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Truth Commission vs Eichmann

When reading the first chapter of Country of My Skull, I could not help but think about our class discussion about the first chapter of Eichmann in Jerusalem. In our discussion, we talked about how the courtroom in Eichmann in Jerusalem is set up like a theater which takes away from the complexity of the situation. This is seen when the prosecution tries to paint Eichmann as an evil mastermind who orchestrated the whole Holocaust in order to create a sense of sensationalism which is simply not correct and it undermines the whole legal process.

In the first chapter of Country of My Skull, the exact opposite atmosphere is set up.The Truth Commission is extremely complex and anything but simple. Justice Dullah Omar states the Truth Commission started because “a strong feeling that some mechanism must be found to deal with all violations in a way which would ensure that we put the country on a sound moral basis” (8). The commission acknowledges the complexity of the past political policy and understands that a magnitude of people were hurt by these policies. Most importantly they realize that not one person is responsible but that a long history of political policies and politicians are to be blamed. There is not one person to put the blame on because apartheid represents a whole political system, and it would be unfair to the victims for the process to be rushed. In Eichmann in Jerusalem, the court is less concerned with finding out the truth and more concerned about being the court that tires and finds guilty a member of the Nazi regime. Having this scapegoat takes away from the truth and the complexity of the Holocaust. Former commissioner of police, General Johan van der Merwe talks about how he was an enforcer of the law but never an advocate. He says that, “it is not the police who came up with apartheid but the politicians” (6).

Lack of originality of Eichmann

Eichmann and Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt was a pretty emotional and interesting book to read. Ardent’s views on the trial and her coined phrase “banality of evil.” which according to, the definition of banality is “the condition or quality of being banal, or devoid of freshness or originality” made you feel like you were almost in the courtroom. The book talks about how Eichmann shut down his conscience and stayed loyal to Hitler even though he technically knew what he was doing was wrong. When discussing this book in class my group talked about how he was just being loyal and thoughtless, but no one was talking about how weird that was. Being loyal to your workplace or “peer pressure” in your workplace is normal, but killing innocent people knowing that they’re innocent is beyond moral capacity. When I first read the story I thought to myself there must be something psychologically wrong with Eichmann, but the psychiatrist granted him normal, more than normal even. This is where it became weird for me because I was always under the impression that your conscience is something that could not be turned on and off, like a light switch.  

I can completely understand wanting to feel wanted and maybe even feel pressured into things sometimes, but the want to feel loyal towards someone knowing what they do is terrible is mind-boggling. It’s just very hard for me to believe that Eichmann didn’t have a guilty bone in his body and that he put himself above everything else in his life. For me to believe that Eichmann lacked a conscience and that’s the reason he committed these crimes means that I have to believe half of everyone evil lacked a conscience. The reader will never know if Eichmann is being truthful, but whether he was or not, it’s no argument that Eichmann should pay for his crimes. 

Eichmann in Jerusalem

Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt is a report on the trial of Eichmann, a man involved in the torturous acts of the Holocaust. There are many different opinions and responses to the writing by Arendt. Her tone of voice in this piece can be understood differently by different audiences. But, Aredt’s tone of voice is not as intriguing as what she focuses her writing on. Arendt does not put much focus on the audience in the courtroom that day, but more so on Eichmann himself. It is interesting to ponder why she has such an intense focus on Eichmann, and in taking a deeper look, it can be assumed that Arendt speaks mainly about Eichmann because he can not speak for himself. The audience/jury had their own voices and opinions, but Eichmann seemed to not feel guilty about his actions, or spiteful towards the people in the courtroom, he seemed to feel nothing at all towards the subject. Arendt’s focus on Eichmann is important because he does not himself give much for people to work with when forming their opinion , so this piece is helpful in getting information and in coming up with an opinion of their own about Eichmann and what he has done.

Eichmann Was You But Normal-er

Eichmann in Jerusalem seemed most notable to me for it’s subtitle, A Report on the Banality of Evil. We discussed this in class but I noticed a few passages in the book went undiscussed and so I would like to bring them up here. What was brought up in class was the idea that Banality, as a word, is referring to unoriginality. Some comments being made referenced the fact that while what the Nazi’s did was clearly atrocious and horrible, it is regrettably far from unique in its goals, though it is unprecedented in scope. Certainly this is true and ought to be talked about and dealt with, but something else that was brought up and I think deserves a little more of our time is that this book doesn’t really deal much with the crimes of the Nazi’s as a whole, or as in idea, and deals much more with one man, Eichmann. He is the one who is so unremarkable, so unoriginal. 

Eichmann wasn’t crazy. That’s the problem. He likely wasn’t even unusually malicious. Chapter 2 of the book spends a great deal of time painting a picture of the life of this dull-witted unremarkable desk jockey. He was a mostly unsuccessful man his whole life, who only fell into position because of his family connections, and fell into the National Socialist Party (Nazi’s) more or less the same way. He doesn’t seem to have sought it out, it just sort of happened to him and he went with it. 

