Clif's Reviews > Eichmann in Jerusalem : A Report on the Banality of Evil

Eichmann in Jerusalem  by Hannah Arendt
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Jul 01, 12

Read in July, 2012

Eichmann is Jerusalem is a masterpiece of investigative reporting paired with a powerful and extensive epilogue that deals with the issues of and processes intended to achieve justice.

Using Adolf Eichmann's testimony and the history of his work for the Third Reich, Arendt provides a detailed look at first the forced emigration and then the deportation/execution of the Jews in Europe. Not only the actions of the Nazi hierarchy are examined, so also are those of each European administration that came under the power of Nazi Germany. From the Danes, who offered adamant resistance to German demands for the Jews in Denmark, through the willful interference in the process of the Final Solution by the Italians, to the eager roundups of Jews in Romania.

Eichmann managed the gathering and transportation of Jews, a bureaucrat faithfully serving the nation in which the word of Hitler was the law. Arendt provides a fascinating look at what justice means in this situation, frowning upon the desire of Israel's Prime Minister Ben Gurion to make Eichmann stand in for the entire program that killed millions of Jews. Ben Gurion even said that what Eichmann actually did was not important - the goal was to present to the world a rationale for the State of Israel; a propaganda effort to prove the need for a national home/refuge for Jews. Throughout the book, Arendt shows how the prosecution was out for a show trial that had very little to do with the actions of a man it wished to portray as a powerful monster behind an extermination campaign. The question for the prosecution was "what was done?" not "what did you do?"

The holocaust is put in perspective by the prior "mercy killings" conducted on the mentally and physically deficient in Germany prior to the war years and the idea of many Germans that Hitler would see them gassed (seen as a positive thing) before allowing them to be subject to the horrors they might face from the victorious Red Army. In addition, slaughter of one people or another was "the order of the day" in history.

Arendt dismisses the idea that Jews were uniquely passive and eager to obey the rules that were made to destroy them, (this being a major factor in the psychology of Israelis wanting to appear militarily powerful and always ready to strike first) pointing out that state terror had the same effect on other groups as well, but she doesn't hide the fact that Eichmann routinely used Jewish leadership to aid him in rounding up each local group of Jews, only to send off that same leadership when their administrative job for him was completed.

Eichmann is someone, almost a non-entity before Nazism, whose one and only concern was advancement in rank and, therefor, exemplary performance for his superiors. His efficiency and lack of feeling for those whose lives were at least altered and often ended due to his diligence brings Arendt to the conclusion that evil can be banal, unthinking, automatic, when the society itself operates on rules that make a person we would call morally good the freak and the exception to "normal" behavior.

This book is riveting, deeply developed, powerfully written, cautionary, thought provoking, disturbing, educational and most of all an example of what it means to think thoroughly about our own actions, those of our fellow citizens and that of the leadership of our country when we think of justice.
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