Totalitarianism Quotes in Eichmann in Jerusalem
In this respect, perhaps even more significantly than in others, the deliberate attempt at the trial to tell only the Jewish side of the story distorted the truth, even the Jewish truth. The glory of the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto and the heroism of the few others who fought back lay precisely in their having refused the comparatively easy death the Nazis offered them—before the firing squad or in the gas chamber. And the witnesses in Jerusalem who testified to resistance and rebellion, to “the small place [it had] in the history of the holocaust,” confirmed once more the fact that only the very young had been capable of taking “the decision that we cannot go and be slaughtered like sheep.”
This supposition seems refuted by the striking consistency with which Eichmann, despite his rather bad memory, repeated word for word the same stock phrases and self-invented clichés, (when he did succeed in constructing a sentence of his own, he repeated it until it became a cliché) each time he referred to an incident or event of importance to him […] The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.
In actual fact, the situation was just as simple as it was hopeless: the overwhelming majority of the German people believed in Hitler—even after the attack on Russia and the feared war on two fronts, even after the United States entered the war, indeed even after Stalingrad, the defection of Italy, and the landings in France. Against this solid majority, there stood an indeterminate number of isolated individuals who were completely aware of the national and of the moral catastrophe; they might occasionally know and trust one another, there were friendships among them and an exchange of opinions, but no plan or intention of revolt. Finally there was the group of those who later became known as the conspirators, but they had never been able to come to an agreement on anything, not even on the question of conspiracy.
Eichmann, much less intelligent and without any education to speak of, at least dimly realized that it was not an order but a law which had turned them all into criminals. The distinction between an order and the Führer’s word was that the latter’s validity was not limited in time and space, which is the outstanding characteristic of the former. This is also the true reason why the Führer’s order for the Final Solution was followed by a huge shower of regulations and directives, all drafted by expert lawyers and legal advisers, not by mere administrators; this order, in contrast to ordinary orders, was treated as a law.
Eichmann himself, after “consulting Poliakoff and Reitlinger,” produced seventeen multicolored charts, which contributed little to a better understanding of the intricate bureaucratic machinery of the Third Reich, although his general description—“everything was always in a state of continuous flux, a steady stream”—sounded plausible to the student of totalitarianism, who knows that the monolithic quality of this form of government is a myth.
The story of the Danish Jews is sui generis, and the behavior of the Danish people and their government was unique among all the countries of Europe—whether occupied, or a partner of the Axis, or neutral and truly independent. One is tempted to recommend the story as required reading in political science for all students who wish to learn something about the enormous power potential inherent in non-violent action and in resistance to an opponent possessing vastly superior means of violence.
It is true that totalitarian domination tried to establish these holes of oblivion into which all deeds, good and evil, would disappear, but just as the Nazis’ feverish attempts, from June, 1942, on, to erase all traces of the massacres—through cremation, through burning in open pits, through the use of explosives and flame-throwers and bone-crushing machinery—were doomed to failure, so all efforts to let their opponents “disappear in silent anonymity” were in vain. The holes of oblivion do not exist. Nothing human is that perfect, and there are simply too many people in the world to make oblivion possible. One man will always be left alive to tell the story. Hence, nothing can ever be “practically useless,” at least, not in the long run. It would be of great practical usefulness for Germany today, not merely for her prestige abroad but for her sadly confused inner condition, if there were more such stories to be told. For the lesson of such stories is simple and within everybody’s grasp. Politically speaking, it is that under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that “it could happen” in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.
It is essentially for this reason: that the unprecedented, once it has appeared, may become a precedent for the future, that all trials touching upon “crimes against humanity” must be judged according to a standard that is today still an “ideal.” If genocide is an actual possibility of the future, then no people on earth—least of all, of course, the Jewish people, in Israel or elsewhere—can feel reasonably sure of its continued existence without the help and the protection of international law. Success or failure in dealing with the hitherto unprecedented can lie only in the extent to which this dealing may serve as a valid precedent on the road international penal law.