Thus, it is quite possible that the mantel of most in famous Nazi war criminal falls upon the thin shoulders of balding, bespectacled Adolf Eichmann. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, he was captured by the Mossad during a brazen raid in Argentina. Next, he was at the center of a widely publicized show trial in Jerusalem. Mainly, though, we remember Eichmann while we forget Frick, Funk, Sauckel and Schirach because of three words: Banality of evil.
Coined by political theorist Hannah Arendt, the phrase has stood the test of time. It has a pseudo-intellectual patina that has become a kind of shorthand in discussions of the Nazi regime. As such, it is ripe for misuse see, e. It is only explained by Arendt in a postscript. And that's fine, really. There are plenty of people around willing to argue about what those words mean and whether they are correct. Indeed, the bulk of Eichmann in Jerusalem reads like any other nonfiction book about the Nazis.
It covers the Wannsee Conference, forced emigrations, deportations, and finally the rail-lines to the death camps. The only unique angle is that Eichmann is at the center of this narrative. And this is saying something, I suppose. He is almost always mentioned, but never explored. This is due to the fact that however involved he was in the Holocaust, he was, at the end of the day, a functionary.
This is a book I had to force my way through. Despite being only odd pages, it felt like a long, plodding slog. This makes for aesthetically displeasing pages. Eichmann in Jerusalem carries a lot of baggage with it, which I suppose is the reason people continue to read it, despite its literary shortcomings. While reading, I picked out three major areas of potential criticism.
It is a matter of historical fact that Jewish leaders were utilized by the Nazis in order to expedite the Holocaust. Instead, the Judenrat, for the most part, did what they could to ease the situation for their people. On this topic: the idea of Jewish resistance, or lack thereof, is far more complicated than Arendt makes it out to be. First of all, most of these people had no formal military training. Unlike in the movies, where one can learn all the arts of war during a brief montage, in the real world, one must be taught to be a soldier.
Second of all, the Jews of Europe were not a monolithic group: they came from Germany and France and Austria and Poland and on and on. And how? Finally, the Germans had a certain tendency to respond unfavorably to partisan action. And these were non-Jews that Hitler needed as labor. The second major criticism leveled at Arendt has to do with her portrayal of Eichmann, and her choice of those three magic words to sum him up. The Eichmann that Arendt presents is indelible: a high school dropout and intellectual dud; a bureaucratic ladder-climber; an unoriginal man who spoke in catchphrases and slogans like some kind of evil Abed from Community.
He never would have murdered someone with his own hands, but he was perfectly willing — operating within the Nazi framework, in which his actions were lawful — to facilitate the deaths of millions. It is, after all, impossible to know the human heart. However, she has come under criticism for taking Eichmann too much at his word, and failing to realize Eichmann was minimizing his role.
Anyway, one has to ask, even if he was, what end he was hoping to achieve? He was damned either way, and whether he came off as an unquestioning bureaucrat or a mustache-twirling villain, he was going to stretch. In other words, Eichmann didn't really have all that much motive to lie. I'm no expert on human nature, but I just can't believe that somehow, for some reason, the Germany of had an astronomically high percentage of psychopaths and sociopaths and sadists operating outside the realm of fundamental human morality. Some of them undoubtedly believed in the mission, wholeheartedly, but this was the result of their complex existence within a paradigm that effectively convinced people that up was down, left was right, and evil was good.
The farther away from the killing, the easier this became. A third and final criticism of Arendt is in her vigorous attacks on the fairness of the Jerusalem trial. Like the first controversy, discussed above, I don't think this one carries much weight. There is nothing groundbreaking in her critique of the process and procedures of the Eichmann Trial; indeed, the items she cites are in line with what other legal scholars such as Nuremberg prosecutor Telford Taylor have written.
