You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.
by Ralph Seliger THE NEW FILM, HANNAH ARENDT, which debuted commercially in New York on May 29th, lends credence to the simplistic notion that her controversial portrait of Adolf Eichmann at his Jerusalem trial was filled with great insight. Arendt didn’t merit the abuse that she suffered as a result of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil; she was not intending to be hateful or to excuse the Nazis, but her most significant conclusions were drawn from the very limited range of Holocaust scholarship available to her in the early 1960s. It’s a tribute to the artistry of filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta, her co-screenwriter Pamela Katz, and a cast headed by Barbara Sukowa, that despite understanding Arendt’s shortcomings, one can readily appreciate this very laudatory film about her. Arendt is something of a heroine for many, a lone figure who stood her ground in the face of fierce criticism on the New Yorker magazine articles that formed the basis of her famous book. Since its publication, several of her conclusions have been challenged on the basis of more research and knowledge as the field of Holocaust studies advanced. For example:
- The behavior of members of the Nazi-appointed Jewish councils was more varied than she indicated (and their options were horrifyingly limited), but there certainly was collaboration and self-interested behavior by many if not most;
- Eichmann was not simply the dutiful, amoral bureaucrat Arendt portrayed (her notion, brought up in the film, that he wasn’t personally anti-Semitic, seems ridiculous);
- Himmler’s brutal deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, did not have Jewish ancestry.