversy that arose over her account.

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