Pages 25 and 26 were, for me, the most interesting part of the entire reading. Arendt says

As for base motives, (Eichmann) was quite sure that he was not what he called a…dirty bastard in the depths of his heart.

Eichmann believes, and in fact believes correctly in some sense, that he committed no criminal act, and did the things he did out of no base motives. And what’s more, he isn’t crazy. Arendt goes on on the same pages to say that, 

Half a dozen psychiatrists had certified him as “normal”…his whole psychological outlook, his attitude towards his wife and children, mother and father, brothers, sisters, and friends, was “not only normal, but most desirable.”

Arendt touches on the significance of this in her epilogue. She states that it is an almost axiomatic principle of modern legal systems that, for a crime to be committed (and therefore punished), there must be on some level the intent to commit a crime. She says on page 277

Where this intent is absent, where, for whatever reasons, even reasons of moral insanity, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong is impaired, we feel no crime has been committed.

Eichmann had no such intent. No such conceptualization that he was doing anything either criminal or morally reprehensible. And as established, he was quite sane. 

The significance of this cannot be overstated. The worst crimes in history were committed by men and women who truly did not believe they were doing anything wrong. Who did so with no malice. How can we hold guilty before the law someone who did not have the desire to commit a crime or the knowledge that they were doing so because in fact, under their laws, they were not? 

And yet we must. 

So a completely normal man, an unoriginal, banal man, not at all unlike you or I, perpetrated in, supported, and carried out the Holocaust. And he did so without any base feelings of rage or hate or malice, and technically committed no crime to do so. That’s hard to deal with. 

The Power to Orchestrate Justice

When reading “Eichmann in Jerusalem” and “Death and the Maiden,” the trials that are conducted to bring about truth and justice are carried out by those in power; Ben-Gurion and Israel in “Eichmann in Jerusalem” and Paulina in “Death and the Maiden.” Ben-Gurion ordered the capture of Eichmann only have to him put on trial in a land he had never inhabited and Paulina held Roberto hostage by possessing a gun and keeping him tied up. The obvious imbalance of power in both ‘trials’ allows the distortion of truth and undermines the validity of whatever ‘justice’ is administered. This leads me to the question, “Who has the ability to define and administer justice?” And the most pertinent response to that would be those who are in power, but that leads me to then ask, “Is that really justice?”

While there are plenty of disparities between the two trials; the settings, audiences, and circumstances regarding the truth on whether or not the accused actually committed the alleged crimes being the primary ones, the biased presuppositions of those conducting the trials, the ones in power, predetermined the ruling of guilty for both Eichmann and Roberto. Even though Eichmann did in fact have a role in the Third Reich and there in uncertainty regarding Roberto’s role in Paulina’s torture, both of their prosecutors had the ability to impose any ruling they chose on the defendant. The one’s in power had the ability to create whatever version of the truth necessary to reach a guilty verdict and is what happened in both instances. The Israeli court accused Eichmann of anything they could to find him guilty, such as the minuscule (when compared to the entirety of the Holocaust) and almost certainty false allegation that he killed a man with his own hands, even though his role in the atrocities of the Nazi Regime were already confirmed. Eichmann’s role in the Holocaust was not going to be dismissed even if the degree to which he served in it was limited and inconsequential. The Israeli government was so hell-bent on his guilt and the outcome of the trial, they were willing to fabricate any evidence they could to see it through. Paulina admitted that the only way in which she would not kill Roberto was if he confessed, and when asked about the possibility of his innocence, she responded, “If he’s innocent? Then he’s really screwed.” Paulina, like the Israeli government, had the capability to determine the verdict in favor of her biases because of the power granted to her through the gun and ability to threaten life.

The way power undermines justice is evident in both “Eichmann in Jerusalem” and “Death and the Maiden.” Another instance of it is alluded to in “Death and the Maiden” in the Investigating Commission’s inability to prosecute the crimes of the past government because of the amnesty granted to them through the lasting support of the Army. This is what causes Paulina to search for her own justice, but in doing so, she becomes the very one who, like her government and the Israeli government in “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” is able to twist truth through power and determine what is justice.

Eichmann and the power of the law

The most interesting part of Eichmann in Jerusalem to me was the question of what a court can do to “prove” guilt that is simply apparent. We all know that Eichmann committed atrocities the likes of which it is difficult to even comprehend, and he did them to human beings who had done nothing to deserve them. The court knows it, the reader knows it, Arendt knows it, and Eichmann knows it. The question thus becomes where a court’s authority runs out; obviously Eichmann’s argument that concentration camps were legal when he sent people to them is moot, but that raises many other ethical dilemmas. If one court can retroactively wipe the legitimacy of an entire legal system-one not its own, even-where is the line drawn between Israel condemning Hitler’s orders as bunk and Hitler himself stripping Jews of citizenship in order to kill them with no legal culpability under German laws of his day? Obviously the answer is that one of these is right and one is wrong-I can see that because I am human. But the question of what the law can do, being that the ideal of just law is its objectivity and its independence from human presumptions of right and wrong, is a lot murkier. 

