The Eichmann Trial

With the capture of a Nazi officer, discussion about the Holocaust entered the public realm.

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Her work gained renown for its subtitle, "the Banality of Evil," which referred to the absolute normalcy under which Eichmann and other Nazis committed their horrific crimes. Arendt concluded that Eichmann was not a vicious, blood-thirsty aggressor driven by hatred to exterminate the Jews, but a simple individual who operated unthinkingly, without imagination, following orders to organize transport to death camps.

As an unintelligent person, Arendt asserted, Eichmann had no innate ability to identify with the Jewish plight, and he entertained no compassion for them as humans. Because his actions were couched in the rational functioning of the Nazi bureaucracy, he was able to perform his job of killing just like any other position he had held.

Since Arendt post-trial films such as The Man Who Captured Eichmann (1996) have attempted to portray Eichmann's inscrutable psychology. In the recent book, Becoming Eichmann (2007), historian David Cesarani asserts that Eichmann is an understandable figure if we consider his full mental, social, and political context in a culture that allowed one people to become an abstract racial-biological threat.

Yet Arendt's assessment of Eichmann still eclipses most other narratives of his character and life. For our post-war culture, Eichmann's actions are regarded as the shocking, and yet predictable effect of totalitarianism on the human conscience.

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Jessica Kraft

Jessica Kraft is a writer, educator, and artist based in San Francisco, CA.