Misreading ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’


Roger Berkowitz in the NYT's The Stone:

In his 2006 book “Becoming Eichmann,” the historian David Cesarani finds common ground with Arendt, writing, “as much as we may want Eichmann to be a psychotic individual and thus unlike us, he was not.” But Cesarani also uses the latest documents to argue what so many of Arendt’s detractors have expressed: “It is a myth that Eichmann unthinkingly followed orders, as Hannah Arendt argued.” Similarly, in her 2011 book “The Eichmann Trial,” the historian Deborah E. Lipstadt claims that Eichmann’s newly discovered memoir “reveals the degree to which Arendt was wrong about Eichmann. It is permeated with expressions of support for and full comprehension of Nazi ideology. He was no clerk.”

The problem with this conclusion is that Arendt never wrote that Eichmann simply followed orders. She never portrayed him, in Cesarani’s words, as a “dull-witted clerk or a robotic bureaucrat.” Indeed she rejected the idea that Eichmann was simply following orders. She emphasized that Eichmann took enormous pride in his initiative in deporting Jews and also in his willingness to disobey orders to do so, especially Himmler’s clear orders — offered in 1944 in the hope of leniency amid impending defeat — to “take good care of the Jews, act as their nursemaid.” In direct disobedience, Eichmann organized death marches of Hungarian Jews; as Arendt writes, he “sabotaged” Himmler’s orders. As the war ground to an end, as Arendt saw, Eichmann, against Himmler, remained loyal to Hitler’s idea of the Nazi movement and did “his best to make the Final Solution final.”