Sunday, October 19, 2014

New book reveals that Eichman was truly evil - not banal

update Oct 14, 2014  of the controversy from Jewish Review of Books

"Richard Wolin’s review of Bettina Stangneth’s newly translated book about Adolf Eichmann caused a stir, mainly about Hannah Arendt and the banality (or not) of evil. Yale Professor Seyla Benhabib responded in a New York Times piece, others blogged, and Wolin responded in an essay on our website. Now Professor Benhabib has rejoined the debate and Professor Wolin has replied a final time. Here's a guide to the exchange from the original review to its last installment."
NY Times  [See also Jewish Review of Books]  Ever since his capture in the early 1960s, Otto Adolf Eichmann, who was in charge of Jewish affairs during the Third Reich, has been the subject of unsettled and passionate controversy — centered, above all, on Hannah Arendt’s portrait of him at his 1961 trial. Her “Eichmann in Jerusalem” in many ways mirrored Eichmann’s own self-presentation. She insisted that, contrary to expectations, the man in the dock was not some kind of demonic Nazi sadist but a thoughtless, relatively anonymous, nonideological bureaucrat dutifully executing orders for the emigration, deportation and murder of European Jewry. Arendt’s insights — that genocide and bureaucratic banality are not necessarily opposed, that fanatical anti-Semitism (or for that matter, any ideological predisposition) is not a sufficient precondition for mass murder — remain pertinent.

Yet as Bettina Stangneth demonstrates in “Eichmann Before Jerusalem,” her critical — albeit respectful — dialogue with Arendt, these insights most certainly do not apply to Eichmann himself. Throughout his post-1945 exile he remained a passionate, ideologically convinced National Socialist. He proudly signed photos with the title ­“Adolf Eichmann — SS-­Obersturmbannführer (retired)” and, quite unlike a plodding functionary, boasted of his “creative” work. At one point he described the mass deportation of more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews as his innovative masterpiece: “It was actually an achievement that was never matched before or since.”

The enduring image of Eichmann as faceless and order-obeying, Stangneth argues, is the result of his uncanny ability to tailor his narrative to the desires and fantasies of his listeners. Arendt was not the only one to be taken in, and Stangneth, an independent philosopher living in Hamburg, is able to present a more rounded picture on the basis of previously unmined archival sources, particularly Eichmann’s own compulsive notes and jottings made in exile, in conjunction with the elusive series of taped conversations known as the Sassen interviews. These were exchanges organized in Argentina by the Dutch Nazi journalist Wilhelm Sassen and attended by a small group of old Nazis and their sympathizers. [...]

It is in these interviews and Eichmann’s own notes that he gave uninhibited vent to his version of the Holocaust and his involvement. Since he had a penchant for tailoring his endless chatting and voluminous writings to what he believed his audience desired, it may not be immediately evident why his statements in Buenos Aires should be considered more authentic than the “little man” portrait he painted in Jerusalem. The answer lies in the stance he took against what his Nazi and radical-right audience wanted to hear. For they were intent on either denying the Holocaust altogether, or outlandishly regarding it as either a Zionist plot to obtain a Jewish state or a conspiracy of the Gestapo (not the SS) working against Hitler and without his knowledge. Eichmann dashed these expectations. Not only did he affirm that the horrific events had indeed taken place; he attested to his decisive role in them. Hardly anonymous, he insisted on his reputation as the great mover behind Jewish policy, which became part of the fear, the mystique of power, surrounding him. As Stangneth observes: “He dispatched, decreed, allowed, took steps, issued orders and gave audiences.”

Like many Nazi mass murderers, he possessed a puritanical petit-bourgeois sense of family and social propriety, indignantly denying that he indulged in extramarital relations or that he profited personally from his duties, and yet he lived quite comfortably with the mass killing of Jews. This was so, Stangneth argues, because Eichmann was far from a thoughtless functionary simply performing his duty. He proceeded quite intentionally from a set of tenaciously held Nazi beliefs (hardly consonant with Arendt’s puzzling contention that he “never realized what he was doing”). His was a consciously wrought racial “ethics,” one that pitted as an ultimate value the survival of one’s own blood against that of one’s enemies. He defined “sacred law” as what “benefits my people.” Morality was thus not universal or, as Eichmann put it, “international.” How could it be, given that the Jewish enemy was an international one, propounding precisely those universal values? [...]


  1. That must be a tragic discovery for those who relied on him as an eid ne'eman against the Zionists such as kastner.

  2. Kastner condemned himself with his treachery. For example with his defense at Nuremberg of Nazi Officer Kurt Becher whom Kastner testified in defense of AFTER the war and saved from the gallows.

  3. fine, if you use that sevara, it is ok. I am simply saying don't rely on what Amalek said in order to save his neck or justify his crimes. BTW - his defence lawyer - Servatius, also tried to use such sophistry. he said that such a crime as the Holocaust could only be allowed, or ordained by G-d. Since this was not something that humans could do on their own, then Mr Eichman could not have real culpability for his crime. I once related this story to another R' Gestetner in Yerushalayim , who said this view is not too different from Jewish thought!

  4. Didn't he testify that Becher helped him save Jews?


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