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Ride of her life: Hannah Arendt (Barbara Sukowa) rides the Egged bus to Jerusalem to cover the Eichmann trial

"So," the motherly brunette asks conspiratorially, a billiard cue slung below her arm, "Was he the greatest love of your life?" 

No, it's not a scene from the latest chick flick; it's from Hannah Arendt, Margarethe von Trotta's new biopic about the German-Jewish political theorist. The questioner is the American critic and novelist Mary McCarthy, and she is referring to none other than Martin Heidegger, the controversial Nazi-aligned philosopher. The film's central plotline follows Arendt's coverage of the 1961 Eichmann trial and its aftermath. Particular attention is given to disputes about the "banality of evil" — Arendt's notorious thesis intended to explain why the Nazi leader took care of the trains while letting the categorical imperative run on empty. But Geschichtsphilosophie this ain't.

Part of the problem is that the film leans heavily on the correspondence between Arendt and McCarthy: long stretches of dialogue are taken verbatim from their letters and recast as verbal exchanges. This is curious, for in recent years more information has become available on the Eichmann trial and especially Arendt's perspective on it than ever before. So why is von Trotta relying largely on the chatty, theatrical exchanges of McCarthy and Arendt for her source material? 

Both Arendt and McCarthy are the subject of seemingly endless fascination and study. And no wonder: they led extraordinary lives. McCarthy, born in Seattle in 1912, became a famously cutting wit among the Partisan Review crowd. Arendt, born in Hanover in 1918, studied under (pun sadly intended) Heidegger and went on to write her dissertation with Karl Jaspers. Arendt's topic was love: specifically, the idea of love in Augustine. McCarthy's topic was sex: her taboo-busting, bestselling novel The Group included frank treatments of lesbianism, birth control, and sex from the woman's point of view. 

While the friendship, however unlikely, was a deep and loving one, Arendt's temptations and querks of character — exhibitionism, imprecision, imperiousness — emerged dramatically under McCarthy's influence. Each woman's work came to betray the stamp of the other's thought. While writing Eichmann, Arendt breathlessly read McCarthy's essay "General Macbeth", in which the Shakespearean murderer emerges a petty bourgeois bureaucrat: 

"The idea of Macbeth as a conscience-tormented man is a platitude as false as Macbeth himself. Macbeth has no conscience. His main concern throughout the play is that most selfish of all concerns: to get a good night's sleep." 

In these lines, McCarthy replaces the usual understanding of Macbeth's driving force as ambition with a sense of his generality (yes, the title is a pun) — just as Arendt would later replace the usual understanding of Eichmann's driving force as vicious anti-Semitism with that of unreflective conformism. McCarthy doesn't use the word "banal", but there's enough to suggest that Arendt's understanding of Eichmann follows McCarthy's understanding of the Scottish lord. 

So it was literary ingenuity and verve that the two women encouraged in each other — and not necessarily truth. This was the case from the start: the friendship almost didn't take, after a disastrous first encounter.  

It happened at a party in New York in 1945. Mary McCarthy (herself possessed of a Jewish grandmother) expressed pity for Hitler, "who was so absurd as to want the love of his victims". Arendt was furious. "How can you say such a thing in front of me — a victim of Hitler, a person who has been in a concentration camp!" Amends were only made three years later, when McCarthy apologised, and Arendt conceded that she had not in fact been in a concentration camp, but rather a French internment and refugee camp from which she escaped after a few weeks.

Arendt's licence with detail is unfortunately characteristic. In the film, New Yorker editor William Shawn says: "She doesn't strike me as someone who's off on the facts." But half a century on, we know indisputably that she was: Arendt the adroit philosopher wasn't aiming for a second career as an ace journalist. She was rather more credulous towards Eichmann's testimony than she had reason to be. (Shockingly more credulous, just as she had been with Heidegger.) She claimed that Eichmann in Jerusalem was a "trial report" — but as the film accurately depicts, Arendt was present in Jerusalem for only part of the four-month-long trial, and otherwise relied on court reports and transcripts. The historian David Cesarani's fastidious study of the case reveals that Arendt wasn't present for Eichmann's most damning admissions, in which the defendant's benign self-presentation gave way to pride in revealing how he actively forged new policies and more genocidal "achievements". 

Ironically, because she had been driven out of her native country, Arendt was writing in English — her third language — and she didn't employ it with the precision one would wish from a philosopher. Usually McCarthy was able to prevail on usage errors ("the use of ‘ignore' to mean ‘be ignorant of'"), but her objection to Arendt's description of Eichmann's "notable characteristic", "the inability to think", as "thoughtlessness" was ignored.

McCarthy's objection was prescient. The slippery word opened the floodgates for subsequent debates over whether this "thoughtlessness" — one aspect of the defendant's "banality" — was exculpatory. Arendt was accused of writing a defence of Eichmann. Besieged, harassed, feeling misunderstood by philosophers and historians, in whom could she confide but a novelist? To whom could she admit that she had in fact written the book "in a curious state of euphoria. And that ever since I did it, I feel light-hearted about the whole matter. Don't tell anybody; is it not proof positive that I have no ‘soul'?"

The testimony of survivors was a controversial part of the Eichmann case. We are now living in the last years in which such testimony is even possible. Soon there will be no more eyewitnesses to the German evil of evils, and no more voices to testify against those who inflicted it. Our memory of the Holocaust is too precious to let it be distorted, manipulated, confused. 

Which brings me to the most curious aspect of von Trotta's film. In 2011, on the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial, Yad Vashem, along with the Israel State Archives, made more than 200 hours of courtroom footage publicly available. (One can watch it on YouTube, in the original Hebrew and German, or dubbed into English: youtube.com/EichmannTrialEN.) Von Trotta uses about 20 minutes of this footage in Hannah Arendt: real, recorded courtroom scenes in which the twitchy Eichmann sits in a glass booth, stacks his papers, runs his tongue over his teeth, takes out his handkerchief, answers questions ("I received the matter for its continued processing"; "These records were not the authority of Department 4B-4")-in short, is human right before our eyes.  

The effect is startling; something like, as Marianne Moore (a poet Arendt was fond of) might have said, seeing a real toad in an imaginary garden. The footage forces the viewer to confront the face of Eichmann — the fact of Eichmann — even if any ostensible banality is undermined by the crescendo of the soundtrack. But in her zeal to stand in Hannah Arendt's corner, von Trotta gets backed into one of her own simply because the political pendulum has swung in the intervening time.  

