Eichmann In Jerusalem Summary

Hannah Arendt

Eichmann In Jerusalem

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Eichmann In Jerusalem Summary

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Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt describes the trial of a mid-ranking SS officer after World War II. Arendt, a Jewish political analyst, published the book in 1963 following the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, who was found in Argentina by Israel’s special agents. David Ben-Gurion, the Israeli Premier, decides that Eichmann should be tried by Jews since he was responsible for sending millions of Jews to their demise. Eichmann stands accused of not only offering his expertise in forced emigration, but also in forced evacuation.

Why try a man known to be guilty? The four judges, lead by Presiding Judge Moshe Landau want to ensure Eichmann has a fair trial so as to avoid criticism. Ben-Gurion wants to make an example of Eichmann in a publicized trial for all the world to see. Eichmann’s trial itself runs from April to August 1961, but the judges’ decision isn’t delivered until four months later. With Landau and Ben-Gurion on different sides regarding their reasons for ensuring Eichmann received a trial, Gideon Hausner, the Attorney General, has to find the balance between the two. He does this by calling many witnesses for the prosecution that may not have had anything to say about Eichmann directly, but have much to say about the suffering caused by the Nazi party during World War II. On the other side of the court is Eichmann’s defense. The defense claims that Eichmann isn’t responsible because he was merely obeying orders and the law.

One of the major debates fleshed out in Eichmann in Jerusalem is the idea of fighting back. People wondered why the Jews didn’t defend themselves; similarly, they wondered why men like Eichmann would obey another’s orders to kill someone and commit other atrocities. To counter Eichmann’s testimony that this cooperation was a major piece of the Nazis’ Jewish policy, prosecution witnesses described how there were resistance groups, but they were relatively ineffective. They also reminded the jury that at the time, the Jews had no country of their own, and therefore none of the military support that Germany had.

Another theme that arises over the course of Arendt’s book is desensitization to death. This played a part in Eichmann’s defense. He claimed that because he was just following orders, thinking and feeling were neither welcome nor necessary. However, Eichmann seems to realize during his trial that despite the law and issued orders, an individual still had some responsibility in his own actions, including the murder of millions of people.

As to the work of the judges themselves, they had to consider four main points. They were faced with deciding whether or not Eichmann’s participation contributed to slaughter on the Eastern Front, since they prevented the prosecution from presenting evidence from the West. They decided that his actions did, in fact, count as active participation in that slaughter. Next, they had to determine what his level of involvement was in deporting Jews from the Polish ghettos; this they placed on Himmler’s doorstep and determined that there wasn’t any evidence that Eichmann was responsible for this. Third, they determined that Eichmann had no authority over who lived and died in the concentration camps. Finally, they decided that he had general authority in the East, especially where carrying out Hitler’s “Final Solution” was concerned.

At the end of the trial and the judges’ deliberation period, they determined that he was guilty of all charges except for one—conspiracy. Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death by hanging.

Eichmann in Jerusalem also provides insight into what happened to Adolf Eichmann after the war and why it took so long to find him. He was captured and interrogated by the United States, but never gave his true identity. When the Nuremberg trials began in 1945, he escaped and began working as a lumberjack under the name Otto Heninger, and kept this up for four years. Then, he contacted ODESSA in 1950. ODESSA was an underground organization for former SS officers. They gave him the identification Ricardo Klement and sent him to Buenos Aires. A few years after that, his wife and children joined him. Settled and comfortable in his new life, he gave an interview for Life Magazine. While he didn’t use his real name, the interview alone was bold.

The book calls into question many ideas that shook the twentieth century, including how to process, prosecute, and heal after something so horrifying as the Holocaust, as well as who is responsible for such atrocities.