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Arendt, Hannah.

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

Book

Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Viking, (1965).
8vo.; gray and tan wrappers, lightly worn. In a specially made cloth slipcase.
Second edition, issued by the Compass Books division of Viking who, in 1964, had first published this revision of text that had originally appeared in the New Yorker in February and March of 1963. A presentation copy inscribed to Dwight Macdonald: To Dwight in friendship Hannah. With Macdonald's occasional pencil lines in the margins. Eichmann in Jerusalem is a report and analysis of the 1961 trial of Otto Adolf Eichmann, tried in Jerusalem for fifteen counts of collaborative war crimes under the 1950 Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law. Eichmann's plea to each charge was "not guilty in the sense of the indictment," but he was found guilty and, per the Law, was sentenced to death. It is from Eichmann's execution by hanging that Arendt derived her now legendary title; after describing the calm and dignity with which Eichmann approached the gallows, standing perfectly erect and refusing the black hood, she writes:
…he was completely himself. Nothing could have demonstrated this more convincingly than the grotesque silliness of his last words. He began by stating emphatically that he was a Gottgläubiger, to express in common Nazi fashion that he was no Christian and did not believe in life after death. He then proceeded: "After a short while, gentlemen, we shall all meet again. Such is the fate of all men. Long live Germany, long live Argentina, long live Austria. I shall not forget them." In the case of death, he had found the cliché used in funeral oratory. Under the gallows, his memory played him the last trick; he was "elated": and he forgot that this was his own funeral.
It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us-the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil. (252)
Arendt's book-length "trial report" was drawn primarily from the simultaneous translation of the transcript of the trial which had been distributed to the press but which in 1965 was still unpublished and difficult to procure. (The trial was conducted primarily in Hebrew and was translated into English; Arendt translated the German portions herself.) Arendt also examined other court documents made available to the press, such as Eichmann's interrogation in German, materials submitted by the prosecution, and affidavits from defense witnesses. In addition, Arendt had access to a significant document not made available to her peers: a seventy-page typescript by Eichmann headed (in translation): "Re: My comments on the matter of Jewish questions and measures of the National Socialist Government of the German Reich with regard to solution of this matter during the years 1933 to 1945."
In a page-long note, Arendt explains the motive behind publishing this edition, lightly corrected and expanded, with a lengthy and significant new postscript. She asserts that while the spirit of the original text has been preserved, about a dozen minor emendations and several additions, above and beyond the concluding essay, have been made. Though most of the alterations are "of a technical nature, clarifying a particular point, introducing new facts, or, in some instances, quotations from different sources," she does include some additional information on the German conspiracy against Hitler that she "had mentioned only incidentally in the original version." In the 20-page postscript, "which deals with the controversy that followed the original publication," Arendt addresses public debates which she felt were, although engendered by the trial, extraneous to it. In doing so she examines the notions of collective guilt and innocence, and the existence of a personal conscience independent of ambient forces:
Compared with these debates, which wandered so far afield, the book itself dealt with a sadly limited subject. The report of a trial can discuss only the matters which were treated in the course of the trial, or which in the interests of justice should have been treated…The focus of every trial is upon the person of the defendant, a man of flesh and blood with an individual history, with an always unique set of qualities, peculiarities, behavior patterns, and circumstances. All the things that go beyond that, such as the history of the Jewish people in the dispersion, and of anti-Semitism, or the conduct of the German people and other peoples, or the ideologies of the time and the governmental apparatus of the Third Reich, affect the trial only insofar as they form the background and the conditions under which the defendant committed his acts… (285-86)
After discussing these issues both as general principles as well as in the context of the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials, she concludes:
…the question of individual guilt or innocence, the act of meting out justice to both the defendant and the victim, are the only things at stake in a criminal court. The Eichmann trial was no exception, even though the court here was confronted with a crime it could not find in the lawbooks and with a criminal whose like was unknown in any court, at least prior to the Nuremberg Trials. The present report deals with nothing but the extent to which the court in Jerusalem succeeded in fulfilling the demands of justice. (298)
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