Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Eichmann in Jerusalem

On this date in 1961, the trial of Adolf Eichmann began in Jerusalem. Eichmann, who had been abducted by Israeli agents from Argentina the previous May, was tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity based on his role in Nazi Germany's campaign to exterminate the Jews.

Eichmann was convicted on all charges in December 1961. In May 1962, he was hanged.

Hannah Arendt published an account of the trial in a series of New Yorker articles later collected in a book entitled Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt described Eichmann as a follower, "a leaf in the whirlwind of time." For this reason--Eichmann's ordinariness--Arendt wrote in the end of "the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us—the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil."

Great crimes, Arendt argued, can arise out of the ordinary impulses of people and can be resisted only by acts of extraordinary courage.