This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang. So too with Hitler, Himmler, Goering and the rest. Monsters can be recognized; monsters can be destroyed. They were of this earth. When Hitler put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, it turned out that he was flesh and bone and soft tissue, just like the rest of us. View all 14 comments. Jan 01, Garima rated it it was amazing Shelves: pol-rev , mycents , non-fic , world-next-door , war-with-peace , wehmut , taking-title , no-kidding.
Based on the actual testimonies given during the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials- reading it is an experience that is cold, brutal and almost physical in ways unexpected. Witnesses try to communicate the incommunicable suffering of victims and survivors; Defendants try to deny or extenuate their respective roles in the heinous crimes and Judges try to measure up an appropriate sentence against the evil involved that keeps on getting bigger, hideous and unbearable. In the course of brief dialogues, Weiss deftly manages to raise some inconvenient questions and leaves the tough task of contemplation for the readers.
In that sense, where this play ends, Eichmann in Jerusalem begins. One last question, the most disturbing of all, was asked by the judges, and especially by the presiding judge, over and over again: Had the killing of Jews gone against his conscience? But this was a moral question, and the answer to it may not have been legally relevant. Still I can say that she definitely strives to penetrate the colossal intricacy of Nazi machinery along with the challenges faced by a wary legal system.
What stuck in the minds of these men who had become murderers was simply the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose, unique, which must therefore be difficult to bear. This was important, because the murderers were not sadists or killers by nature; on the contrary, a systematic effort was made to weed out all those who derived physical pleasure from what they did. Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it- the quality of temptation.
Arendt has explored those very places in a manner that is admirable and brave. View all 32 comments. Sep 03, Hadrian rated it it was amazing Shelves: history , society-culture-anthropology-etc , favorites , nonfiction , philosophy. Brilliant and terrifying as ever. Some partial reactions, which somebody else has probably written about, but I'll repeat here anyway: --The idea of the "banality of evil" - that is, ordinary people who do evil things as part of a larger apparatus, is compelling. But is Eichmann the best example of this? He stinks more of anti-Semitism than even Arendt lets on.
Hence Eichmann should hang. A mediocrity who read about two books in his whole life, searching desperately for some cause to attach himself to. He was, in his own words, an 'idealist', or willing to give up his own morals for a greater cause - that is, the Nazi project of state-sponsored genocide. He just wanted to be a part of something. He lived in an echo chamber, incapable of understanding others.
Read this again, really read it. View 1 comment. Mar 31, Trevor rated it it was amazing Shelves: biography , race , history , psychology , religion , philosophy. It is hard to know what to say about this book. The subtitle is pretty well right: the banality of evil. Eichmann comes across as a complete fool, utterly lacking in any ability to see things from the perspective of the other. As Arendt says at one point, the idea that he could sit chatting to a German Jew about how unfair it was that he never received a promotion for his work in exterminating the Jews pretty much sums up the man.
It seems Eichmann felt he was doing his best not only for his mas It is hard to know what to say about this book. It seems Eichmann felt he was doing his best not only for his masters, but also for the Jews too.
Misreading ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’
This was the part I found most surprising. The problem with the holocaust is the sheer scale of it makes trying to hold it in your head comparable to trying to understand the universe, you can feel yourself sinking into insanity. We have endless examples of people who actively chose not to be Eichmann, people who knowingly paid for not being Eichmann with their lives, and did so as an active choice.
The thing that this book makes terribly clear is that simple bureaucratic processes can be used to remarkable effect in normalising the unthinkable — in fact, you can commit genocide on an unprecedented scale if you have people worrying about train timetables and the supply of gas rather than where the trains will go and what the gas is for.
There was an insanely horrible part of this where she says that many Germans would have preferred suicide to defeat, and that some may well have felt those damn Jews had used up all of the gas. The world really can be endlessly perverse in the most unspeakable of ways. A particularly interesting part of the book was the discussion of why the Nazis dealt with the Zionists. All Jews were bad, but at least the Zionists had some sense of national feeling. And yet, this book left me feeling terribly uneasy. Once Eichmann was in Israel it was clear he was going to die — for as much as Israel may not have wanted this to be seen as a show trial, clearly this was a story with only one possible ending.
