Eichmann in Jerusalem

Eichmann in Jerusalem Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt was born to a prominent, politically active Jewish merchant family in the Prussian city of Hanover and raised mostly in Königsberg (now Russian Kaliningrad). She studied philosophy at the University of Marburg (where she studied under Martin Heidegger and met Günther Stern, whom she later married), the University of Freiburg, and the University of Heidelberg (where she completed her PhD in 1929 with a dissertation on St. Augustine’s concept of love). Later that year, she moved to Berlin and married Stern, who wrote for a left-wing paper and soon fled to Paris. But Arendt decided to stay in Berlin and become active in Jewish politics; she worked for the Zionist Federation of Germany until the Gestapo briefly imprisoned her for anti-state propaganda. Realizing that she, too, was threatened, she fled Germany without papers, joined Stern in Paris, and began working at a Zionist group to help Jews resettle in Israel. In 1936, Stern again fled, this time to the United States, and left Arendt behind—they soon divorced, and Arendt remarried the poet and philosopher Heinrich Blücher. In 1940, the Nazis began interning Jews in France, and Arendt and Blücher were not spared; they were detained in separate camps in the south of France, but they escaped, reunited, and obtained papers to move to New York, where they went on to live the rest of their lives. Arendt rose to international fame in the 1950s with The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and The Human Condition (1958); she wrote for magazines and newspapers as well as in book format, and taught at various universities throughout the United States until her death of a heart attack at age 69. She remains one of the 20th century’s most prominent political theorists, one of the most important women in the history of philosophy, and likely the most influential scholar of totalitarianism the world has ever seen.
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Historical Context of Eichmann in Jerusalem

Adolf Eichmann joined the Nazi Party in 1933, shortly after it seized control of Germany. Eichmann was likely drawn to the Nazi Party by its newfound power and its emphasis on cultural renewal, particularly given his strong desire to belong to a larger organization and find a fresh start. Arendt covers most of the major events of the following decade in the book—including the German annexation of Poland and the Holocaust. During or immediately after the war, Hitler, Himmler, and a handful of other Nazi leaders committed suicide, while 24 others were tried for their crimes by the Allies in 1945 and 1946 at the Nuremberg Trials, which set an important precedent in international law. These trials created a distinctive procedure for addressing “crimes against humanity,” and they also created a model for a number of “successor trials” of other Nazi officials and collaborators (including Eichmann) in the countries where they committed their crimes. Unfortunately, at least a dozen genocides occurred in the remaining years of the 20th century (although none as severe as the Holocaust), and while international courts addressed many of them, there was no consistent protocol for this purpose until 2002. Finally, the foundation of the Israeli state is a crucial background issue to the Eichmann trial, both because the trial took place under the Israeli government and because so many of Eichmann’s activities during the war contributed to Jewish settlement in territory in Palestine that ultimately became Israel. Jewish and Arab nationalists both agitated for control of the territory until the UN recommended partitioning the territory into two states in 1947, and a civil war broke out between Jews and Arabs. David Ben-Gurion announced the formation of the Israeli state in May 1948, but war continued for another year, and the area has been riven with conflict ever since. The violent and impassioned circumstances surrounding Israel’s formation loom large in the background of Eichmann’s trial under questionable jurisdiction, and help explain why Israel would seek to use the trial as a means of demonstrating power and consolidating a narrative about its legitimacy, which remains contested into the 21st century.

Other Books Related to Eichmann in Jerusalem

Besides the still-controversial Eichmann in Jerusalem, the author’s only book aimed at a popular audience, Hannah Arendt’s most influential works include The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), which theorized totalitarian government through a comparison between Nazism and Stalinism; The Human Condition (1958), in which she develops her central philosophical theories of politics, work, and action; and her posthumous The Life of the Mind (1978), which focuses on the concepts of thinking, willing, and judging. Although Eichmann in Jerusalem is not a work of philosophy, Arendt was primarily a philosopher, and her central influences include her two main teachers—the existential phenomenologist Martin Heidegger, best known for Being and Time (1927), and the philosopher-psychiatrist Karl Jaspers, whose central work was Philosophy of Existence (1938)—as well as St. Augustine, on whom she wrote her dissertation. Her main historical sources for Eichmann in Jerusalem are Gerald Reitlinger’s The Final Solution (1953) and especially Raul Hilberg’s seminal The Destruction of the European Jews (1961). In her Postscript, Arendt also mentions three other reports on the trial: Harry Mulisch’s Criminal Case 40/61 (1962), Joachim Fest’s The Face of the Third Reich (1963), and a book by Robert Pendorf that has regrettably never been translated into English. Since Eichmann in Jerusalem, many more books have focused variously on Eichmann’s life, capture, and trial. Several, including Deborah Lipstadt’s 2011 book The Eichmann Trial (which includes a picture of Arendt on the cover) and David Cesarani’s 2004 Eichmann: His Life and Crimes (published in the United States as Becoming Eichmann), have been particularly critical and dismissive of Arendt’s take on the Eichmann trial.
Key Facts about Eichmann in Jerusalem
  • Full Title: Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
  • When Written: 1962
  • Where Written: Jerusalem, New York City
  • When Published: 1963, second edition 1965
  • Literary Period: Post-War
  • Genre: Journalistic Nonfiction
  • Setting: The Jerusalem Courtroom, Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe
  • Climax: Eichmann is hanged for his crimes
  • Antagonist: Eichmann, Nazism, the Israeli prosecution and Prime Minister
  • Point of View: Journalistic third-person

Extra Credit for Eichmann in Jerusalem

International Criminal Court. The International Criminal Court that Arendt called for in the book’s Epilogue was finally established in 2002. As she hoped, it convenes in the Netherlands to prosecute genocide and crimes against humanity (in addition to war crimes).

Relationship with Heidegger. At age 18, Arendt studied under the esteemed philosopher Martin Heidegger, now often considered the most influential thinker of the 20th century, at the University of Marburg. Although he was married and twice her age, they famously had a four-year affair—her first husband was, incidentally, also one of Heidegger’s students. A few years later, after Arendt had left Marburg, rumors emerged that Heidegger had become an avowed Nazi and even started speaking at Party meetings; this horrified Arendt, who wrote asking him to deny the allegations—but he did not. They lost contact until after the war, when they briefly resumed their affair.