Eichmann and the Holocaust – True Stories&WWII
Hannah Arendt examined the problems and the tendencies in the political life of the twentieth century. Many of which,have already disappeared. However, some remain present, and even more, they’ve become more dangerous.
At the time Hannah Arendt died in 1975, she was known mostly because of the controversy about her paper on the trial of Adolf Eichmann and the phrase “the banality of evil”.
For now, her books have been translated into various languages and her work is widely known all over the world. However, by 1975, she was not considered to be an important political thinker. Recently, during the COVID-19 lockdown, discussions focusing on her ideas overflowed social media.
What caused this emerging interest in her work?
When Arendt wrote about the “darkest times” she didn’t necessarily mean totalitarianism of the past century. Surprisingly, many of her descriptions match the world around us.
Hannah claimed, that even in the worst of times, we can still find some illumination that comes not from theoretical knowledge, but the lives and the work of individuals around us.
In her work “Eichmann and the Holocaust” Arendt does provide such illumination and helps us to gain a critical view on our present political problems.
Hannah thought, that most people at her time, during WWII and simply, in general, do not want to think – they prefer to ignore political problems and try to dismiss them. Arendt discussed this on the example of Adolf Eichmann, one of the organizers of the Holocaust and Nazi SS officer. Eichmann’s deeds were, as a matter of fact, evil, but Eichmann was not the devil, he was just a person. Banal and ordinary.
In “Eichmann and the Holocaust” Hannah explains the concept of “the banality of evil”:
“Eichmann was not Iago and not Macbeth and nothing would have been farther from his mind than to determine with Richard III “to prove a villain.” Except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement he had no motives at all… He merely,
to put the matter colloquially, never realized what he was doing… He was not stupid. It was sheer thoughtlessness – something by no means identical with stupidity – that predisposed him to become one of the greatest criminals of that period… Evil comes from a failure to think. It defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil.”
According to Arendt, It’s an ever-present possibility for anyone to shun the intercourse within oneself – including scientists, scholars in mental enterprises, and ordinary people.
The manifestation of the wind of thought, she writes, is not theoretical knowledge, but the ability to differ black from white, right from wrong. When the chips are down, taking responsibility for our political lives, especially in the time of the elections does indeed prevent catastrophes, at least, for oneself.
author: Rati Tkemaladze