He was, in some ways, proof that the Nazis recognising that to promote him beyond where he was would only result in an exemplar case of the Peter Principle. He was highly effective at organising logistics, but his motivation was not genocide or hatred of the Jews — I dread to say it, but that would at least make sense.
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (Penguin Classics)
Instead he was just some guy pitifully obsessed with following orders in the hope of getting a promotion, seeking to impress his superiors and completely obsessed with efficiency. I certainly cannot bring myself to be sorry for his fate, but then neither can I feel the world is all that much better without him.
He was a fool, a terrifying fool doing his job. And that fact is the most terrifying of all about this book, I fear. View all 12 comments. What has come to light is neither nihilism nor cynicism, as one might have expected, but a quite extraordinary confusion over elementary questions of morality—as if an instinct in such matters were truly the last thing to be taken for granted in our time. Of course, that's the US for you, with its isolation and c What has come to light is neither nihilism nor cynicism, as one might have expected, but a quite extraordinary confusion over elementary questions of morality—as if an instinct in such matters were truly the last thing to be taken for granted in our time.
Of course, that's the US for you, with its isolation and capitalism and pride. It's no use saying that I wish I had never sought out such things to fill my time, for reasons of a complete undermining of reception of this book if nothing else. But oh, how I would like to. For politics is not like the nursery; in politics obedience and support are the same. What I have faith in these days is a future of ever increasing alignment between morality and legality.
In the present I only supplicate in front of a reassurance that there indeed exists a concept of progress between my modern day and the ones before. A progress more aligned with my personal sensibility of ethics and individual level of comfort, at any rate. What we have here, in this book, is a collusion of time, place, and people. Hannah Arendt went to Jerusalem to report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, doing so through means of fact, analysis, and the lines of legal and politic that governments trundle along their way on.
As a result of my reading, my thinking has undergone a paradigm shift on the level that it did upon encountering The Second Sex. The subject material differs, but my interpretation is the same: I can never afford to become cynical, for that implies I've learned enough to be so. Fear, anger, and a burning desire to know more? That's acceptable. And if he did not always like what he had to do According to the primary evidence Arendt utilized, Eichmann was deemed both sane and normal by six psychologists.
He suffered from neither guilt nor anger, but from at most the frustration of one who has always been down on their luck, someone who joined a movement in history in hopes of a promising potential and never quite fulfilled it. His memory consisted not of the timeline of the war, but of the timeline of this potential: his study of Jewish texts, his interaction with fellow members of the S. The net effect of this language system was not to keep these people ignorant of what they were doing, but to prevent them from equating it with their old, "normal" knowledge of murder and lies.
Eichmann's great susceptibility to catch words and stock phrases, combined with his incapacity for ordinary speech, made him, of course, an ideal subject for "language rules. His lack of intelligence not only spelled his doom due to little caution and less attention paid to his bragging tongue, it also made him perfectly happy to appropriate the words the far more discreet Nazi Party told him and construct his thinking with such. Using these phrases, working towards a higher rank in the S. The facts here are ugly, awkward, and fucking sadistic.
Eichmann's trial by sheer happenstance touches on, amidst so much more, the defining of "crimes against humanity", genocide versus "administrative massacres", the history of anti-Semitism and subsequent conflict between the Jewish understanding of pogroms and the world's views of crime and punishment, and the limits of current laws of warfare, and indeed the very terms of "justice", in the face of World War Two. Here, the trial in Jerusalem faltered in the face of a completely legal indictment and subsequent explanation of such, as did every other trial of WWII war criminals and lesser collaborators.
Here, history will repeated, not because we do not know it but because we now know the punishment and, as such, can act accordingly. Here, the world took action, and one wonders whether that result was worth the trigger, and whether worse things could have happened had not the final push occurred. Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it—the quality of temptation. A banality of evil is the necessity of mid-civilization crises of morality like this when it comes to eliciting a legal, political, worldwide recognition of what humanity cries for, religion aspires to, and human instinct, well.
