Friday, January 20, 2012

On the 70th Anniversary of the Wannsee Conference

This is Adolf Eichmann's list of all the European Jews destined for extermination in the Final Solution, officially inaugurated and coordinated at the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. To mark this event, one interesting thing to do would be to read this critique of Hannah Arendt, who coined the phrase, the banality of evil, to describe Eichmann as essentially a technocrat who was just following orders. His pivotal role as one of the 15 Nazi officials to attend Wannsee would seem to give lie to that idea. But as Sol Stern contends, Arendt's posturing regarding Israel's intentions in holding Eichmann's trial was part of an ideological world view that would gain her a growing following among anti-Zionists. It's a great read. Let me get you started:

Hannah Arendt
“In last year’s extensive commentary marking the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial, one name—Hannah Arendt—was mentioned nearly as often as that of the trial’s notorious defendant. It’s hard to think of another major twentieth-century event so closely linked with one author’s interpretation of it. Arendt, who fled Nazi Germany at 27, was already an internationally renowned scholar and public intellectual when she arrived in Jerusalem in April 1961 to cover the trial for The New Yorker. Arendt’s five articles, which were then expanded into the 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, proved hugely controversial. Many Jewish readers—and non-Jews, too—were shocked by three principal themes in Arendt’s report: her portrayal of Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion as the cynical puppet master manipulating the trial to serve the state’s Zionist ideology; her assertion that Eichmann was a faceless, unthinking bureaucrat, a cog in the machinery of the Final Solution rather than one of its masterminds; and her accusation that leaders of the Judenräte (Jewish councils) in Nazi-occupied Europe had engaged in “sordid and pathetic” behavior, making it easier for the Nazis to manage the logistics of the extermination process.

“Since the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem, serious scholars have debunked the most inflammatory of Arendt’s charges. Nevertheless, for today’s defamers of Israel, Arendt is a patron saint, a courageous Jewish intellectual who saw Israel’s moral catastrophe coming. These leftist intellectuals don’t merely believe, as Arendt did, that she was the victim of “excommunication” for the sin of criticizing Israel. Their homage to Arendt runs deeper. In fact, their campaign to delegitimize the state of Israel and exile it from the family of nations—another kind of excommunication, if you will—derives several of its themes from Arendt’s writings on Zionism and the Holocaust. Those writings, though deeply marred by political naivety and personal rancor, have now metastasized into a destructive legacy that undermines Israel’s ability to survive as a lonely democracy, surrounded by hostile Islamic societies.” Read the rest here.

1 comment:

  1. Actually Hannah Arendt did change her view on Israel only few years later. only 20 years she has said that Israel is an "impressive example for the equality of human beings". he also said that she would fear the possibility of a second holocaust and that's why Israel would be necessary as shelter for Jews worldwide. You can't take any paper on Arendt's view on Israel seriously, if it doesn't consider this change of mind.

    And as a German reader of Arendt it's really hard to understand the critic of the phrase of "the banality of evil". I'm pretty sure taht it' doesn't mean the same in German, otherwise it's impossible to explain the outrage in the English-speaking world. What Arendt wanted to say with these words is that evild doesn't show itself as demons or devils in this world. Evil deeds are mostly committed by normal, banal people. It could be our own neighbours, friends, even family members, who commit such evil deeds. And it could be an facless bureaucrat like Eichmann, who came to be one of the most responsible designer of the shoah. This is not a contradiction - its quite the opposite the real face of "evil" and it banality.


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