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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 236

Eichmann in Jerusalem is Hannah Arendt's account of the 1960 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Arendt, who had already published several insightful works, including The Origins of Totalitarianism, covered the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem for The New Yorker. Part of the book is an in-depth account of the trial, in which Arendt details the crimes that Eichmann, the Nazi bureaucrat responsible for engineering the mass slaughter of millions of European Jews, committed. She describes his testimony, as well as the evidence used to convict him.

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The most important aspect of the book is her analysis of Eichmann as a Nazi criminal. Far from being a bloodthirsty, fanatical murderer, he is really a bureaucrat, a "pencil pusher" whose primary skill is advancing through the Nazi bureaucracy. Arendt is struck by what she describes as the "banality of evil," the most memorable phrase in the work. He was not insane or psychotic. He was, in Arendt's view, a career-minded man who saw his work as simply doing what he needed to do in order to get ahead. The fact that ordinary, unremarkable men can be mobilized through an impersonal bureaucracy to carry out the most horrific acts imaginable is, to Arendt, one of the most terrifying aspects of totalitarianism and indeed modern life itself. Arendt also argues that European Jews, through local leaders, exacerbated the horrors of the Holocaust by collaborating with Nazi leaders like Eichmann.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2478

On May 11, 1960, Adolf Eichmann, who had been masquerading in Argentina as factory worker Ricardo Klement, was captured by Israeli agents and brought to Jerusalem for trial. During World War II, Eichmann, an obedient Nazi bureaucrat, had risen to Obersturmbannführer (a rank equivalent to lieutenant colonel) in the Schutzstaffel (SS), a branch of the state secret police, or Gestapo, headed by Heinrich Himmler. Eichmann became the “Jewish expert” of the branch known as the Head Office for Reich Security. In accordance with Adolf Hitler’s plan for a “final solution” for the Jewish people, Eichmann was put in charge of arranging the mass deportations to the killing centers, which were mainly in Poland. After Germany’s defeat in May, 1945, Eichmann was captured by the Americans but hid his true identity and, with the aid of Nazi sympathizers, eventually escaped to Argentina. For ten years, reunited with his family, he lived a quiet life until his capture.

When the news of Eichmann’s capture and forthcoming trial was broadcast, Hannah Arendt proposed herself as a trial reporter to William Shawn, editor of The New Yorker magazine. Shawn gladly accepted Arendt’s offer, as she had already earned a distinguished reputation as a political analyst through her work The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Also, as a Jew and an early refugee from Nazi Germany (she had escaped in 1933), Arendt was uniquely qualified to cover the trial.

The trial began before the District Court of Jerusalem on April 11, 1961, and continued until August 14. The court announced its judgment on December 11, 1961, declaring Eichmann guilty of most of the crimes in the fifteen-count indictment (including “crimes against the Jewish people, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and memberships in hostile organizations”). He was condemned to death and, after the rejection of his legal appeals, was executed by hanging at midnight on May 31, 1962.

Hannah Arendt attended most of Eichmann’s district court sessions and then went home to New York, where she gathered her impressions of the defendant and formulated her analytic theses. The essential form of the book, according to Arendt, is that of “a trial report, and its main source is the transcript of the trial...

(The entire section contains 2714 words.)

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