I don't have much faith in that last bit anymore. View all 16 comments. Aug 24, Manny marked it as to-read. We just saw the movie Hannah Arendt , and it is extremely good - possibly the best thing I've seen this year. Margarethe von Trotta's direction and script are excellent, and Barbara Sukowa is terrific in the title role.
View all 24 comments. This book is amazing. In it, Arendt struggles with three major issues: 1 the guilt and evil of the ordinary, bureaucratic, obedient German people like Eichmann who contributed to the attempted genocide of the Jewish people, 2 the complicity of some jews in the genocide through organization, mobilization, passive obedience, and negotiations with the Nazis, 3 the logical absurdity the Eichmann and Nuremberg Trials, etc.
In this book and the original 'New Yorker' essays it came from Hannah This book is amazing. She isn't asking rhetorical or weightless questions. While some of her positions might not be fully supportable, the very act of asking tough questions that don't fall into easy boxes is a gift to humanity. Arendt's tactic of giving no one an automatic free pass, while also not allowing people like Eichmann to become cartoonish characters of evil, allows her the room to push the idea that the potential for evil exists not just in dark, scary places, but in well-lit, and very efficient bureaucracies and we all even Israel might be asked to push or pull a lever if we aren't paying close attention.
View all 5 comments. Aug 20, Jon athan Nakapalau rated it it was amazing Shelves: philosophy , nazi-germany. A truly disturbing look at what motivates individuals to follow orders. While there are some who may disagree with some of the conclusions that Hannah Arendt draws I still think this is a groundbreaking study in the connection betweeen conformity and criminal compliance. View all 11 comments. May 01, Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont rated it did not like it. There they are, men, women and children, all fearful, all apprehensive.
A truck drives by, piled high with corpses. The arms of the dead are hanging loose over the sides, waving as if in grim farewell. The people scream. But no sooner has the vehicle turned a corner than the horror has been edited out of their minds. Even on the brink of death there are some things too fantastic Hannah sometimes in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of a Book A new group of deportees has arrived at Auschwitz.
Even on the brink of death there are some things too fantastic for the human imagination to absorb. Why, you may wonder? Simply because Hannah Arendt had a prefect, retrospective knowledge; she is wise after the event. She knows what the outcome is going to be for those people on that platform. They did not, even so far as that final stage. But Arendt assumes that they and their leaders did; that they collaborated with the machinery of death.
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That is the worst failure of the greater failure in her account of the Eichmann trial. These are my own, an exposure of what I consider to be possibly the worst example of bad-faith, dissimulation and prejudgement ever penned. Precisely this: before a word of evidence had been heard in that court in Jerusalem Arendt had set an agenda. She came armed with preconceptions, all drawn from The Origins of Totalitarianism , her magnum opus.
One thing worked in her favour: people came to Jerusalem expecting to see a monster. What they saw was a rather tawdry, balding, bespectacled middle-aged German of wholly forgettable appearance. This was the sort of individual one would pass in the street without a second glance. He was disappointingly banal , which gave Arendt her leitmotiv, the theme she played throughout Eichmann in Jerusalem.
What she gave us in the end was an account that did much to obscure the real Eichmann, even so far as setting aside altogether the anti-Semitism which formed such a part of his character and political outlook. Eichmann may have been a colourless mediocrity, but his actions, the evil behind his actions, was most assuredly anything but banal.
There is opportunism here that also has to be understood, the opportunism not just of Arendt, who also had an anti-Zionist agenda, but the opportunism of those who latched their wagons to her star. The person who comes first to mind here is Stanley Milgram, author of a famous experiment on obedience and authority, so flawed in methodology and scientific rigour that it verges on the fraudulent.
