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Eichmann in Jerusalem and Mental Illness

Throughout Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, the trial stands as a place where Adolf Eichmann’s stories are told and where past occurrences in his life have paved the road for undiagnosed mental illness. During the trial, the prosecution and defense battle between whether Eichmann was carrying out the actions and responses of a normal person or not. Even though Eichmann was deemed to be mentally healthy, there are multiple different instances where that is easily debatable. First of them being that he could not see the difference between following the inhumane Nazi law and being a moral human being. Eichmann was not known to harbor ill feelings towards the Jewish, “He ‘personally’ never had anything whatever against Jews; on the contrary he had plenty of ‘private reasons’ for not being a Jew hater” (Arendt 26). This further portrays and stems deeper into why Adolf Eichmann turned into a cruel concentration camp killer. Eichmann, from the beginning of his career, was seen as inferior compared to the rest. He was constantly working to raise his position, but continuously failed. This constant failure was ingrained into his mine and in my opinion, is the reason why Eichmann joined the Nazi party. He yearned to feel something other than defeat, so he turned into the tyrant and began to defeat others. His past years of inferiority shaped him into a power-hungry monster who would do anything to finally be the superior to an inferior group. The Nazi party took Eichmann when he was in a place of desperation to be accepted and made him feel welcome, which only further triggered his past failures, making him dangerously loyal. This resulted in Eichmann being an extremist. He would do anything for the Nazi party, which he deemed to be following the law, even if it meant he abandoned a moral belief system. Eichmann’s lonely early career forced him down a dark path, leaving him with a dangerous mental illness that left its mark on millions.

One thought on “Eichmann in Jerusalem and Mental Illness”

  1. A really interesting reading of how we might categorize Eichmann’s crimes in terms of mental illness. I do think it’s crucial that we engage both Arendt and the Jerusalem court’s assessment of him as *not* insane: what would the problem be with arguing (as his lawyer presumably might have) that Eichmann was just not in his right mind, not mentally healthy, and that’s why he did all the bad things he did? What would be the social and political consequences of such an argument? What’s interesting about your post is that you seem to be suggesting that Nazi ideology and the bureaucratic structures through which that party carried out its work *created* conditions for mental illness. But it’s not clear to me that the kind of mental illness you’re talking about preceded the crimes, then.


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