Von Trotta, a self-described feminist (as neither Hannah Arendt nor Mary McCarthy was), takes care to have a character mention, for example, that Arendt's husband Heinrich Blücher was a follower of Rosa Luxemburg (the subject of one of her earlier films). Hannah Arendt quite movingly shows — without stressing the fact — that young Hannah, the sole female student in her university classes, will grow up to teach classes with a good number of female students. 

But after a lecture at New York's New School for Social Research, one of those students says to Arendt, "The Nazi persecution was aimed at Jews. Why describe Eichmann's crimes as ‘crimes against humanity'?" Arendt's syllogistic answer — "Because Jews are human" — not only skates over her troubled sense of her own Jewishness but goes exactly against current thinking, which favours stiff sentencing for "hate crimes" targeting members of minority groups. One wonders if von Trotta would have scripted the scene the same way if the targeted group were women instead of Jews. At another point in the film, during the Eichmann trial footage, we see a short, seemingly random clip of a survivor referring to "two years in Auschwitz — when I was a Muselmann". One suspects that von Trotta inserted it to suggest that the ultimate target of the Nazi slaughter was undifferentiated humanity — not Jews specifically. But Muselmann in this context does not mean "Muslim" — the word is concentration-camp jargon for the most cadaverous prisoners. 

Von Trotta is eager to fight Arendt's battles, but time and again shows that she is no more equipped to understand them than McCarthy was. Especially clumsy is her attempt to correlate Arendt's philosophy to a contemporary posture toward Israel. Despite von Trotta's having Arendt refer to her Zionism as a "youthful folly", the political picture has simply changed too much for an overlay of Arendtian acetate paper to mean anything.  

The Yad Vashem footage and Hannah Arendt are not the only film releases to explore Arendt's legacy, or Eichmann's. At this year's Cannes Film Festival, Claude Lanzmann premiered his documentary The Last of the Unjust. More than three-and-a-half hours long, the film is a series of outtakes from Lanzmann's monumental Shoah, all of them featuring Benjamin Murmelstein, a Nazi-appointed "Jewish Elder", who speaks about the choices he had to make while running the Czechoslovakian concentration camp Theresienstadt; at one point, he describes himself as a "marionette that had to pull its own strings". 

Murmelstein is a figure like those that Arendt implicated in Eichmann in Jerusalem, where she alleged that the co-operation of leaders of the Judenräte (Jewish councils) with the Nazis expedited their own annihilation. Murmelstein's reflections make Arendt's wholesale indictment of those in his position seem unjust. 

And so the Arendtian myth suffers a bit, on one end from Lanzmann's repudiations and on the other from von Trotta's anaemic boosterism. The best outcome would be a recalibration of her legacy, one acknowledging that her literary inclinations (nurtured by her friend Mary McCarthy) occasionally overtook her philosophical principles. 

Asked by her husband if she would write Eichmann in Jerusalem again had she known the consequences, von Trotta's Arendt replies that she would, adding, "Maybe I had to find out who my real friends were." If only she had been so adept at identifying her enemies — including herself. 

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juan jose
August 19th, 2013
7:08 PM
Arendt is one of the most overrated writers in modern history. One of the mothers of these demagoguery and pseudo-intellectual waffle we have to suffer nowdays.

RB
August 15th, 2013
12:08 PM
This is feeble stuff, and grossly overbilled. I hope that ML didn’t write the headline over this piece, as quite clearly Arendt was anything but banal as even her most fervent detractors should concede and this article itself makes clear. And it is certainly not possible even to begin to assess her legacy by focussing only or even principally on Eichmann in Jerusalem - a minor, journalistic, work - yet this piece claims that this legacy is ‘dubious’ based only on such reflections. Re crappy puns about her relationship with Heidegger – grow up.

Pip Power
July 10th, 2013
10:07 PM
The Informed Heart', Bruno Bettelheim's GREAT book, is the most honest book ever written by a Jew on the Holocaust. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE Description This is the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time. Dissonance increases with: • The importance of the subject to us. • How strongly the dissonant thoughts conflict. • Our inability to rationalize and explain away the conflict. Dissonance is often strong when we believe something about ourselves and then do something against that belief. If I believe I am good but do something bad, then the discomfort I feel as a result is cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a very powerful motivator which will often lead us to change one or other of the conflicting belief or action. The discomfort often feels like a tension between the two opposing thoughts. To release the tension we can take one of three actions: • Change our behavior. • Justify our behavior by changing the conflicting cognition. • Justify our behavior by adding new cognitions. Dissonance is most powerful when it is about our self-image. Feelings of foolishness, immorality and so on (including internal projections during decision-making) are dissonance in action. If an action has been completed and cannot be undone, then the after-the-fact dissonance compels us to change our beliefs. If beliefs are moved, then the dissonance appears during decision-making, forcing us to take actions we would not have taken before. Cognitive dissonance appears in virtually all evaluations and decisions and is the central mechanism by which we experience new differences in the world. When we see other people behave differently to our images of them, when we hold any conflicting thoughts, we experience dissonance. Dissonance increases with the importance and impact of the decision, along with the difficulty of reversing it. Discomfort about making the wrong choice of car is bigger than when choosing a lamp.