People like Eichmann, he concluded, were not sadistic monsters. They were simply individuals who had abdicated all moral choice to a greater authority. Had Arendt not proved this to be so? What we were given was a form of psychological profiling devoid of history, of context, of politics, of ideology and of all cultural preconceptions. But the Arendt-Milgram Axis, if I can express it so, worked. The Holocaust, as David Cesarani says in Eichmann and his Crimes , was simply depicted as a function of modernity.
Arendt did not spend long in Jerusalem; she did not need to; she had already made up her mind, exposed initially in reports which were not reports in the New Yorker. She vacuum-packed the Holocaust for a modern audience, for people who were trying to make sense of the complexity of it all; people who were trying to make sense of the colourless executioner in Jerusalem. The best critique of the disingenuousness of Eichmann in Jerusalem comes, in my view, from Yaacov Lozowick, a one-time admirer of the book; There was very little that was banal about Eichmann or any of his accomplices, and the little that could be found was not relevant to what they had done.
Although she was primarily a philosopher, she had written an historical analysis — and without checking the facts. Moreover, she had refrained from taking into account much potentially relevant information. Above all, her position was the result of ideological considerations, not careful scholarship. There was also a paradox, that of a Jew who herself had anti-Semitic, not just anti-Zionist tendencies. An oriental mob that would hang around any place where something is going on is hanging around the front of the courthouse.
Arendt created the myth of the twentieth century — the myth of the desk-bound killer and his supine, cattle-like victims. Her Jews, as I said, collaborated in their own destruction. The various Jewish Councils established by the Nazis in the ghettos of occupied Europe were little more than the adjutants of death. All evidence to the contrary, all evidence of Jewish resistance is ignored. But by far the most important omission is the forms of deception the Nazis practiced, to be carried right to the threshold of destruction, something Vasily Grossman alighted on in his essay The Hell of Treblinka.
Eichmann in Jerusalem is a book that comes close to justifying the monster who was a man, close to excusing him of all practical and moral responsibility.
She obscured the real Eichmann in the way that he himself deliberately tried to obscure the facts. If there was a Jewish collaborator with Nazism after the fact she is no better example. Elegantly written Eichmann in Jerusalem may have been, but this should not be allowed to obscure its worthlessness as an account of the man, the motives and the crimes. Only one judgement remains: as a book Eichmann in Jerusalem is banal.
View all 51 comments. Jan 20, Jafar rated it it was amazing. This book is a great mix of investigative journalism and historical analysis. Eichmann was in charge of transporting the Jews, first for forced emigration, and after the implementation of the Final Solution, to t This book is a great mix of investigative journalism and historical analysis. Eichmann was in charge of transporting the Jews, first for forced emigration, and after the implementation of the Final Solution, to the death camps.
He was a mid-level S. He put millions on those trains, knowing fully well where they were heading and what fate was awaiting them. Without trying to lessen the magnitude of his crimes — and this is a very important point — what Arendt wants to add to our understanding of Eichmann and our understanding of the nature of evil is how utterly banal he was. He was just doing a job — nothing personal. Many others would have done the same. Pick your choice of the recent ones: Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Iraq, Syria.
A good one for shaking me out of a complacency in judgments and lazy simplifications in thought. The Holocaust was many circles of hell and Purgatory involving many victims and perpetrators, and so it makes sense that acts to effect justice for it can be hard to lay the right level of accountability. When Israel in kidnapped Eichmann from Argentina and put him on trial, the hope of Prime Minister Ben-Gurion and the prosecutors was to apply justice for the Holocaust to a key Nazi leader behi A good one for shaking me out of a complacency in judgments and lazy simplifications in thought.
When Israel in kidnapped Eichmann from Argentina and put him on trial, the hope of Prime Minister Ben-Gurion and the prosecutors was to apply justice for the Holocaust to a key Nazi leader behind the Final Solution. What they got for a show trial to educate the public and satisfy needs for justice was instead a bit of a hollow victory in pinning blame on a bureaucrat chief of Jewish Affairs in RSHA Department IV B 4 who claimed he only followed orders from in the chain from Hitler and Himmler to Heydrich to organize the transportation of Jews to the death camps and was not a Nazi ideologue or even anti-Semitic.
