Few texts surrounding the atrocities of World War II have inspired more controversy, argument and debate as author Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt’s review of former Nazi Adolf Eichmann and the events surrounding his trial and execution have been widely studied and discussed around the world. The text demonstrates, for what may have been the first time, how a member of the Nazi party may not be blindly evil, psychotic, prejudiced or even extreme; rather, that a Nazi member could be a fairly simple person believing he was ‘following orders.’
The history behind Eichmann in Jerusalem is intriguing. Hannah Arendt – the author of the text – experienced Nazi Germany first hand. As a Jewish woman, she fled the country during Adolf Hitler’s reign, eventually arriving in the United States. As a writer, philosopher and lecturer, she eventually reported on the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel. The trial was internationally famous because it was soon discovered that Eichmann was not only a key facilitator in the events of the Holocaust, but perhaps the overall director or Holocaust death sentences and Jewish relocations.
In Arendt’s writing, she addresses certain aspects of Eichmann’s defense and demeanor that crafted a disturbingly simple picture of Adolf Eichmann. The psychological evaluations, arguments and attitude of Eichmann indicated that he was actually a very unintelligent man who was avidly dedicated to following the law. Eichmann’s behavior displayed no indicators or prejudice or hatred for any ethnicity, Jewish or otherwise; in fact, Eichmann’s overall behavior was extremely normal, polite and tolerant. Arendt identified Eichmann as a man who tried heartily to be ‘accepted’ by members of upper society and earn a standing amongst individuals he deemed respectable. His morals and actions became of a reflection of the society he became an integral member of the Nazi society.
Arendt’s text introduced the idea that certain Nazi members may not have acted out of educated hatred for the Jewish people. Eichmann, for example, wanted only to carry out the law, since laws were the basis of order, and by upholding the law he would be further accepted in high society. Arendt also addresses illegal aspects surrounding Eichmann’s trial, and his unrepresented ignorant, ‘clownish’ behavior (as opposed to the public view, which would paint him as violent and monstrous). However, Arendt also witnessed only part of Eichmann’s trial. At the same time, there was some evidence claiming anti-Semitism on Eichmann’s part, as well as personal prejudices of Arendt’s. Eichmann in Jerusalem, however, still stands as a startling piece of text addressing the motivations of Nazis during the Holocaust.