Larry Silverstein
July 10th, 2013
10:07 PM
WHO MASTERMINDED THE HOLOCAUST? An American Jew stated before the 2012 Presidential Election: “The answer is so simple. They are US Jews. Their parents and grand parents like them before voted for Roosevelt even though he closed the doors of escape to Jews who later went up in smoke as a result. US Jews in their country club they call Jewish centers are all in name only. They make me sick! This ex- Democrat will vote to replace anti- Semite Obama. By the way I left my over 3 decades party when I discovered that it was infected with the anti- Semitic virus. The enormous scream of “NO!” for the Jewish capital in Jerusalem was truly horribly a proof of what I discovered.” I stated: NO! NO! NO! The people who closed the doors of escape to OLD-SICK-YOUNG POLISH Jews who later went up in smoke as a result, were ZIONISTS! EVERY JEW IN THE WORLD NEEDS TO GOOGLE: THE SECULAR ZIONIST AGENDA FOR A JEWISH STATE Rabbi Dr. Chaim Simons P.O.B. 1775, Kiryat Arba 90100, Israel tel and fax: 02-9961252 (within Israel), 972 2 9961252 (from outside Israel) e-mail: chaimsimons@gmail.com August 2007 The Zionists FEARED that these Jews would swarm into Palestine & destroy their Zionist Experiment. They also didn't want them getting out of Europe. Then they got Rabbi Wise & CO to boycott Germany & that turned the German people against the Jews who couldn't escape. This Plot was masterminded by Zionist Jews & carried out by demonic German Nazis & Marrano Nazi Jews. THE JEWISH BRAINS BEHIND THE HOLOCAUST THEODOR HERZL, THE FOUNDER OF ZIONISM The term "Zionism" was first introduced in 1893 by Nathan Birmbaum, but Theodor Herzl, an Austrian Jew born to a prosperous, emancipated Budapest family, is recognized as the founder of the Zionist ideology when he published his book in 1896, "The Jewish State", where he declared that the cure for Anti-Semitism was the establishment of a Jewish state. As he saw it, the best place to establish this state was in Palestine. While Herzl claimed that the establishment of a "Jewish" state would cure Anti-Semitism, he also promoted Anti-Semitism to further his cause. Herzl stated in his diary: “It is essential that the sufferings of Jews.. . become worse. . . this will assist in realization of our plans. . .I have an excellent idea. . . I shall induce anti-Semites to liquidate Jewish wealth. . . The anti-Semites will assist us thereby in that they will strengthen the persecution and oppression of Jews. The anti-Semites shall be our best friends”. (From his Diary, Part I, pp. 16) Benny Morris (the Israeli Historian), described how Herzl foresaw how Anti-Semitism could be "HARNESSED" for the realization of Zionism. He stated: "Herzl regarded Zionism's triumph as inevitable, not only because life in Europe was ever more untenable for Jews, but also because it was in Europe's interests to rid the Jews and relieved of Anti-Semitism: The European political establishment would eventually be persuaded to promote Zionism. Herzl recognized that Anti-Semitism would be HARNESSED to his own--Zionist-purposes." (Righteous Victims, p. 21) THE SECULAR ZIONIST AGENDA FOR A JEWISH STATE Rabbi Dr. Chaim Simons P.O.B. 1775, Kiryat Arba 90100, Israel tel and fax: 02-9961252 (within Israel), 972 2 9961252 (from outside Israel) e-mail: chaimsimons@gmail.com August 2007 © Copyright. 2007. Chaim Simons INTRODUCTION In an article in the English edition of “Mishpacha” in January 2005 appeared the following: “The Left is still loyal to the State of Israel in varying levels of faithfulness, but it hates Eretz Yisrael. The difference between these two is clear: Eretz Yisrael is a reminder of the Left’s Jewish past, which it wishes to forget. … The Left’s disconnection from the Jewish nation has reached the point where they are prepared for settlers to be killed during the evacuation effort [Gaza area and North Shomron]. Spokesmen of the Left have already announced that this will not be a war of brother against brother since ‘the settlers are not our brothers’.” (1) Unfortunately this is not a new phenomenon. It has always been an integral part of the secular Zionist agenda. They wanted a Jewish State (according to some of them, even if it were to be in Uganda or Argentina) but it had to be administered according to their programme and perception for the “New Jew.” *********************************************** NOTE Although much of the material appearing in this paper can be found in other books or articles, the material is often brought down as secondary or even tertiary sources. In addition, the primary sources are on a number of occasions incorrectly quoted and there are even cases where the quotations given do not occur in the sources given. Therefore the only quotations of statements made by secular Zionists brought in this paper are those which the author of this paper has a photocopy from in the original in his possession. Due to limitations in the disc space, facsimiles of these documents cannot appear in this online copy. In many cases the original documents are no longer extant or could not be located, despite extensive searching. In such cases the information alleged to be contained in them has been completely omitted from this paper. In the English quotes, Palestine usually appears when referring to Eretz Yisrael and it has of course be left as it appears in the original. The following words appearing in the Hebrew quotes have not been translated: Aliyah – Jewish immigration to Eretz Yisrael Hachshara – Training given to people in preparation for Aliyah Shlichim - Jewish emissaries sent abroad to Jewish communities Yishuv - Jewish community of Eretz Yisrael ************************************************* SELECTIVITY – THE SECULAR ZIONIST WAY Eretz Yisrael was Divinely given to the Jewish people (2) and every Jew has an equal right to live there. However as we shall see, the secular Zionists thought otherwise. At the eighteenth Zionist Congress held in Prague in August 1933, Ben-Gurion said “Eretz Yisrael today needs not ordinary immigrants, but pioneers. The difference between them is simple – an immigrant comes to take from the land, whereas a pioneer comes to give to the land. Therefore we demand priority for Aliyah to pioneers.”(3) (emphasis in original) The question here is how would Ben-Gurion define an “ordinary immigrant” and how a “pioneer”? From his speech, it is obvious that a person working the land on a kibbutz is a pioneer. However, it would almost certainly appear that an old person coming to spend his last years in the Holy Land or even a Yeshiva student would be classed as a mere “ordinary immigrant”!(4) A few months later in mid-October 1933 a meeting took place between, amongst others, the High Commissioner for Palestine, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Shertok (Sharett). The Minutes of the meeting were written up by Shertok. During the course of this meeting Ben-Gurion spoke about the three million Jews then living in Poland and stated that “Palestine offered no solution for all Polish Jews. Immigration into Palestine was necessarily limited, therefore it had to and could be a selected immigration. Zionism was not a philanthropic enterprise, they really wanted here the best type of Jew to develop the Jewish National Home, but they had to be given sufficient scope to bring over people of whom the country was in need.”(5) The question which remains is who would decide who was “the best type of Jew”? As will soon be seen, such a Jew was someone who was a secular Zionist! It was a few years later at the 20th Zionist Congress held in Zurich in August 1937, that Weizmann spelled out more specifically what was meant by “selective Aliyah.” “I told the members of the Royal [Peel] Commission that six million Jews want to go on Aliyah. One of the members asked me ‘ Do you think you could bring all of them to Eretz Yisrael?’ On this I answered … that two million young people… we want to save. The old people will pass. They will bear their fate or they will not. They have already become like dust, economic and moral dust in this cruel world.”(6) A similar rejection of elderly Jews to go on Aliyah was made by Henry Montor, the Executive Vice-Chairman of the United Jewish Appeal for Refugees towards the beginning of 1940. A ship full of refugees not certified by the Zionist organisations, were on the high seas. Many of the passengers were elderly. The captain of the ship required money to bring them to Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Baruch Rabinowitz of Maryland took the matter in hand and tried to get the necessary money from Montor to pay the captain. In his long rambling letter of reply, Montor wrote about the Jewish Agency’s policy of “selectivity” – “the choice of young men and women who are trained in Europe for productive purposes either in agriculture or industry.” With regard to the elderly Jews on board this ship, Montor wrote: “There could be no more deadly ammunition provided to the enemies of Zionism, whether they be in the ranks of the British Government or the Arabs, or even in the ranks of the Jewish people, if Palestine were to be flooded with very old people or with undesirables who would make impossible the conditions of life in Palestine and destroy the prospect of creating such economic circumstances as would insure a continuity of immigration.”(7) Maybe it would have been appropriate for him to have renamed his organisation “United Jewish Appeal for Selected Refugees”! At least the donors would then have had a better idea of what they were giving money for. The secular Zionists were not even ashamed to put out a memorandum in which they quite openly had a section “Who to save”. This memorandum (of April/May 1943) was headed that its distribution was “intended for Zionist functionaries only” and it included instructions “not to pass it on to non-Zionist groups who participate in the Working Committee.”(8) Although it came out under the name of A. [Apolinary] Hartglas, it has been suggested that in fact it was Yitzchak Gruenbaum who actually wrote it.