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.

What the Law Really Is

The Furies deals with the complexity of the law in the context of wondering if the law is meant to truly be steadfast, or to be flexible. In theory, the law is an equalizer. Every citizen approaches the law on the same level, and the law treats each person the same. It is a black-and-white part of society that is neutral and firm. This is the role that the Furies are trying to fulfill. When they approach Orestes and Apollo, accusing them of the murders, they say that “blood must pay for blood”. This is a familiar concept and purpose of the law- that an “eye for an eye”- but the play shows that this concept is more of an ideal than a practical application of the law. Orestes is an example of how the law is a dynamic work- how it cannot be rigid like the Furies wish it to be. Orestes is charged with the murder of his mother and her lover. It’s complex because his mother killed his father who killed his sister as a sacrifice to the gods in order to be back in their favor. The play doesn’t ask the question if murder is justified, but it does ask if the law is not supposed to account for the circumstances of each situation- and here, each murder presents a new set of ambiguous circumstances. The play answers the question with Orestes being given a trial which ends in a tie, and is acquitted in the murder. The answer itself is still unclear because of the tie, and I see it as a balance between the two answers. The Furies stand for the what the law strives to be in theory, because in the most basic sense, murder is not justified. However, Orestes and Apollo show through their situation that taking that stance is not always easy. The law is imperfect and cannot be truly steadfast and equalizing. I have been thinking about this concept because I know that it is still relevant today. When speaking to a former attorney at work, she told me that it isn’t always as easy as getting the most possible jail time for a crime and that prosecutors have to take into account the circumstances of the situation. I found it incredibly interesting that an idea presented in the play still applies. I think it is a dynamic of the law that people often criticize or just ignore, but it is a part of it that is worth thinking about and understanding.