Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil Background

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil Background

Hannah Arendt, a German-born American Political theorist, having escaped from Germany in her youth was uniquely qualified to comment on the trials of the notorious Eichmann. Eichmann In Jerusalem--A report on the Banality of Evil, is the result of a synthesis of journalism reports on Eichmann's trial in the 1960's. Eichmann, a high-ranking official of the SS, was accused of being the mastermind behind logistics of the systematic genocide of the Jewish people. Writing for the New Yorker, Arendt spent her time in Israel to cover the trial before returning to America to compose her thoughts into the book we know today.

Arendt spends the first two chapters painting the picture of the cultural context in Israel at the time of the trial, outlining the tone of the courtroom, and introducing personalities critical to the narrative. The first two chapters are chapters set apart from the rest of Arendt's journalism. The first, speaks mainly of the context, the second, of Eichmann himself. The third chapter marks the beginning of her true coverage over the issues.

Central to the book is the question and analysis of Eichmann's nature. The subtitle, A Report on the Banality of Evil, hits home as Arendt's thesis; Eichmann is not a sociopath to Arendt. Arendt, taking Eichmann's act of posturing and demeanor throughout the trial as evidence, notes that Eichmann is wholly unexceptional. She claims that Eichmann is not, by any sense of the word, a fanatic or sociopathic monster. Eichmann, she charges, is extremely banal. Relying on cliches and jaded axioms to defend himself, he claims no true passion for anything. Eichmann, the face of evil, adopts a banality critical to Arendt's character.

Also, is explored the question of human nature through Eichmann. Arendt makes several key observations of her subject. Arendt dives into the past and psyche of Eichmann in a marvelous and terrifying way. Characterizing Eichmann as a "joiner," Arendt notes, "Kaltenbrunner had said to him: Why not join the S.S.? And he had replied, Why not? That was how it happened, and that was about all there was to it" (33). Through her analysis of Eichmann, Arendt boils down the tragedy of the Holocaust to the thoughts of men who carried no concern for their actions. This radical characterization of banality runs centrally throughout the book. Further analyzing Eichmann, Arendt explains that Eichmann was never very intelligent of notably successful for most of his life. She ushers a personality blow against Eichmann in writing, "He was not about twenty-two years old and without any prospects for a career; the only thing he had learned, perhaps, was how to sell" (29).

Acting as the provider of a rejoinder to the poorly crafted self-defense Eichmann provides, Arendt cringes at the answers Eichmann gives in the Trial. Eichmann, early in the trial, results to such trivial responses in defense of his action: "He did his duty, as he told the police and the court over and over again; he not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law" (135). Going so far as to claim that "he had lived his whole life according to Kant's moral precepts, and especially according to a Kantian definition of duty" (136). These claims landed on the ears of many as outlandish and without ground. The utterly gross thing, according to most who were present, was the apparent sincerity with which Eichmann continued. This sincerity and blandness characterize not only Eichmann but also the whole of the Nazi population in Arendt's analysis. Arendt, stepping outside of the purely reporting practice, provides occasional responses to Eichmann. Arendt argues, "This was outrageous, on the face of it, and also incomprehensible since Kant's moral philosophy is so closely bound up with man's faculty of judgment, which rules out blind obedience" (136).

Eichmann in Jerusalem provides both a shocking unsettling account as well as an enlightening and invigorating narrative of one of history's most egregious issues. Uniquely qualified to comment and cover on Eichmann's trial, Arendt brings new light to a commonly covered subject.

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