(9) Under this section, he wrote “…. to my sorrow we have to say that if we are able to save only ten thousand people and we need to save fifty thousand [those chosen] should be of use in building up the land and the revival of the nation.… First and foremost one must rescue children since they are the best material for the Yishuv. One must rescue the pioneering youth, especially those who have had training and are idealistically qualified for Zionist work. One should rescue the Zionist functionaries since they deserve something from the Zionist movement for their work…. Pure philanthropic rescue, for example, saving the Jews of Germany, if carried out in an indiscriminate manner, could from a Zionist prospective only cause harm.”(10) As can be seen, just as with both Weizmann and Montor, Hartglas was not interested in old people coming to Eretz Yisrael. Even amongst the younger generation, he was only interested in those who would work the land - Yeshivah students were of no use to him. Further exclusions to Aliyah by the secular Zionists were people who were not members of the Zionist camp. Some Jews who succeeded in arriving in Eretz Yisrael in the second half of 1944 gave evidence on this question. Pinchas Gross who had been one of the public workers of Agudat Yisrael in Rumania stated “The first principle of the Zionist Aliyah Committee in Bucharest was not to allow members of Agudat Yisrael to go on Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. This was despite the agreement which had been made before the war between Agudat Yisrael and the Jewish Agency on the Aliyah quotas for members of Agudat Yisrael… Shlichim from the [Aliyah] Committee in Bucharest arrived in Transylvania with large sums of money in order to transfer hundreds of pioneers to Bucharest for the purpose of Aliyah. We also asked for our members the possibility of Aliyah but we were rudely rejected.”(11) One might think that this money was “Zionist money” and therefore it was proper to reject such a request. However, this was shown not to be the case just a few weeks later when Weissberg who was a member of the Aliyah Committee in Bucharest, gave evidence before the Rescue Committee in Jerusalem. During this evidence he stated “It is true that the Agudah was not granted equal rights with regards to receiving money for assistance in Rumania. We did not know that the money which arrived from Eretz Yisrael was money from the Rescue Committee in which all the Yishuv participated. We thought that the money was Jewish Agency money.… I must inform you that help was not given to the pioneers and youth of Agudat Yisrael. We did not know that Agudah is a partner in matters of rescue and in particular in matters of Aliyah. Also regarding the Aliyah of the pioneers of Agudah, we did not know that they were entitled to go on Aliyah, until we arrived in Eretz Yisrael.”(12) We can thus see that the secular Zionists did nothing to even inform the Agudah what they were entitled to, let alone implement such an entitlement. There were also others who had been misled in believing that the money was “Zionist money”. For example, the Vishnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Eliezer Hager, testified that when he asked why the ultra-Orthodox were not receiving any money, received the answer, “This money is Zionist and it is set aside solely for Zionists.”(13) (emphasis in original) Pinchas Gross further stated “The ultra-Orthodox youth were not at all considered for this [financial] assistance either in their home town or for the possibility of Aliyah. We applied… for assistance for our youth who before the war did a period of Hachshara and were no less fit for Aliyah than other pioneers – but we did not even receive an answer. The excuse was that the money was Zionist money and was solely for them.”(14) This attitude of the secular Zionists in their use of public money for their kith and kin and of their “priorities” did not pass without comment, even from non-Orthodox sources. Dr. Judah Leon Magnes in addressing a meeting of the Rescue Committee in July 1944 was very critical of those who wanted “first of all to save the Zionists, and afterwards, if possible – also the others, but above all the Zionists. I spoke to somebody…. The man said… we will save our men…. I said to him … the others are also Jews. He said: It is so, they are Jews, but this is a universal argument, a perpetual argument and we will not give in on this.”(15) Magnes’ comments on the necessity for non-selectivity when doing rescue work are illustrated by the work performed during the Second World War by Recha Sternbuch, who succeeded in rescuing thousands of Jews from the Nazis. Recha was associated with the strictly Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party. However, unlike the secular Zionists, she rescued Jews (and even some non-Jews) regardless of their level of religious observance or Zionist party affiliation.(16) ZIONISM – AND ONLY THEN JEWISH LIVES A few months after the beginning of the Second World War the Zionists received entry visas to Eretz Yisrael for 2,900 German Jews. It was necessary to have a meeting with the British Colonial Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, in connection with these visas and in November 1939, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Shertok met to discuss this question. Ben-Gurion strongly opposed such a meeting with MacDonald and he told Shertok that “our political future is more important than saving 2,900 Jews.” Shertok, who completely disagreed with Ben-Gurion, commented in his diary, “he [Ben-Gurion] was prepared to forgo them [the 2,900 Jews].”(17) Even in July 1944, which was towards the end of this war, when the Holocaust was still in full progress and its implementation was already well known, Ben-Gurion still had the same attitude. A meeting of the Executive of the Jewish Agency was held in Jerusalem at the beginning of July 1944. On its agenda was the subject of the rescue of Jews. Rabbi Baruch Yehoshua Yerachmiel Rabinowicz, the Munkaczer Rebbe in Hungary, was involved in this rescue effort and the question of a meeting with him was mentioned at this Jewish Agency meeting. In answer Ben-Gurion stated that he did not oppose such a meeting, “We must do everything in this matter [of rescue] including things which seem fantastic.” Had Ben-Gurion said no more, it would have been praiseworthy, but he then continued, “But there is one condition: the work will not cause damage to Zionism.”(18) In a letter to the Israeli daily newspaper “Ha’aretz” in 1983, the historian Professor Yigal Eilam confirmed that this was the attitude of the Zionist leaders during the period of the Holocaust. He wrote “The policy of the Zionists during the long period of the Holocaust gave priority to the building up of the land and the establishment of a State, over the saving of Jews…. One already needs to tell these things in a open and direct manner. The Zionists did very little in the saving of Jews, not because they were unable to do more, but because they were concentrating on the Zionist enterprise.”(19) In a similar vein, in an article by the historian Dina Porat which appeared in “Ha’aretz” in 1991, she wrote “From the moment that the State became the primary objective, the life of a Jew became secondary in accordance with the principal ‘the State of Israel is above everything’”.(20) The shortsightedness of the secular Zionist leaders in this matter was written about in 1984 by Rabbi Morris Sherer, the President of Agudat Yisrael, in his comments on the report by Professor Seymour Maxwell Finger entitled “American Jewry during the Holocaust.” Rabbi Sherer commented “Alas, they [the secular Zionist leaders] did not perceive how utterly ridiculous and heartless it was for Jewish leaders to concentrate on a postwar homeland, when the people for whom they were seeking this home were being slaughtered like sheep!” (21) Unlike Ben-Gurion who put Zionism first, and Jewish lives just in second place, the Rabbis of the period immediately put “Pikuach Nefesh” (the saving of lives) first. Sabbath observance is one of the fundamentals of Jewish observance, with the most stringent of punishments for their non-observance, yet despite this, Pikuach Nefesh overrides the Sabbath.(22) In order to save lives during the Holocaust, two leading British Rabbis, Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld and Rabbi Isadore Grunfeld, who were occupied in forging passports to save Jews, continued their work on the Sabbath.(23) Rabbis Boruch Kaplan and Rabbi Alexander Linchner rode around Brooklyn in New York in a car on the Sabbath from house to house collecting money to save Jews.(24) (These actions are normally forbidden on the Sabbath.) IF NOT ALIYAH, LET THEM PERISH In 1933, Hitler rose to power and during the subsequent years, more and more draconian measures, such as the Nuremberg laws were enacted against the Jews. In 1938 Hitler marched into Austria to the cheers of the non-Jewish population. The situation for the Jews under Hitler’s domination became unbearable and places of refuge became a grave necessity. It was thus at this period that President Franklin Roosevelt convened a conference of thirty-two nations at the French resort town of Evian to try and find places of refuge for Jews wanting to flee from Hitler. One would naturally have thought that the Zionist leaders of the time would make the most of this opportunity and devote all their time and energy to ensure that successful results would emerge from this Conference. But sadly this was not to be. Already in mid-June 1938, before the opening of the Conference, Dr. Georg Landauer wrote to Dr. Stephen Wise, who was head of the Zionist Organization of America. In it he wrote: “I am writing this letter to you at the request of Dr. Weizmann, as we are very much concerned in case the issue is presented at the [Evian] Conference in a manner which may harm the work for Palestine. Even if the Conference will not place countries other than Palestine in the front for Jewish immigration, there will certainly be public appeals which will tend to overshadow the importance of Palestine…. We feel all the more concern as it may bind Jewish organisations to collect large sums of money for assisting Jewish refugees, and these collections are likely to interfere with our own campaigns.”