Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt

November 2018

I’m so glad I finally read this book, after years of thinking “I must read that book.” It’s a detailed report on Eichmann in general and his trial in Jerusalem in particular. It goes into great depth on just what Eichmann did in the Holocaust and how his role fit into the larger Nazi administration. Arendt passes Eichmann off as being “thoughtless”, someone just doing their job with no real convictions about it one way or the other - other than to do their job thoroughly. Though more recent information about Eichmann has called this into question (turns out he was a raging antisemite after all - who knew?!), I think Arendt’s insight into the infamous “banality of evil” holds true. Evil is not always a monster foaming at the mouth; evil is a bland man sitting at a desk, soberly sending millions to their deaths. I do understand the criticism leveled against Arendt for her assessment of what the Jewish population in Europe could or should have done during the Holocaust; she does place a lot of blame at the feet of Jewish leaders, and she describes people being led like lambs to the slaughter. Though she defends herself against her accusers in the epilogue to the edition of the book I read, I still think there is more nuance to the situation than she accounts for - though, as she herself writes, her book was specifically about Eichmann and the trial, so a more detailed examination of the intricacies of the Holocaust and Jewish life was beyond her scope. In any case, I now look forward to reading Eichmann Before Jerusalem by Bettina Stangneth as a counterpoint to this book.

Further reading…