Eichmann faced “no questions of conscience” between the 1942 Wannsee Conference and the end of the Final Solution in 1944; he was focused on organizing and coordinating deportations across the massive, complex Nazi bureaucracy. Himmler made all the important decisions, which he disseminated down the chain of command; Eichmann determined how many Jews to ship from each region and coordinated train schedules to ensure that they went wherever he was ordered to send them. Eichmann’s job was thus “for the Jews quite literally the end of the world,” an unprecedented genocide for a people used to seeing their history as one of suffering. The genocide looked vastly different throughout Europe—this surprised the Nazis, who expected anti-Semitism to be a universal and uniting force. Eastern Europe was much more “radical” than the West—Scandinavians, on the other hand, were rather “deficient in proper hostility toward the Jews.”
Now that the central questions of Eichmann’s sense of morality and understanding of his own actions have been taken care of, Arendt turns to surveying what he actually did throughout Europe. Following Himmler’s orders, Eichmann was clearly nowhere near as powerful as the prosecution alleged—but, while he was seldom giving orders, he quite clearly did have enough power to make or break the deportations that resulted in the murder of millions. In other words, Arendt wants the reader to see that he is clearly guilty of genocide even if he was not its mastermind. The different outcomes throughout Europe, it soon becomes clear, show that Nazi power was not truly total—it relied on cooperation with, and often met significant resistance from, people throughout Europe.
The German Reich, where deportations began, included Germany, Austria, the Czech Protectorate of Moravia and Bohemia, and annexed parts of Western Poland. Eichmann began coordinating the earliest deportations in the Reich before the Final Solution was even official, sending German Jews to Poland and Vichy France. These were designed to test “general political conditions”—whether Jews would cooperate without complaint, whether others would respond to their disappearance, and whether foreign governments would accept “refugees.” Everything went remarkably well, which convinced the Nazis “that Jews were ‘undesirables’ everywhere and that every non-Jew was an actual or potential anti-Semite”—and later left them surprised when other countries criticized their “‘radical’ measures.”
Before exporting their model of genocide throughout Europe, the Germans tested it in the region where they did have absolute jurisdiction. In fact, their unchallengeable power in the Reich and other countries’ misunderstanding of what was happening, while horrifying and somewhat representative of subsequent events, led the Nazis to an ultimately self-undermining overconfidence. They assumed that anti-Semitism was a self-evident truth, or at least contagious, and failed to anticipate the resistance they would face from certain morally steadfast nations they occupied.
After some years, once the Final Solution had become official policy but Eichmann had not yet been informed about it, he was transferred to primarily coordinating deportations, and the top priority was making the Reich “judenrein” (“clean” of Jews). The Nazis first passed legislation forcing Jews to wear yellow stars, depriving them of German nationality once they left the Reich’s borders (i.e. were deported to a camp), and permitting the confiscation of their property once they lost German nationality. Separate laws and Berlin’s cooperative Jewish Association ensured that those sent to Theresienstadt, inside the Reich, also lost their rights and property. While the Order Police (in Germany) and Security Police (in the East) were specifically responsible for guarding the trains and ensuring that Jews ended up in killing centers, virtually all the public institutions in Germany helped out with the deportations.
As before, once the Nazis took control of the German state, the law became a way to justify and conceal violence rather than a countermeasure to it. Morality, Arendt suggests, always stands above and before the law, but people tend to confuse them and treat the law as a substitute for independent moral thought. Citizenship emerges as a crucial domain of power and protection: because it confers jurisdiction on the state to which one belongs, by depriving Jews of citizenship the Germans were able to exclude them from the law and turn them into a population with absolutely no rights, able to be legally executed. This is a crucial point, as Arendt argues that one of the Holocaust’s most horrifying features was that it was not illegal but rather condoned and supported by German law.
There were two lingering issues for the Nazis: half-Jews and foreign Jews in Germany. Nothing was ultimately done about the former, and the latter were used to test how their countries of citizenship would react: the Nazis wrote their home countries demanding that they call back their Jews, and “we shall see shortly” what became of them. Ultimately, Hitler declared the Reich judenrein in 1943; 265,000 were deported, and few escaped.
The Nazis’ trouble labeling people who straddled their systems of racial and national classification demonstrates that, at base, the national and racial identities on which states and genocides are founded are social constructs rather than biological realities. While race and ethnicity can never have rigid boundaries, the Jewish people’s lack of a nation-state hampered their chances of political protection against Nazi violence.