(25) Two weeks later the Jewish Agency Executive met in Jerusalem and opposition to the planned Evian Conference was openly stated. Yitzchak Gruenbaum said “The Evian Conference can be expected to cause us grave damage - Eretz Yisrael could be eliminated as a country for Jewish immigration … [we are] very apprehensive that in this Conference, it could be relegated to the end of the line. We have to prevent this damage… There is the danger that whilst searching for a destination country, some new territory will be found to which Jewish immigration will be directed. We must defend our principle that Jewish settlement can only succeed in Eretz Yisrael and that no other settlement can come into the calculation.”(26) Menachem Ussishkin then addressed the meeting in a similar vein. The Evian Conference very much worried him and he supported the words of Gruenbaum. “Mr. Gruenbaum is right when he says that there is the danger that Eretz Yisrael will be removed from the agenda even by the Jews and one should see this as a tremendous blow to us.”(27) Of course the ideal solution was for Jews to go to Eretz Yisrael. However in view of the then political situation, immigration there was not a feasible proposition. Surely the only question then should have been how to save and help as many Jews as possible. It was this fact that should have been the only concern of the speakers at that Jewish Agency Executive meeting – but it wasn’t! A few weeks later, Weizmann wrote to Stephen Wise. Towards the beginning of his letter he wrote: “I made arrangements, before leaving for my holiday, to put in a few days at Evian.”(28) If one thinks for a moment about this sentence, one can see that it is horrific. Surely, if there was even the slightest opportunity of saving even one Jew, Weizmann who was the President of the Zionist Organization should have immediately cancelled his personal holiday arrangements and spent all his time at Evian trying to lobby the various delegates to accept Jews in their countries. But what do we see? – he will just before going on holiday “put in a few days at Evian.” In fact he was later persuaded by his friends not to even “put in a few days” there, to which advice he followed.(29) The reason was stated by Dr. Arthur Ruppin at a meeting of the Jewish Agency Executive on 21 August. Ruppin stated “we then decided that it would not be to our prestige for Dr. Weizmann to appear in Evian”(30) – the reason being that he would only have been allowed to speak in a sub-committee! Jewish lives were at stake and to worry about prestige!! One can immediately contrast this attitude with that of the Jewish religious leaders of the time. Rabbi Aharon Kotler had come under some criticism for meeting in the course of his rescue work with Stephen Wise, a leader of the Reform movement. He shrugged such reprobation saying, “I would prostrate myself before the Pope if I knew it would help to save even the fingernail of one Jewish child.”(31) Unfortunately nothing concrete came out of the Evian Conference. The situation of the Jews in Germany got even worse and on 9 November 1938 there was the infamous Kristallnacht. A few days later, Weizmann heard that there was a scheme to resettle German Jews in a country other than Eretz Yisrael. This he did not like and he immediately sent off a telegram to stop any financial backing for such a scheme. This telegram was sent to Samuel Vandenbergh in Wassemar “Understand you are embarking large financial effort for settlement German Jews. Beg of you to be careful not disperse and dissipate energies which can nowhere be applied with greater effectiveness both immediately and lasting than in Palestine.”(32) Since at that period emigration to Eretz Yisrael was unfortunately not a practical proposition, Weizmann is effectively saying that rather than immigrate to another country, the Jews must remain in Nazi Germany. We can see that also Ben-Gurion thought on these same lines as the other secular Zionist leaders. It was at this period that Ben-Gurion addressed the Mapai Central Committee. He realised the seriousness of the situation and said “On these awesome days at the start of the threatened destruction of European Jewry…. If I would know that it would be possible to save all the German [Jewish] children by bringing them over to England and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, I would choose the second option – since before us is not just these children but the history of the Jewish people.”(33) At this period, the Germans had already established concentration camps and were sending Jews to them. In order to pre-empt this, it was necessary to find the means of arranging their emigration from Germany. Ben-Gurion, however, felt this could cause a diversion of resources and endanger Zionism. A few days after his above quoted speech to the Mapai Central Committee, he addressed the Executive of the Jewish Agency: “Zionism now stands in danger.… If the Jews will have to choose on the one hand the refugee question,[namely] saving Jews from concentration camps and on the other hand assisting a national museum in Eretz Yisrael, mercy would decide the matter and all the energy of the [Jewish] people would be diverted to saving Jews in the various countries. Zionism would be struck off the agenda, not only in world opinion in England and America, but also in Jewish public opinion. The existence of Zionism would be at risk if we allow a separation between the refugee problem and the Eretz Yisrael problem.”(34) (emphasis in original) NOT ONE PENNY, NOT ONE CENT The mass extermination of the Jews of Europe was already well known by the end of 1942. Saving Jews could and should have been top priority. But in order to save large numbers of people from extermination costs money – whether normal expenses or money for bribery. Needless to say, the money has to come from somewhere. All the time money was donated by world Jewry to funds such as the Keren Hayesod, the JNF, and so on. It is true that this money had been specifically donated for Eretz Yisrael, but here was a case of Pikuach Nefesh and it would have been quite legitimate, indeed mandatory, to have utilised this money for the saving of Jewish lives. The Jews then living in Eretz Yisrael were even saying so. However Yitzchak Gruenbaum, who was head of the Rescue Committee of the Jewish Agency thought otherwise. In a speech to the Zionist Smaller Actions Committee in January 1943 he expressed his views: “Meanwhile a mood has begun to sweep over Eretz Yisrael which I think is very dangerous to Zionism…. How is it possible that such a thing can occur in Eretz Yisrael, that in a meeting they will call out to me, ‘If you don’t have any money [for rescuing European Jewry] take the money of the Keren Hayesod, take the money from the bank – there, there is money, in the Keren Hayedod there is money.’ … These days in Eretz Yisrael it is being said, ‘don’t put Eretz Yisrael at the top of your priorities at this difficult time, at the period of a Holocaust and destruction of European Jewry,’ …. I don’t accept such a thing. And when they asked me to give money of the Keren Hayesod to save Diaspora Jewry, I said no and I again said no…. I am not going to defend myself, in the same way that I will not justify or defend myself if they accuse me of murdering my mother …. But I think it is necessary to say here: Zionism is above everything.”(35) The only consolation from reading Gruenbaum’s speech, is that the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael were demanding the diverting of Keren Hayesod money to rescue efforts, even though this meant that less money would arrive in Eretz Yisrael and could accordingly affect their living standards. In contrast Gruenbaum commented “Zionism is above everything” even though this meant not rescuing European Jewry from the Holocaust. In his book “Perfidy”, Ben Hecht quoted how Gruenbaum said “No” to the giving of money for rescue activities.(36) In a critical “Analysis” of this book by the American Section of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, they write that this quoted sentence by Ben Hecht “has been most viciously torn out of context. The writer of this Analysis then tries to prove, quoting other parts of Gruenbaum’s speech that he wanted to do everything to save European Jewry.(37) However he conveniently omitted one crucial part of the speech: “Zionism is above everything” – namely we will certainly do everything to save European Jewry provided that it is not at the expense of Zionism! One might add that in 1961, Gruenbaum gave an interview to the paper “Etgar” from the comfort of his house in Gan Shmuel, in which he repeated these statements he made during the war, without even hinting he had been wrong. “Interviewer: Was there then no money in the kitty of the Jewish Agency, the JNF, the Keren Hayesod? Gruenbaum: Yes. Even then the argument went: Isn’t there any money? Take it from the JNF. I said: No! They did not want to forgive me for this and until this day, there are murmurings about this. The money was needed for Zionism. Interviewer: What is the meaning of “for Zionism” when the saving of lives is at stake? Does Zionism want Jews alive or dead? Gruenbaum: The saving of life does not override Zion. For Jews, the State is essential. Therefore, in accordance with my manner I said the truth – that is No!”(38) Gruenbaum went on to say that he then went to South Africa to raise money for rescue purposes. However we all know that the raising of money, especially when one has to travel to another continent takes time and every day taken meant more Jews were being sent to the gas chambers. Surely the correct thing was to immediately take money from these Zionist kitties and if at a later date one succeeded in raising money, one could return it to the Zionist funds. Even before the war, when Jews were already being persecuted in Germany and Austria, it was widely accepted that money to save Jewish lives came before money for Zionism. In was in late October 1938 that the treasurer of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) said “The upbuilding of Palestine was all very well, but Jews in Europe were starving and persecuted – and they, JDC felt, had first claim on whatever funds were available.”