Eichmann in Jerusalem
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 12 Nov 2013
Whenever I would come across the name Adolf Eichmann, the first thoughts to come to mind were usually along the lines of a sadistic bureaucrat using the power given to him to fulfill his evil wishes. Though I had long heard of the phrase "the banality of evil" coined by Hannah Arendt as appeared in the final chapter of her work Eichmann in Jerusalem, I never really gave it the serious thought that it deserved, although this phrase had always remained in the back of my mind. Browsing through the audio book catalog of my library a few weeks ago, this title came up unexpectedly, and I thought it was time for me to really dig into the theory of "the banality of evil".
Despite the book's title, Eichmann in Jerusalem only used the trial as means to study the personality, career, and psychology of Eichmann. While he undoubtedly lacked morality, the author argued that Eichmann was simply given a job to do, and like the average man, he respected authority and just wanted to do his job well. His employer conducting a horrendous genocide mattered little even as he played a key role in the transportation of Jews of their deaths. If Eichmann did not exist, would his job simply be fulfilled equally efficiently by someone else? Thus, while Eichmann indeed received his just punishment in the end, the fact that Nazi Germany produced so many automatons meant that Eichmann possibly could have served only as a scapegoat, for that the evil of Nazi Germany was the product of its leadership, but it was implemented by the mindless masses. Expanding from Eichmann, Arendt also explored related topics such as international criminal law, Jewish leadership in Nazi occupied territory, among others. While some of her theories had holes, the topics she raised in her book left me thinking long after each of my listening sessions.
And as suggested at the closing of the previous paragraph, I had reviewed this title in its audio book format. Wanda McCaddon seemed to have been well cast to read Arendt's writing. Her clear reading and good pacing sounded authoritative.
This book provided an analysis of someone so central to the Holocaust, but yet, ironically, he was so far from being the monster that we would so easily accused him of being. This was definitely not a light book by any means, but should you find yourself in a reflective mood, pick up a copy of Eichmann in Jerusalem.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945