He was charged with murder, crimes against humanity applied as war crime, and crimes against the Jewish people. The precedent for a war crime charge under international law passed after the commission of the crimes had a precedent from the Nuremberg Trials. The venue of Israel for adjudicating a crime against the Jews was argued to be parallel to the prosecution of war criminals carried out by each occupied nation after the war.
Such as how significant a role cooperation by Jewish leaders played in the magnitude of the slaughter and how pervasive the support of non-fascist elements of the population was for the success of the Final Solution.
The book forced me to either agree with her affirmative answers on both of these counts or with the many people, including former Zionist friends, who were outraged with her conclusions. Musmanno argued that Arendt revealed "so frequently her own prejudices" that it could not stand as an accurate work. Arendt relied heavily on the book by H. Adler Theresienstadt In more recent years, Arendt has received further criticism from authors Bettina Stangneth and Deborah Lipstadt. Stangneth argues in her work, Eichmann Before Jerusalem , that Eichmann was, in fact, an insidious antisemite.
While she acknowledges that the Sassen Papers were not disclosed in the lifetime of Arendt, she argues that the evidence was there at the trial to prove that Eichmann was an antisemitic murderer and that Arendt simply ignored this. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Book by Hannah Arendt describing the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Books portal.
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt
The New York Times. Retrieved Hannah Arendt, the political philosopher who escaped Hitler's Germany and later scrutinized its morality in "Eichmann in Jerusalem" and other books, died Thursday night in her apartment at Riverside Drive. November 9, And the crooked shall be made straight. Retrieved 26 June Robinson": A Reply by Hannah Arendt". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved March 11, Obedience to Authority. New York: Harper. Retrieved June 26, Retrieved 27 April Again and again the arguments, the very phrases, are unconsciously repeated.
Lipstadt , The Eichmann Trial, p. Dee pp. Arendt, Hannah February—March The New Yorker. Retrieved 11 August Penguin Publishing Group. In court, Eichmann gave the impression that he was a typical member of the lower middle classes, and this impression was more than borne out by every sentence he spoke or wrote while he was in prison. Before Eichmann entered the Party and the S. When Kaltenbrunner suggested that he enter the S. The choice between the S.
And he had replied, Why not? That was how it had happened, and that was about all there was to it. Of course, that was not all there was to it. What Eichmann failed to tell the presiding judge in cross-examination was that he had been an ambitious young man who was fed up with his job as travelling salesman even before the Vacuum Oil Company became fed up with him, and that from a humdrum life without significance or consequence the wind had blown him into History, as he understood it; namely, into a Movement that always kept moving and in which somebody like him—already a failure in the eyes of his social class, in the eyes of his family, and hence in his own eyes as well—could start from scratch and make a career.
Not only in Argentina, leading the unhappy existence of a refugee, but also in the courtroom of Jerusalem, with his life as good as forfeited, he might still have expressed a preference—if anybody had asked him—for being hanged as an S. But even without this new calamity a career in the Austrian Nazi Party would then have been out of the question; those who enlisted in the S. Eichmann therefore decided to go to Germany—a decision that was all the more natural because his family had never given up its German citizenship.
This fact was of some relevance to the trial. Servatius had asked the West German government to demand extradition of the accused and, failing this, to pay the expenses of the defense, and Bonn had refused, on the ground that Eichmann was not a German national—which was not true. Thus he did become an Austrian after a fashion, despite his German passport. His application was approved. In , the S. Then it had taken on some additional duties, becoming the information and research center for the Geheime Staatspolizei Secret State Police, or Gestapo. This was the first step toward the merger of the S.
Eichmann, of course, could not at that time have known anything of this, but he seems to have known nothing even of the nature of the S. According to what he told Captain Less, he joined the S. His disappointment consisted chiefly in the fact that he was back at the bottom and had to start all over again; his only consolation was that other members of the S. He was put into the research division, in Berlin, where his first job was to file all information concerning Freemasonry—which in the early Nazi ideological muddle was somehow lumped with Judaism, Catholicism, and Communism—and to help in the establishment of an Anti-Freemasonry Museum.