(39) ALSO THE BRITISH SECULAR ZIONISTS Placing Zionism above the saving the lives of Jews was also a phenomenon of the British secular Zionists. Towards the end of 1942, when the Nazi extermination plans became known, British Jewry decided to make representations to the British Government. At a meeting of the British section of the Jewish Agency held in December 1942, the “Nazi Extermination Policy” was on the agenda. Here is an extract from the official minutes of this meeting when discussing this item: “Dr. Brodetsky … made it quite clear that if Palestine was not properly mentioned then he would not be a member of the Delegation to Mr. Eden…. Lord Melchett said it would be disastrous for any body of Jews to go to Mr. Eden and not put Palestine in the forefront of their plans. Such a body would not represent the views of the Jews either here or elsewhere….. Mr. Marks said he fully agreed, and if this condition was not satisfied, then he would not be a member of the delegation. Unless Palestine was properly dealt with, they should criticise the delegation up and down the country and cause a revolution inside the Board of Deputies…. The dignity of the Jewish people was at stake and it was only in Palestine that the Jews could get their dignity back.”(40) As we well see, the above British secular Zionists would only attend a meeting with British Government officials to save Jews from the “Nazi Extermination Policy” if Eretz Yisrael was to be given a prominent place at these meetings. Furthermore it was Jewish liveswhich were “at stake” and it was no time to worry about “dignity” being “at stake”. It was at the same period that the British secular Zionists sabotaged negotiations that Rabbi Dr. Solomon Schonfeld was making with the British Government for the rescue of the endangered Jews in Nazi Europe. Such rescue of Jews was not a new thing with Rabbi Schonfeld. Just before the Second World War, he had organised Kindertransports and brought over to England from Germany and Austria thousands of children.(41) To accommodate some of them he even utilized his own house with him sleeping in the attic.(42) Towards the end of 1942, Rabbi Schonfeld organised steps to rescue Jews from Nazi Europe. To this end he worked exceptionally hard to organise wide support for a Motion to be tabled in the British Parliament for the British Government to be prepared to find temporary refuge in its territories or territories under its control for those endangered by the Nazis. Within two weeks he amassed a total of 277 Parliamentary signatures of all parties for this Motion.(43) One would have thought that the British secular Zionists would have welcomed and co-operated in such an initiative. Sadly this was not the case. In a letter to the “Jewish Chronicle” at that period, Rabbi Schonfeld wrote “This effort was met by a persistent attempt on the part of Professor Brodetsky [President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews] and some of his colleagues to sabotage the entire move. Without even full knowledge of the details, he and his collaborators asked Members of the House [of Parliament] to desist from supporting the new effort.”(44) Rabbi Schonfeld further elaborated on this in a letter to “The Times” of London at the time of the Eichmann trial in 1961. “Already while the Parliamentary motion was gathering momentum voices of dissent were heard from Zionist quarters: ‘Why not Palestine?’ The obvious answers that the most urgent concern was humanitarian and not political, that the Mufti-Nazi alliance ruled out Palestine for the immediate saving of lives….When the next steps were being energetically pursued by over 100 M.Ps [Members of Parliament] and Lords, a spokesman for the Zionists announced that the Jews would oppose the motion on the grounds of its omitting to refer to Palestine …. and thereafter the motion was dead.”(45) Rabbi Schonfeld’s initiative came up at a meeting of the British Executive of the Jewish Agency in January 1943. At this meeting, Berl Locker said that he and two of his colleagues “had asked him [Rabbi Schonfeld] to postpone the meeting in the House of Commons and not to continue working off his own bat. They had also pointed out that the resolution which he had proposed did not mention Palestine…. Mr. Locker wondered whether it would be a good thing for him or Dr. Brodetsky to write a letter to the Chief Rabbi, who might be able to do something to stop this mischief.”(46) What was this “mischief” of Rabbi Dr. Schonfeld’s that these British secular Zionists wanted “stopped”? This “mischief” was his trying to save the lives of Jews who were in Nazi Europe!! EPILOGUE In an interview given by someone who worked with the late Klausenberger Rebbe for half a century, he said in answer to a question on the Holocaust, “When the Sabra and Shatila affair rocked the nation, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv, demanding a commission of inquiry into the government’s lack of response to the massacre of Palestinians by Phalangist militants in Lebanon, the Rebbe couldn’t restrain himself. During a Shiur he delivered in Bnei Brak, he asked pointedly why there was no call for a commission of inquiry into the lack of response of the Zionist leaders in Eretz Yisrael during the murder of millions of Jews in the Nazi-occupied lands. They had ignored the matter completely.”(47) REFERENCES 1) Rabbi Moshe Grylak, “How do they “know” it all?” Mishpacha (English edition), (Monsey, NY: Tikshoret VeChinuch Dati-Yehudi), 12 January 2005, pp.6-7. 2) e.g. Genesis chap.12 verse 7. 3) Stenographisches Protokoll XVIII Zionistenkongresses, [Official Minutes of the 18th Zionist Congress], (London: Zentralbureau der Zionistischen Organisation), p.219. 4) David Kranzler, Thy Brother’s Blood, (New York: Mesorah Publications, 1987), pp.61-62, 241, 244. 5) Minutes of Interview with His Excellency the High Commissioner, 17 October 1933, pp.4-5 (Labour Archives – Lavon Institute IV-104-49-2-64. There is also a copy in Ben-Gurion Archives). At a later date Ben-Gurion wrote up these minutes (in Hebrew) in his memoirs without any suggestion that they were not what he had said at this meeting, (David Ben-Gurion, Memoirs, vol.1, (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1971), p.672). 6) Official Minutes of the 20th Zionist Congress, (Jerusalem: Executive of the Zionist Organisation and the Jewish Agency), pp.32-33. 7) Montor to Rabinowitz, 1 February 1940, pp.2, 4, (Jabotinsky Archives, HT-10/16). 8) A. Hartglas, Comments concerning assistance and rescue, (April/May 1943 – possibly 24 April 1943), p.1, (CZA S26/1306 [previous no. S26/1232]). 9) Aryeh Morgenstern, “Vaad hahatzalah hameuchad .…,” Yalkut Moreshet, (Tel Aviv: Moreshet), vol.13, June 1971, p.95 fn.67. 10) Hartglas, op. cit., p.3. 11) Evidence of Pinchas Gross, a public worker of Agudat Yisrael of Rumania, given in Tel Aviv on 27 July 1944, p.2, (CZA S26/1189 [previous no. S26/1079]). 12) Minutes, Presidium of the Rescue Committee, Jerusalem, 25 August 1944, (CZA S26/1189 [previous no. S26/1079]). 13) Evidence of Vishnitzer Rebbe taken in Tel Aviv in April 1944, p.1, (CZA S26/1189 [previous no, S26/1079]). 14) Pinchas Gross, op. cit. 15) Minutes, Rescue Committee, Jerusalem, 14 July 1944, p.7, (CZA S26/1327 [previous no. S26/1238aleph]). 16) Kranzler, op. cit., pp194-95. 17) Moshe Shertok Handwritten diary, 13 November 1939, p.66, (CZA S25/198/3. [Shertok also made a handwritten copy of his own diary CZA A245/14] 18) Minutes, Jewish Agency Executive. Jerusalem, 2 July 1944. p.8, (CZA). 19) Yigal Eilam, Letters to the Editor, Haaretz, (Tel Aviv), 15 April 1983, p.24. 20) Dina Porat, “Manipulatzit Haadmorim,” Haaretz, (Tel Aviv), 12 April 1991, p.3b. 21) Seymour Maxwell Finger, American Jewry during the Holocaust, (New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, second printing May 1984), Comment by Rabbi Morris Sherer, p.16. 22) Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, chap.328, para.2. 23) S. Fordsham, Inbox, Mishpacha (English edition), op. cit., 9 May 2007, p.10 24) Kranzler, op. cit., p.6. 25) Landauer to Wise, 13 June 1938, p.1, (CZA S53/1552aleph). 26) Minutes, Jewish Agency Executive, Jerusalem, 26 June 1938, p.6, (CZA) 27) Ibid., p.7. 28) Weizmann to Wise. 14 July 1938, p.1, (CZA Z4/17198). 29) Ibid., p.2. 30) Minutes, Jewish Agency Executive, Jerusalem, 21 August 1938, p.7. (CZA). 31) Kranzler, op. cit., p.146. 32) Telegram, Weizmann to Vandenburgh, 16 November 1938, (CZA Z4/17335). 33) Minutes, Mapai Central Committee, 7 December 1938, p.41, (Labour Party Archives – Bet Berl 2-23-1938-21 bet). 34) Minutes, Jewish Agency Executive, Jerusalem, 11 December 1938, p.4, (CZA) 35) Minutes, Zionist Smaller Actions Committee, 18 January 1943, pp.12-13, (CZA). 36) Ben Hecht, Perfidy, (New York: Julian Messner, 1962), p.50. 37) The American Section of the Executive of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. Ben Hecht’s ‘Perfidy’ - An analysis of his rewriting of history, (New York: [s.n.], 1962), p.9. 38) “Mi asham b’hafkara,” conversation with Yitzchak Gruenbaum, Etgar, (Tel Aviv: Mercaz Hapeula Hashemit), no.8, 29 June 1961, p.5. 39) Yehuda Bauer, My Brother’s Keeper, (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1974), p.255. 40) Minutes, Jewish Agency Executive, London, 21 December 1942, pp.2-3. (CZA Z4/302/26). 41) e.g. David Kranzler. Holocaust Hero, (New Jersey: Ktav, 2004). 42) Ibid., pp.38-39. 43) Solomon Schonfeld, Letters to the Editor, The Times, (London), 6 June 1961, p.13. 44) Solomon Schonfeld, Letters to the Editor, The Jewish Chronicle, (London), 29 January 1943, p.5. 45) Schonfeld, The Times, op. cit. 46) Minutes, Jewish Agency Executive, London, 21 January 1943, (CZA Z4/302/26). 47) “A strength beyond nature,” Mishpacha (English edition), op. cit., 20 June 2007, p.16.

