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Men's Club Book Group
"Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil" by Hannah Arendt
Wednesday, Nov 10th, 2010 8:45 AM

One East 65th Street

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even before its publication as a book, Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (which originally appeared as a series of articles in The New Yorker) generated much controversy. Critics attributed her coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial to a host of purposes other than simple reporting, such as exposing the role of the Jewish leadership in the Holocaust and raising larger questions about German guilt and the nature of totalitarianism. Arendt was prompted to clarify her intentions in a postscript to the book, claiming in its final sentence, “The present report deals with nothing but the extent to which the court in Jerusalem succeeded in fulfilling the demands of justice.” (p. 298) Evaluating the court’s success, however, proves to be a more complex endeavor than this statement implies.

Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi lieutenant colonel responsible for transporting countless Jews to concentration camps and, in most cases, to their deaths, escaped Germany after World War II and made his way to Argentina, where he lived under a false name until 1960. That year, intelligence operatives from the young nation of Israel kidnapped Eichmann and brought him to Jerusalem to face charges of crimes against the Jewish people, crimes against humanity and membership in three of the four organizations that the Nuremberg Trials had classified as “criminal.” The facts of Eichmann’s case had been established before the trial and were never in dispute. However, genocide was a new kind of crime; that the Israeli court did not recognize it as such is, in Arendt’s view, “at the root of all the failures and shortcomings” of the trial. (p. 267) Arendt writes, “Justice demands that the accused be prosecuted, defended, and judged, and that all the other questions of seemingly greater import…be left in abeyance.” (p. 5) Much of Arendt’s book illustrates that the larger issues were not set aside during the Eichmann trial, showing how the case “was built on what the Jews had suffered, not on what Eichmann had done.” (p. 6) Read more» (Source: Publisher’s website)

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Born in 1906 in Hanover, Germany, eminent political philosopher HANNAH ARENDT grew up in Königsberg (once part of East Prussia and later renamed Kaliningrad as part of the Soviet Union). From an early age, Arendt proved herself a gifted student. She began her university studies in the cosmopolitan Weimar era, was deeply influenced by philosophers Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers, and received her doctorate from the University of Heidelberg in 1928.

Before the Nazis came to power, Arendt was a political activist and worked with German Zionists to publicize Nazi persecution of Jews. In 1933, she fled to Paris, where she married the philosophy professor Heinrich Blücher, and they managed to emigrate to the United States in 1941. In New York City, Arendt continued to work for Jewish causes and was chief editor at Schocken Books. Her monumental work The Origins of Totalitarianism was published in 1951, and numerous other books of political philosophy followed, including The Human Condition and the controversial Eichmann in Jerusalem. Arendt taught at many universities, including Princeton, the University of Chicago and the New School for Social Research. She died in 1975.

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