He now had ample opportunity to learn what this strange word meant that Kaltenbrunner had thrown at him in their discussion of the Schlaraffia. Incidentally, an eagerness to establish museums to be used as propaganda against their enemies was characteristic of the Nazis. During the war, several German bureaus competed bitterly for the honor of establishing anti-Jewish museums and libraries.
We owe to this strange craze the preservation of many great cultural treasures of European Jewry. Unfortunately, things were again very, very boring, so Eichmann was greatly relieved when, after four or five months of Freemasonry, he was put into a brand-new department, concerned with Jews. This was the real beginning of the career that was to end in the Jerusalem court.
It was the year , when Germany, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, introduced general conscription and publicly announced plans for rearmament, including the building of an air force and a navy. This was also the year when Germany, having left the League of Nations in , prepared, far from secretly, the occupation of the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland.
In Germany itself, this was a time of transition. Because of the enormous rearmament program, unemployment had ceased to exist, and the initial resistance of the working class was thereby broken. To be sure, one of the first steps taken by the Nazi government, back in , had been the exclusion of Jews from the civil service which in Germany included all teaching positions, from grammar school to university, and most branches of the entertainment industry; namely, the theatre, the opera, concerts, and radio and, in general, their removal from public office, but private business and the legal and medical professions were not touched until , though Jews were no longer permitted to take the state examinations leading to these professions.
The emigration of Jews in these years proceeded, on the whole, in an orderly and not unduly accelerated fashion, and the currency restrictions that made it difficult, but not impossible, for Jews to take their money—or, at least, the greater part of it—out of the country were the same for non-Jews; they dated back to the days of the Weimar Republic. The Jewish emigrants, unless they were political refugees, were mostly young people who realized that there was no future for them in Germany—and since they soon found out that there was hardly any future for them in other European countries either, some of them actually returned during this period.
It took the organized pogroms of November, —the so-called Kristallnacht , or Night of Broken Glass, when seventy-five hundred Jewish shop-windows were broken, all synagogues went up in flames, and twenty thousand Jewish men were taken off to concentration camps—to expel them from it. One frequently forgotten point of the matter is that the famous Nuremberg Laws, issued in the fall of , had failed to do the trick. At the trial, the testimony of three witnesses from Germany—former high-ranking officials of the Zionist Organization who left Germany shortly before the outbreak of the war—gave only the barest glimpse into the true state of affairs during the first five years of the Nazi regime.
Sexual intercourse between Jews and Germans and the contraction of mixed marriages were forbidden, and no German woman under the age of forty-five could be employed in a Jewish household. Of these provisions, only the last was of practical significance; the others merely legalized a de-facto situation. They had been second-class citizens, to put it mildly, since January 30, ; their almost complete separation from the rest of the population had been achieved in a matter of weeks, through terror but also through the more than ordinary connivance of those around them.
Benno Cohn, from Berlin, testified at the trial. However, in complete ignorance of what is permitted and what is not one cannot live. One can also be a useful and respected citizen as a member of a minority in the midst of a great people. He then acquired a smattering of Hebrew, which enabled him to read, haltingly, a Yiddish newspaper—not a very difficult accomplishment, since Yiddish is basically an old German dialect written in Hebrew letters, and can be understood by any German-speaking person who has mastered a few dozen Hebrew words. It is worth noting that his schooling in Jewish affairs was almost entirely concerned with Zionism.
Eichmann was given his first opportunity to apply in practice what he had learned during his apprenticeship when, after the Anschluss , or incorporation of Austria into the Reich, in March, , he was sent to Vienna to organize a kind of emigration that had thus far been utterly unknown in Germany, where up to the fall of the fiction was maintained that Jews were permitted to leave the country if they wished but were not forced to do so.
