Eichmann in Jerusalem

Themes and Colors
The Banality of Evil Theme Icon
Conscience, Authority, and Totalitarianism Theme Icon
Justice and Legal Responsibility Theme Icon
Zionism and Nazism Theme Icon
Storytelling and Resistance Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Eichmann in Jerusalem, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil recounts the 1961 trial of Nazi official Adolf Eichmann, who worked in the S.S.’s Gestapo division coordinating the trains that forcibly transported Jews to the Third Reich’s extermination camps in Eastern Europe. While it may be comfortable to believe that evil people are aberrations of human nature, the most troubling part of Eichmann’s story is that he did unspeakable, horrific…

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Arendt argues that, paradoxically, Eichmann (like other seemingly “normal” Germans) facilitated genocide because, rather than in spite, of his conscience. This is because his superiors’ authority and approval structured this conscience; instead of relying on personal moral conviction, he placed absolute faith in his country’s leader. Arendt demonstrates that conscience is not a reliable basis for morality because it often hinges on ideas received from those that surround an individual—in Eichmann’s case, from his…

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Arendt’s report on Eichmann’s trial obviously critiqued the nationalistic thinking that led Germans to endorse the Third Reich’s campaign of war and mass murder across Europe. But, more subtly and far more controversially, Eichmann in Jerusalem also rejected the Israeli state’s incorporation of Eichmann’s trial into a nationalist narrative: it portrayed Eichmann’s punishment as retribution for all Jews against all Nazis. The egregious lies on the part of the Israeli prosecutor and press—as…

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During Eichmann’s trial, the prosecution continually emphasized the unfathomable suffering and desperation that European Jews faced during the Holocaust. Arendt (like the judges) agreed that these stories needed to be told but believed that Eichmann’s trial was the wrong forum—not only were these stories irrelevant to the question of Eichmann’s guilt, but they also reinforced the sense that there was nothing to be done in the face of Nazism’s unspeakable evil. Rather, Arendt preferred…

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