Evil, a Philosophy Paper
Focusing around Eichmann in Jerusalem
Abstract: For my final paper in my Philosophy class Evil, I had to write a final paper discussing and analyzing Eichmann in Jerusalem. Adolf Eichmann was one of the top Nazi leaders brought to trial by the country of Israel to answer for his WWII crimes against the Jewish people. While Ardent is a Jewish Political Analyst who documented the trial and added background facts in his book. Facts that were not mentioned in the trial itself. I took side with Ardent and argued points to support his view on the subject. Key factors such as the desensitization to death played a major role in Ardent’s book on the trial. Focusing on key points such as this led to a successful paper.
Essay: Final Paper Discussing and Analyzing Eichmann in Jerusalem
The book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem, A Report on the Banality of Evil” by Hannah Arendt speaks about the trial of Adolf Eichmann a German Nazi Leader. His trial was being conducted by an all Jewish court in the Hebrew state of Israel. The issue is that even though everyone knows Eichmann is guilty they still put him on trial. What drives Arendt’s narrative is the fact that he was only following orders. Yet, to gather millions of people and herd them onto trains to their slaughter like cattle is not something a normal person can pass off as just following orders. Also, even though Arendt is a Jewish Political researcher, the text is written in a form of satire, criticizing both Eichmann and the all Jewish court of Israel. I agree with Arednt’s position on the Eichmann trial and the way it is presented in the text.
Arendt is a Jewish Political Analyst who wrote this book to document the show trial of Eichmann. The four judges that were conducting his trial knew he was definitely guilty. However the Premier of Israel at the time demanded a show trial to present and bring back to life all the horrid details. “A show trial needs even more urgently than an ordinary trial a limited and well defined outline of what was done and how it was done.”(Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, A Report on the Banality of Evil, 9) This trial was created with the intention to seem fair so that it would not receive criticism. However, it was more to try to understand and ask the question, “Why the Jews?” Not once did Eichmann turn to face the audience, the survivors of the holocaust. Even though his lawyers pleaded him to change his story, he stuck to the same answers.
The idea of desensitization to death plays a major role in Arendt’s book and in Eichmann’s life. Even when being faced with the fact that at the end of the trial he would hang, Eichmann displayed no fear. He spoke to the court of Israel like a brainwashed slave. He refused to take an oath in front of the court to tell the truth. He believed after spending his life taking bad ones that he need not take another. However, the court would not accept such an excuse and threatened him if he did not.
The issue is that to Eichmann, he was simply doing what his superiors ordered. Yet to the rest of the world, he was committing mass murder. Eichmann became desensitized to death, and he explains that his “job position” had no room for feelings or thinking. As normal people, we see this as someone being consumed by evil. When you know you are doing something wrong and still continue to do so. Yet if something such as murdering Jews, is considered normal in the society he lived in, than he would be innocent. Arendt plays the role of the devil’s advocate in the sense that she shows and depicts both sides. While the rest of the world knew for a fact that what was going on in Nazi Germany at the time was considered evil and wrong, inside however was a different story. Inside Nazi Germany, it was normal to kill and massacre Jews in fact, people were rewarded for exposing those in hiding.
While the world then and now, understands that the Nazis were everything under the very definition of evil. However, to those living in Nazi Germany at the time, the atrocities were considered normal under Hilter’s rule. In their secluded bubble the German people thought this was normal. While Arendt acknowledges the fact that not everyone in Germany at the time agreed with it, they still went with the flow of the Nazi movement. Arendt states, “And that German society of eighty million people had been shielded against reality and factuality by exactly the same means, the same self-deception, lies and stupidity that had now become ingrained in Eichmann’s mentality.” .”(Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, A Report on the Banality of Evil, 52) They were lying to themselves, convincing both themselves and others around them that the Jews were the ones to blame for their country’s and societies issues. When clearly they were not. Eichmann is depicted as a broken soulless human being who had no sympathy for what he did. Arendt writes him as a man that had committed so many crimes that he could not recall them all. His evil was so normalized in his society that he could not remember it all. How many people does a man have to kill in order to lose count? While explaining things he would change moods and he was quite content. This contentment followed him to his death. To be so comfortable while admitting and confessing to crimes such as these is a disturbing sight to witness.