Whenever Eichmann thought back to the twelve years that were the core of his life, he declared this year in Vienna to have been its happiest and most successful period. He must have been frantic to make good, and certainly his success was spectacular. The basic idea that made all this possible was not his but, almost certainly, was contained in a specific directive from Heydrich, who had sent him to Vienna in the first place. The problem was not to make the rich Jews leave but to get rid of the Jewish mob.
There were two things he could do well, or better than many other people: he could organize and he could negotiate. Having undergone such imprisonment, the Jewish functionaries did not need Eichmann to convince them of the desirability of emigration. Rather, their concern was to inform him of the enormous difficulties that lay ahead.
Each of the papers was valid only for a limited time, and this meant that the validity of the first had usually expired long before the last could be obtained. They were appalled. Otherwise, you will go to a concentration camp!
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They needed, and were given, their Vorzeigegeld —the amount they had to show in order to obtain their visas and to pass the immigration inspection of the recipient country. For this amount, they needed foreign currency, which the Reich had no intention of wasting on its Jews. These needs were not covered by Jewish accounts in foreign countries, which, in any event, were difficult to get at, because they had been illegal for many years. Eichmann therefore sent a number of Jewish functionaries abroad to solicit funds from the great Jewish organizations, and these funds were then sold by the Jewish Community to the prospective emigrants for a considerable profit.
One dollar, for instance, was sold for ten or twenty marks when its market value was 4. It was chiefly in this way that the Community acquired not only the money necessary for the poor Jews and people without accounts abroad but also the funds it needed for its own, hugely expanded activities. Eichmann had not arranged the deal without encountering considerable opposition from the German financial authorities, who, after all, could not remain unaware of the fact that these transactions amounted to a devaluation of the mark. He had apologized in front of his staff at the time, but this incident kept bothering him.
The claim that he was responsible for the death of five million Jews—the approximate total of the losses suffered from the combined efforts of all Nazi bureaus and authorities—was preposterous, as he knew very well, but he had kept repeating the damning sentence ad nauseam to everyone who would listen, even long after the war, when he was in Argentina. Former Consular Official Horst Grell, who had known Eichmann in Hungary and had heard him make the claim there, testified in a court, in Berchtesgaden, in , that in his opinion Eichmann was boasting.
That must have been obvious to everyone who heard him utter his absurd claim. But bragging is a common vice. Nowhere was this flaw more conspicuous than in his account of his good year in Vienna. The German text of the taped police examination, which was conducted by Captain Less between May 29, , and January 17, , and each page of which was corrected and approved by Eichmann, demonstrates that the horrible can sometimes be not only ludicrous but downright funny.
Whether he wrote his memoirs in Argentina or in Jerusalem, whether he talked to the police examiner or to the court, what he said was always the same, expressed in the same words. The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think ; that is, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication with him was possible, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words of others, or even the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.
Thus, confronted for eight months with the reality of being examined by a Jewish policeman, Eichmann did not have the slightest hesitation in explaining to him at considerable length, and repeatedly, how he had been unable to attain a higher grade in the S. He had done everything; he had even asked to be sent to active military duty. He did not insist much on this, though, and, strangely, he was not confronted with his statements to the police examiner, to whom he had said that he had hoped to be nominated for the Einsatzgruppen , the S.
There was, finally, his greatest ambition—to be promoted to the job of police chief in some German town. Again, nothing doing. I was frustrated in everything, no matter what. That surprises me very much indeed. It is altogether, altogether unthinkable. Now and then, the comedy breaks into the horror itself, and the result is stories, presumably true enough, whose macabre humor easily surpasses that of any Surrealist invention. Such was the story that Eichmann told during the police examination about the unlucky Commercial Councillor Bertold Storfer, one of the representatives of the Viennese Jewish Community.
Nothing could be done; neither Dr. Ebner nor I nor anybody else could do anything about it. He told me all his grief and sorrow. What rotten luck!
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