The easy answer to this is that no human law will ever be able to make sense of such questions. Eichmann and every other complicit cog in the machine of the Holocaust will serve their due justice in due time, whether or not any judge on earth pronounces them guilty. This is a somewhat comforting answer, but it is not sufficient, particularly not for a newly formed Israel with lots of wrongs to attempt to right. Though I may believe Eichmann will face his rightful punishment from a higher power than any on earth, to let him go free of any attempted justice would not be right, either. This is where I believe Arendt loses her faith in the court, and part of why she refuses to not be critical of Ben-Gurion, the lawyer, the jury and the judges. Obviously she agreed with their eventual verdict, but I think she thought it was based on the wrong evidence. His feelings on Jewish people, his rank within the government, his insanity or lack thereof, none of those things matter. What he did was wrong because it was wrong, and I think finding a way to implement that legally is a lot easier said than done, but that was the challenge that Arendt, and I, would have liked to see them succeed in. 

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.

Eichmann’s punishment and justice

Reading “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” I immediately found myself wondering what the punishment for Eichmann would be since it is clear he is presumed to be, and is in fact, guilty of these crimes. As I continued reading about these crimes, I began to feel as if there is no punishment fit to his crimes, that no individual can ever receive such a severe punishment for suffering caused against an entire group of people. Ardent addresses these concerns. Some critics against the death penalty state, “The most common arguement was that Eichmann’s deeds defied the possiblity of human punshiment” (250). Others who attempted to address this gap between the severity of the crimes committed and the absence of an equivalent punishment propose more creative punishments such as “Eichmann should have spent the rest of his life at hard labor … (250). However, I feel this would not be fitting as it implies that law has the capability of closing the gap between justice and the crimes committed through various punishments, which I don’t believe is not possible in the case of Eichmann. 

Ardent also addresses those who called this punishment, “unimaginative,” which caught my eye reading because it is synonymous to banal, the essence, Ardent argues, of Eichmann’s evil. Ardent herself does not believe this is a reason to not inflict the death penalty (in her ideal version of the trial in her epilogue, she states he “must hang” (279)). In this framing, I do not think Ardent criticizes the punishment, but rather the trial and audience which failed to explore alternative manners of conduct in the courtroom, such as questioning Eichmann’s testimony of his lack or guilt, lack of hate, and lack of agency in his crimes. Reading this part of the book in particular, it seemed that critics looked for alternative punishments to close this gap between his crime and punishment, when Ardent perhaps wants them to embody this alternative approach to looking at things in trial and future for different ways of measuring justice. As a reader, it seems Ardent wants me to look at the development of the law different going forward, in manners such as the creation of “an international penal law” (273) reckoning with the fact that justice for the victims through punishment of the criminal may not ever be possible in the aftermath WW2 and could occur again.

The True Ideology on Trial in Eichmann in Jerusalem

The universality nature of court renders the accused to be required to not only be prosecuted, but also defended and judged. No matter the severity or feral the crime is, a human’s natural right allows he/she to have a trial (if it is fair is an entirely different debate). For Adolf Eichmann, the same is able to ring true, after being kidnapped from Argentina and taken to Israel to stand trial for his part in the eradication of the Jews during the Nazi regime. Yet, this Holocaust was not perpetrated by one man, it was a culmination of several factors all leading to the apex that is WWII, but the court does not see it in this way. For this day, the only factor/situation that matters is the lives that Adolf Eichmann directly affected and stole. On page 5 of Eichmann in Jerusalem Hannah Arendt notes that the surrounding factors of this mass extermination are simply inconsequential: “and that all the other questions of seemingly greater import—…be left in abeyance”(Arendt 5). Some of these mitigating factors that Arendt notes becoming obsolete are the roles of other nations, why did they allow this to happen, and above all why did this happen to the Jews. Arendt continues, noting that when it boils down to the true justice system, the only spotlight should be on Adolf Eichmann: “Justice insists on the importance of Adolf Eichmann”. This shows that the true “item” (for lack of a better word) on trial here is not the overall suffering of the Jewish race, not the overall racism and antisemitism, but the only think on trial here are the crimes were strictly committed at the hand Adolf Eichmann. For me, this brings up the case in Les Miserables whether stealing (a crime) a loaf a bread to feed your family (good deed), is truly a bad act. I believe that (following along the train of thought of Arendt) that this would be considered a crime because in this notion we are strictly looking at the act and not the mitigating factors surrounding it.

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.