Eichmann, a Tragic Hero?

Within Eichmann in Jerusalem, written by Hannah Arendt, we learn about the historic trial of war criminal, Adolf Eichmann. This novel is especially important because of the author’s depiction and narrative of Eichmann throughout his criminal trial. Within the epilogue in this prose we get to see very different illustrations of what kind of man Adolf was. Although one of a major organizers of the Holocaust, Eichmann is “terribly and terrifyingly normal” (276). Arendt continues through the entire book that although this man has made terrible decisions, she believes that he is not necessarily guilty of all of the crimes he is being charged with.

As a man whose job was to follow orders, Eichmann did that well. Although many of those orders was to contribute to the eradication of an entire race, Eichmann claims he is not AntiSemitic. Not racist or discriminatory, Eichmann was just a man doing his job. This understanding explains why the trials of this man could be covered in a novel over 290 pages long.

Although Arendt didn’t fully believe this man was the villain, she knew that “it would have been very comforting indeed to believe that Eichmann was a monster” (276). It seemed as if her heart wanted to believe this man and his story but her conscious stopped her. This can be seen in her final pages of the epilogue as she creates a fictional court ruling of why this man deserves to die. Although never directly stating Eichmann as guilty of helping the genocide, she talks about why this man is still guilty of supporting and standing by a cause that commenced the massacre of millions of Jewish people.

This depiction of Adolf is uncommon as almost everyone in the world can agree the architects of the Holocaust are some of the biggest monsters in the world. Personally, I don’t think the author put enough guilt on this man but I can see her point of discussion when she doesn’t think he is as bad as people see him as. this book and debate will flourish on through generations and hopefully even begin to spark new conversations in the future.

2 thoughts on “Eichmann, a Tragic Hero?”

  1. I think it is very interesting how you framed Eichmann as a “tragic hero.” It is definitely a provocative way to think about the novel and the situation, however I would argue with your points that Arendt doesn’t find Eichmann guilty of the charges against him. I think that Arendt does believe completely in his absolute guilt; I saw her only issue with the court as an opinion that none of what it sought to prove or disprove mattered in the head. I think she just thought it was pointless to prove if he was anti-semitic, or if he had once disobeyed orders to “help” any Jews, or if he had ever personally laid hands on anyone. My understanding of her opinion was always that these things just simply did not matter in her personal verdict at the end, as you pointed out. He was guilty from the second he became complicit in a system that stripped human beings of their rights, their property, and their lives. The court could have sentenced him to death in one day on any number of accounts, but they turned the trial into more of a symbolic resonance of justice for the entire Holocaust, which is where, I think, it lost Arendt, who saw that as the jury losing its own credibility and the sentence losing its permanence and its ability to make a bold claim about what this one ordinary man had done and was accountable for. But I do agree that his ordinaryness vs. his evil was a huge struggle for her and the reader (it definitely was for me).

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  2. In the Epilogue, I think that Arendt makes it pretty clear that she still thinks Eichmann is a villain, just not in the monstrous way he is portrayed by the prosecution. She acknowledges that even if the whole of Germany committed the same actions that he would be just as guilty as he stood then. I agree that I don’t believe that she put quite enough emphasis on his personal guilt, but I still don’t think that she by any means implies that he is innocent.

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