Reading Eichmann in Jerusalem

Image Credit: Barbara Niggl Radloff

There is just about one month left to apply to become a summer scholar in the NEH-funded seminar for schoolteachers that I will direct at Bard College’s Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities in 2014 on the political theory of Hannah Arendt. Those of you who read this blog and know of teachers or eligible graduate students who would benefit from participating in the seminar, please pass the link on and encourage colleagues to apply. I really count on you to help spread the word.

Thinking ahead to the wonderful discussions of Arendt’s provocative work we will have this summer, I am collecting new sources to inspire conversations. The first book of Arendt’s the seminar engages is her controversial Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Since last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the book’s publication, there have been many conferences, essays and other commentaries on it. Along with Hannah Arendt: The Movie, Margarethe von Trotta’s biopic on Arendt, which premiered last summer, these recent discussions have renewed interest in Arendt’s work.

As Idith Zertal notes in the video of her presentation on Eichmann in Jerusalem at an NYU conference a few years ago, the report Arendt wrote about the trial of Nazi deportation commander Adolf Eichmann, generated millions of words of commentary, and a wide variety of interpretations, not all accurate. In her talk, Zertal takes up the question of what Arendt wanted to say about the problem of evil. Along the way she engages with the controversy Arendt’s book generated.

A noted historian of Jewish Studies, Zertal has published her share of contested works, including several I have read and recommend to seminar participants: Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood and From Catastrophe to Power: The Holocaust Survivors and the Emergence of Israel. Not everyone will agree with Zertal, but what she has to say is still illuminating.

In 2012, two summer scholars in my NEH seminar, Tom Glaser and Jason O’Connor, developed a presentation on the reception of and response to Eichmann in Jerusalem, which they have given at several major education conferences in the last two years. Their work, which I will link on my site soon, provides an example of the rich research generated during the seminar and is demonstrates one way educators take their summer work back to their classrooms and beyond.

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