Eichmann in Jerusalem

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Study on the Banality of Evil (Eichmann in Jerusalem) is a book by thephilosopherHannah Arendt, published in1963. In the text, the author states that apart from a desire to improve her career, Eichmann showed no trace ofanti-Semitismor psychological damage. His famous subtitle introduced the conceptbanality of evil, which also serves as final words of the final chapter. In part, at least, the phrase refers to Eichmann’s behavior at trial, showing neither guilt nor hatred, claiming he had no responsibility because he was simply “doing his job.” He did his duty …; Not only obeyed the orders, which also obeyed the law. , (P.135).

Comments about Eichmann

Arendt takes the judicial statement and the available historical evidence, and makes several observations about Eichmann:

  • Eichmann stated at the trial that he had always tried to comply with Immanuel Kant and his categorical imperative (as explained directly on pages 135-137). She contends that Eichmann had essentially taken the wrong lesson from Kant: Eichmann had not recognized the golden rule and the principle of reciprocity implicit in the categorical imperative, but understood only the concept of a man’s actions, coinciding with general legislation. Eichmann had tried to follow the “spirit” of the laws carried out, as if approved by the legislator himself. In Kant’s formulation of the categorical imperative, the legislator is autonomous morality, and all men are the legislators, in the formulation of Eichmann, the legislator was Hitler . Eichmann changed when he was accused of carrying out the Final Solution , at which time Arendt states that “he had ceased to live according to Kantian principles, that he had known him, and that he had consoled himself with the thought of That he “no longer owned his own works, that he could not change anything” (p.136).
  • Eichmann’s inability to think for himself was exemplified by his constant use of “made phrases and self-contained cliches,” demonstrating his unreal worldview and the overwhelming lack of communication skills through dependence on “bureaucratic language” ( Amtssprache ) And euphemistic of the Sprachregelung which made the application of Hitler’s policies “somehow acceptable”.
  • Eichmann was constantly joining organizations in order to define himself, and had difficulty thinking for himself without that membership. In his youth, he belonged to the YMCA , the Wandervogel and the Jungfrontkämpferverband . In 1933 he failed in his attempt to join the Schlaraffenland (a branch of Freemasonry ), at which time a family friend (and future war criminal Ernst Kaltenbrunner ) encouraged him to join the SS . At the end of World War II , Eichmann was depressed because “he realized that from then on he would have to live without being a member of one thing or another” (pp. 32-3).
  • Despite his pretensions, Eichmann was not, in fact, very intelligent. As Arendt detailed in the second chapter of the book, he could not complete any course of secondary or vocational training , and found its first significant job (traveling salesman for Oil Company ) through family connections. Arendt noted that in both the SS and the Jerusalem trial, Eichmann tried to cover his lack of skills and education, and “blushed” when these events came to light.
  • Arendt confirms several points where Eichmann actually claimed to have been responsible for certain atrocities, even though he lacked the power or experience to take these measures. On the other hand, Eichmann made these statements despite the damage they caused to his defense, which leads the philosopher to an observation that “boasting was the vice that was sinking Eichmann” (p 46). Arendt also suggests that Eichmann may have preferred to be executed as a war criminal than to live as a nobody.
  • Arendt argues that Eichmann, in his secondary role at the Wannsee conference , witnessed the classification and archiving of the German public administration, reorganized in accordance with Reinhard Heydrich’s program of the Final Solution in Europe. Seeing members of “respectable society” approve mass murder and participating enthusiastically in the planning of the solution, Eichmann felt that his moral responsibility was relaxed, as if it were “the power of Pontius Pilate .”
  • During his pre-trial imprisonment, the Israeli Government sent no less than six psychologists to examine Eichmann. Not only did the doctors find no trace of mental illness , but they also found no evidence of abnormal personality. “One doctor pointed out that his attitude toward others, especially his family and friends, was highly desirable, while another noted that Eichmann’s only unusual feature was that he was becoming more” normal “in his habits and speaking that the average Of people “(p.25-6).

Authors’ conclusions

Arendt suggests that the most striking of his analysis discredits the idea that criminals were manifestly psychopaths and different from normal people. From this document, many concluded that situations like the Holocaust can make even the most common of humans commit horrendous crimes with the right incentives, but Arendt is strongly opposed to this interpretation, since Eichmann was free in his will After the Führerprinzip . Arendt insists that moral choice remains free, even in totalitarianism , and that this choice has political consequences, even when the selector is politically impotent:

The conditions of terror lead to the majority of people complying with expectations, but some people do not, and so the lesson is received from some countries that were proposed the final solution, which could occur in most places But it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and nothing more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitability.