Anonymous
July 10th, 2013
5:07 PM
To write that Arendt’s “literary inclinations (nurtured by her friend Mary McCarthy) occasionally overtook her philosophical principles.” seems to be proof that you never read her work. Arendt's work is very precise and is in no way what one would refer to as "literary." Also, Arendt rejected the title philosopher on the grounds that it concerned itself with man in the singular. She described herself as a political theorist. You write of Mary McCarthy’s influence on Hannah Arendt stating their “disastrous first encounter” but the incident you write about took place years into their friendship.I would like to know where you got your idea about Arendt not being honest about the details of her internment. She was against self-pity and if you read her work you would know how strongly she sticks with facts. It's true she was not in Israel for the entire trial but if you read her work you would see how much she researched and the film shows her reading all transcripts from the trial and how much time it took her to review the proceedings and write about them responsibly. McCarthy who you write was “possessed of a Jewish grandmother”. This is very awkward the words "possessed of a Jewish grandmother" as if it is a disease might be construed by some as a racist statement but also it has no bearing on the film or anything having to do with Arendt's work. McCarthy did not express pity for Hitler wanting love from his victims. Why would he want love from his victims? He did not even see them as human. McCarthy said he wanted love from the French. Arendt forgave McCarthy on her own. Arendt wrote about the importance of forgiveness even though Arendt was intolerant of anti-semitism and all prejudice and racism. Your essay is filled with inaccuracies and broad statements unsupported by any factual material. As someone commented here you did not even bother to get the date of Arendt's birth correctly. It's very disrespectful these puns you use. It makes it sound as if you feel above it all and yet that is what you criticize Arendt of. You write “German evil of evils” it should be the evils of Nazism. You write Arendt's "troubled sense of her own Jewishness" but what gives you the authority to come to this conclusion? Hannah Arendt was a Zionist in her younger years. She worked for Youth Aliyah, a Zionist organization that saved thousands of children from the Holocaust and settled them in Palestine. I look forward to seeing Claude Lanzmann's The Last of the Unjust but to deny the Jewish Councils had a role in expediting the annihilation of their own people is contrary to all of history. Eichmann himself expressed surprise at the cooperation he received. Arendt took great pains to write about Jews who took the more perilous route of non-cooperation. Their deaths, she wrote, were a thousand times worse than what they would have suffered in Auschwitz. She never made a wholesale indictment of the Jewish people. She indicted all. She realized there was no such thing as radical evil but she found that “goodness” was the exception "The Good' is radical is what she concluded. The way you end your essay “If only she had been so adept at identifying her enemies — including herself.” What gives you the authority to say she was an enemy to herself? Her enemies are people like you who pre-judge and make those prejudices fit neatly into an essay while feeling above the journalistic imperative to reference the absolutes you find so easy to state. Your title “The Banality of Hannah Arendt” is exactly like the thoughtless attempt cleverness which marked the interruption of Arendt’s friendship with Mary McCarthy. You had a chance to write something important and persuasive to support your view but you chose to follow McCarthy's way of insensitive cleverness this is very sad being as this film is being lauded almost universally and you missed your chance to give us another point of view.