Now the question, “How can this be seen as evil and not a form of social conditioning?” can be brought up. However if you teach a population that something naturally evil is normal, then they wont think of it as evil, yet normal. Again referring to what Eichmann said about not having time to think or feel emotions, he was trained in the ways of evil to do so. The blood of six million people, women children and babes, cannot easily be wiped off ones hands by saying its simple social conditioning. These Nazis whether they agreed to become Nazis or not knew they were torturing and taking the lives away from innocent people. The court of Israel determined that Eichmann was responsible for ordering these deaths.
Eichmann attended the Undersecretaries of State conference in 1942 and said he felt free of all guilt afterword. While Eichmann did give the orders to kill and deport the Jews, he did not have control over what happened in the concentration camps. Yet he was still found responsible for sending these innocent people to their deaths. He had the authority under Hitler to carry out the “Final Solution” in the East and he used it. In fact, Eichmann was the main person to deport the Jews from the west to the east.
The Jews filled out paperwork and were forced to wear Golden Stars of David as identification. They knew ultimately that they were being sent to their deaths, so why did no one rebel? Well Arednt describes in the text that they just didn’t have the military or organizational strength to do so at the time. In addition she states in the text that “True it was that the Jewish people as a whole had not been organized, that they had possessed no territory, no government, and no army, that, in the hour of their greatest need, they had no government in exile to represent them among the Allies (the Jewish Agency for Palestine, under Dr. Weizmann’s presidency, was at best a miserable substitute) no, caches of weapons no youth with military training.” (Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, A Report on the Banality of Evil, 125) The heads of Jewish communities were being forced to give names of their members. Do or die, there was no negotiation and to those that cooperated, at least in the beginning of the holocaust, were granted access to leave the country. The Jewish Council was being controlled by Eichmann and his associates and with no organized way to defend and resist, they had to comply.
To look at the religious aspect of all this, Eichmann was a Catholic. Most of Germany was and the Catholic Church faced massive criticism for not intervening during the holocaust. However, Eichmann specifically admired how Hilter rose to power through the German military, to the point where he disregarded the Ten Commandments of his faith. He like almost all of Germany at that point, blindly believed in Hitler. To be blind is to be in darkness, to be in darkness allows people to be lead anywhere. There is evil in darkness therefore an evil in turning a blind eye to these atrocities.
Eichmann, devoid of his conscious during the holocaust committed and ordered evil. He was one of the three men in command to find the Final Solution to “the Jewish problem”. According to Arendt he only faced his conscious a total of three times but admitted to his superiors when he did. Thus, undoing whatever redemption whatever was left of his conscious begged for. The reading states that, “For the sad and very uncomfortable truth of the matter probably was that it was not his fanaticism but his very conscience that prompted Eichmann to adopt his uncompromising attitude during the last year of the war, as it had prompted him to move in the opposite direction for a short time three years before.” (Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, A Report on the Banality of Evil, 147) Eichmann admired Hilter and knew that he was being directly watched by his overlord. That is why he threw away his humanity to appease him. This disregard of emotions, thoughts and human life itself is why Eichmann is considered evil. He gave up his control over his responsibilities, actions and became a puppet to a superior with terrible views.
He gave up his mind, his conscious and ultimately his humanity to serve Hitler. As the man in charge of deportation and trafficking of the Jewish people, he knew that the Jews lost their nationality in Germany and were to be treated as cargo and pests to be exterminated. To put Jews on trains and keep order, Eichmann requested the assistance of the German police. He set their rules and regulations. So when fights or rebellion did break out, ultimately they followed Eichmann’s orders. Even though he may have not physically hurt these people, he ordered and demanded the hurting of these people. He was ultimately the source of their pain and emigration.
I believe that Eichmann is guilty and was always guilty. How do you slaughter all those people with no regrets? Submitting to true evil means to give up your mental strength and free will. And if we are talking biblical evil, isn’t the Devil silver tongued with charisma such as how Hitler was with his masses. His abilities to rise to power through persuasion and scapegoating. I appreciate Arendt’s way of writing to depict this whole trial as a show. Also, to mention Eichmann’s back story. To write the trial of a guilty man and how it came to be is to give future generations the full picture.
