Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil

by Hannah Arendt

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Controversy

Arendt sparked controversy with Eichmann in Jerusalem upon its publishing and the years since.[6] Arendt has long been accused of "blaming the victim" in the book.[7]

Dr. Jacob Robinson published And the Crooked Shall be Made Straight, the first full-length rebuttal of her book.[4] Robinson presented himself as an expert in international law, not disclosing that he was an assistant to the prosecutor in the case.[5] Initially hailed as definitive, after Arendt's response[5] the book fell out of favor and is no longer in print.

In his 2006 book, Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes and Trial of a "Desk Murderer", Holocaust researcher David Cesarani questioned Arendt's portrait of Eichmann on several grounds. According to his findings, Arendt attended only part of the trial, witnessing Eichmann's testimony for "at most four days" and basing her writings mostly on recordings and the trial transcript. Cesarani feels that this may have skewed her opinion of him, since it was in the parts of the trial that she missed that the more forceful aspects of his character appeared.[8] Cesarani also presents evidence[citation needed] suggesting that Eichmann was in fact highly anti-Semitic and that these feelings were important motivators of his actions. Thus, he alleges that Arendt’s claims that his motives were "banal" and non-ideological and that he had abdicated his autonomy of choice by obeying Hitler's orders without question may stand on weak foundations.[9] This is a recurrent[10] criticism of Arendt, though nowhere in her work does Arendt deny that Eichmann was an anti-Semite, and she also did not claim that Eichmann was "simply" following orders, but rather had internalized the cliches of the Nazi regime.[10]

Most controversially, Cesarani suggests that Arendt's own prejudices influenced the opinions she expressed during the trial. He claims that like many Jews of German origin, she held Ostjuden (Jews from Eastern Europe) in great disdain. This, according to Cesarani, led her to attack the conduct and efficacy of the chief prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, who was of Polish origin. In a letter to the noted German philosopher Karl Jaspers she stated that Hausner was "a typical Galician Jew... constantly making mistakes. Probably one of those people who doesn't know any language."[11] Cesarani claims that some of her opinions of Jews of Middle Eastern origin verged on racism. She described the Israeli crowds as an "Oriental mob, as if one were in Istanbul or some other half-Asiatic country."[11]

Cesarani has been criticized for his criticism of Arendt. One reviewer argued that his "slur reveals a writer in control neither of his material nor of himself."[12]

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