Reading Eichmann in Jerusalem

Fifty years ago, Hannah Arendt published her controversial report on the trial of Nazi deportation commander, Adolf Eichmann: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. The book put Arendt at the center of a storm of criticism that continues to this day. Her most virulent critics called her a self-hating Jew who seemed to be blaming the victims more than the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Arendt didn’t engage these critics immediately. But several years after the book’s publication she replied indirectly in an essay entitled “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship.”

About seven weeks from now, 16 educators from across the country will join me in a summer seminar sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities to discuss the Eichmann book, the “Personal Responsibility” essay along with several other essays and books b by Arendt. I have recommended that these summer scholars begin their preparation for the seminar by reading Eichmann in Jerusalem. In addition to the excellent introduction by Amos Elon in the Penguin edition, several other recent sources can help guide readers into the arguments put forth in the book, as well as those the book launched.

I explored some of this controversy in a recent blog entry on the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities web site of Bard College. The entry was adapted from a longer piece I wrote for Humanities Magazine last month. Another helpful resource is the podcast of a discussion that Roger Berkowitz, director of Bard’s Hannah Arendt Center, participated in last week on Canadian radio’s talk show, “Ideas,” hosted by Paul Kennedy. You can listen here to the discussion where Berkowitz was joined by Adam Gopnik, Rivka Galchen and Adam Kirsch.

“Thinking….is a dangerous activity.”

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