Anonymous
July 10th, 2013
1:07 PM
Excuse me, M von Trotta is not a female!

Anonymous
July 3rd, 2013
3:07 AM
Excuse me, but Arendt was born in 1906, not 1918. Perhaps you should get your facts straight. Your criticism of her defense of Jewish people as human is also off the mark. She was very aware of how the camps de-humanized people, stripped them of their humanity. In her epilogue, she eloquently says that the Nazis had no right to decide what groups should and shouldn't live. Your essay is very mean spirited and does not seem to make any real attempt to understand what she was trying to make sense of. She never blamed the Jews. She simply thought it was a tragedy that the list making of the Judenrate was turned against them. List making served a better purpose for Oscar Schindler, when Itzhak Stern turned his list over to him.

Anonymous
July 2nd, 2013
4:07 PM
Recalling studying Arendt's 'The Origins of Totalitarianism'for my MS thesis, and remembering reading 'The banality of evil' shortly after. And I'm still (all these years later!) none wiser regarding her supposed intellectual greatness. I found her Eichmann book banality itself and 'Origins' profoundly shallow. Like her mentor Heidegger she muddied the waters to make them look deep.

grimm
July 1st, 2013
1:07 AM
In 'The Informed Heart', Bruno Bettelheim's book describing (and, importantly, analysing) his experiences as a concentration camp inmate in Dachau and Buchenwald from 1938-39, he refers to the use of the term Muselmann. It was concentration camp jargon and was used for those inmates who had surrendered to there fate and become emotionally empty and passive. They were seen as similar to Muslims in their surrender (the meaning of the word Islam) to Allah. A couple of interesting observations from Bettelheim's book: In the mid 1930's there were more Communists than Jews in the concentration camps. In his experience those inmates who were best able to retain their humanity in that brutalising and degrading environment were Jehovah's Witnesses (yet another group the Nazis objected to). Their rigid code of belief seemed to protect them psychologically.

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