Politics, Philosophy, Polemics

Hannah Arendt and the Eichmann in Jerusalem Controversy

In Holocaust, Israel, Jewish Matters on November 28, 2012 at 6:00 PM

One of the most controversial mainstream books ever written about the Holocaust was one by the German Jewish political philosopher, Hannah Arendt, published in 1963. Her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, arose from her reporting of the trial of Adolph Eichmann that took place in Jerusalem in 1961.

The book was controversial for a number of reasons. These included her depiction of Eichmann as someone who was a thoughtless person just doing his job. Despite the fact that his job involved the deportation of  Jews by the million to their death, Arendt argued that Eichmann was not a “monster” and that he had no “insane hatred of Jews.”  It was not just Arendt’s depiction of Eichmann that caused controversy, her argument that without  the Jewish Councils (Judenrat) there would have been far fewer Jews murdered, made many of her critics angry.

While the controversy was also in Europe, the main polemical arguments for and against the book took place in American journals. The so-called “New York Intellectuals,” including those who knew knew Arendt personally, passionately argued their respective positions for and against the book.

In 2007, I wrote an essay about that controversy entitled, “The Eichmann Polemics: Hannah Arendt and Her Critics.” It was published in Democratiya, issue 9, summer 2007. I have made a copy available on line here.

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