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February 16: Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem”

February 16, 2014
1963_02_16_p323The New Yorker magazine began publishing “Eichmann in Jerusalem” by Hannah Arendt on this date in 1963. The five-part article, covering Adolf Eichmann’s 1961 trial for crimes against humanity (for which he would be executed on May 31, 1962), was released as a book and aroused enormous controversy. Arendt’s chief observation was that Eichmann was no anti-Semite, simply an obedient, eager bureaucrat who exemplified the “banality of evil” within a system that made participation in evil look normal and easy (“under conditions of terror,” she wrote, “most people will comply but some people will not . . . and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation”). She also fetched much criticism for her evaluation of Eastern European Jewish Council leaders (Judenrat) as, in some instances, morally compromised collaborators with the Nazis, and for her suspicions about Israel’s purposes in kidnapping Eichmann and bringing him to trial (“If he had not been found guilty before he appeared in Jerusalem, guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, the Israelis would never have dared, or wanted, to kidnap him in formal violation of Argentine law”). “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.” -Hannah Arendt