Arendt mentions, as an example, the rescue of the Danish Jews:

One is tempted to recommend history as a compulsory reading in political science for all students who wish to learn something about the enormous potential inherent in nonviolent action and resistance to an opponent who vastly possesses superior means of violence.

It was not only that the people of Denmark refused to assist in the implementation of the Final Solution, since the peoples of so many other conquered nations had been persuaded to do so (or had been willing to do so), but also that when The Reich took action and decided to do the work itself was found that his own staff in Denmark had been infected by this and were unable to overcome his human aversion to the cruelty of the case, which his colleagues in the more cooperative areas had.

In Eichmann’s personality, Arendt concludes:

Despite all the prosecution’s efforts, everyone could see that this man was not a monster, but it was really hard not to suspect he was a clown. And since this suspicion had been fatal to the good end of the trial, and at the same time difficult enough to sustain in view of the sufferings which he and his fellows had caused to millions of people, their worst antics were scarcely taken into account and almost never Reported them. (P.55)

Beyond his discussion of Eichmann himself, Arendt analyzes several additional aspects of the proof, its context, and the Holocaust.

  • He points out that Eichmann was abducted by Israeli agents in Argentina and transported to Israel, an illegal act, and that he was tried in Israel even though he was not accused of committing any kind of crime there.
  • The German-American thinker describes it as a trial arranged and directed by Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion , and claims that he wanted, for various political reasons, not to emphasize everything Eichmann had done, but to make it clear what the Jews had suffered during the Holocaust. He points out that war criminals were tried in Nuremberg , accused of crimes against members of the various nations, without special reference to the Nazi genocide against the Jews.
  • If he had not been convicted before he appeared in Jerusalem, his guilt beyond any reasonable doubt, the Israelis would never have dared or wanted to be abducted in a formal violation of Argentine law .
  • Arendt, also points to the complicity of certain Jews. Leaders of Jewish councils, they collaborated fully in the sending of coreligionists to the death camps 1

This rational view of the trial, when numerous people expected an unconditional adherence to the theses of the prosecution, earned him a great number of criticisms 2


In the film Hannah Arendt by Margarethe von Trotta tells this episode of the life of Hannah Arendt, one of the most important in her life, in which she volunteers to write about Eichmann’s trial for The New Yorker . This will lead to the publication of several reports that will motivate many criticisms, many of which (the accuse, for example of “defending” Eichmann) if analyzed can only be people who have not read his work. The book Eichmann in Jerusalem is a work of compilation and complementation of these reports.


In his 2006 book, Becoming Eichmann , Holocaust researcher David Cesarani has questioned Arendt’s portrait of Eichmann for several reasons. According to their findings, Arendt attended only part of the evidence, witnessing the presentation of the indictment. He did not witness Eichmann’s testimony and self-defense. This may have biased his view of him, since he was in the parts of the test that he missed that the stronger aspects of his personality appeared. 3

Cesarani also presents ample evidence suggesting that Eichmann was actually very anti-Semitic and that these sentiments are important motivators of his actions. He therefore argues that Arendt’s claims that his motives were banal rather than ideological and that he had given up his decision-making autonomy, obeying Hitler’s orders, can certainly be based on flimsy bases. 4

More controversial, Cesarani suggests that Arendt’s own prejudices were influenced by the opinions expressed during the trial. He states that, like many Jews of German origin , Israel observed with great disdain. This led her to attack the conduct and effectiveness of the chief prosecutor , Gideon Hausner , who was of Polish origin. In a letter to the German philosopher Karl Jaspers, Hausner was “a typical Jew from Galitzia (Central and Eastern Europe) … one of those people always ready to make mistakes.” 5 His displeasure toward Zionism also influenced his view of the trial. Cesarani claims that some of his views of the Jews of the Middle East were based on racism . Arendt described Israel and its people as “as if one were in Istanbul or some other East Asian country.” 6 The Israeli police force, he says, “gives me chills, only speaks Hebrew and Arabic .” 7

See also

  • Milgram Experiment
  • Stanford Prison Experiment


  1. Back to top↑ Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem . Pp. 109-110. ISBN [[Special: BookSources / 978-84-264-1345-1 | 978-84-264-1345-1}]] |isbn=( Help ) .
  2. Back to top↑ Zgustova, Monika (August 9, 2013). “The misunderstanding about Hannah Arend .” The Country . “The problem is that very few of his detractors have read it.”
  3. Back to top↑ Cesarani, David (2006). Becoming Eichmann . Cambridge: Da Capo Press, pages 197, 347
  4. Back to top↑ Cesarani, Becoming Eichmann , page 346
  5. Back to top↑ Cesarani , Eichmann, on page 345