Unfortunately, Eichmann’s story is that of a weak man who wished to pursue power and pride. Which make every man fall eventually when pursued. He knew what he was doing and he knew he was receiving glory for what he did. Arendt simply presented the evidence and facts of his past deeds. She did not fabricate a story but told it in such a way that readers could understand. History is history and his deeds shaped the history of the Jewish people. This man took defenseless people and organized their transport to slaughter.
To not sound repetitive, my point is that Eichmann knew he wanted to appease Hitler, and his associates. He knew the way to do this was to final the solution to the “Jewish Problem” in whatever way he could. Under his orders Jews were sent from the West to the East. To different camps where, even though he was not in charge, he knew that torture was happening. Whatever guilt he had he lost after attending a conference with his superiors. They coaxed him and made him believe that their order their new world was truly upon them. And that he could have a crucial role to play in that new world, but first, he must send millions to their demise.
Even when he tried to ease whatever was left of his conscious, to help some “worthy Jews” he immediately confessed his sins to his superiors. He cleansed himself of all emotion and human decency to become a full-fledged Nazi. They fixed his flaws where he failed, and thuspressured him to work harder at exterminating the Jews. What perplexes readers about this reading is all the questions that the crowd asks during the trial. “Why the Jews?” Why the babies?” “Why?” To this, the court found no answers. Eichmann claims that he never killed a Jew and the court found him guilty of everything except conspiracy. However, Eichmann did say that, “I will jump into my grave laughing because of the fact that I have the death of five million Jews on my conscience gives me extraordinary satisfaction.”(Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, A Report on the Banality of Evil, 46) This quote that he said, and admitted to saying was one of the countless pieces of evidence used against him.
There was no guilt in this man for he took pride in his work. Although he may never have physically harmed a Jewish person, he signed the papers, he organized the cattle trains, set their routes and destinations. He sent them to their graves and all to impress and gain the admiration of Adolf Hitler, head Nazi and murderer. His anti-Semitic actions were proof enough that he had hatred for a people that had never done him harm. Eichmann knew his actions and his “job position” was effecting other people and causing harm. He knew their final destination was the Nazi’s Final Solution to the Jewish Question.
In addition to his broken mind and spirit, Eichmann was a coward who fled after the war to Argentina. Where by the way, most of the Czechoslovakian and other Jews fled once their countries were compromised. So not only did this coward flee the “great new order” he was so dedicated to serving but he fled to the same place where those who he once thought were beneath him fled to. The tables turned on him and eventually Eichmann was the one being forced to move. He was the one being forced to hide for his very life and that of his family’s. So he had to experience the vengeance of his evil.
In conclusion even though he came up with the excuse that he was following orders, Eichmann is still guilty of committing evil crimes. His death sentence of hanging is nothing compared to what he put the Jewish people through. He is evil and his actions are evil for the fact that millions of people died. He took pride in his “job” and sought approval for his deeds. His orders to transport people to their death, were his orders and were carried out by those beneath him. In his conscious, he knew what he was doing was wrong, but continued to be blinded by the faulty society around him.
Eichmann is the full embodiment of faulty thinking. He knew his orders were killing people and he did nothing to stop them. Also, he chose to ignore his guilt and regret and continue on with his evil deeds. To disregard his humanity for a single man is weakness, and he was easily corrupted by the society around him. Nothing of what the Nazis did to the outside, moral world is normal nor justifiable. Eichmann by choosing to be a blind sheep, did nothing to help the people he knew were suffering.
Arendt’s presentation of Eichmann depicts him exactly as he was. A power hungry coward, that when brought to court by the very people he wished to annihilate, was reduced to a shell of a man. His evil was unspeakable and incomprehensible. When someone writes up a document knowing it will affect other people they assume responsibility of those people. Therefore Eichmann’s crimes were evil as was he.
Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem a Report on the Banality of Evil. Penguin Classics, 2006.