Eichmann, organizer of the Holocaust, was not a fanatic who hated Jews but a normal man, and that Jewish leaders and organizations cooperated with him to an extraordinary degree.
German Zionist in the Holocaust
The publication in 1963 of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt provoked a storm of controversy which has been going on for decades. Arendt, the author of the famed The Origins of Totalitarianism claimed that Eichmann, organizer of the Holocaust, was not a fanatic who hated Jews but a normal man, and that Jewish leaders and organizations cooperated with him to an extraordinary degree.
In the following article, I argued that Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem – replete with factual distortions – has a political point – one already indicated in her theoretical work – The Origins of Totalitarianism. The political efforts of normal people and their organizations are incapable of making the world habitable but that end can be achieved if a few individuals live according to moral principles.
SS Adolf Eichmann, a Man Who Defiantly Didn’t Hate Jews
Let it be borne in mind that Eichmann was really trying to defend himself in the Jerusalem Court. Miss Arendt might have considered this when she wrote that: “his was obviously also no case of insane hatred of Jews, of fanatical anti-Semitism or indoctrination of any kind.”
Her sole evidence for this is what Eichmann said before his Jewish accusers. Did Miss Arendt think that if Eichmann hated Jews he was going to tell it to the Jewish court? On the basis of this sort of evidence, none of the leading Nazis tried at Nuremberg hated Jews. Like Eichmann, they denied it. Indeed, Julius Streicher proclaimed himself to be a Zionist.
Miss Arendt reports that Eichmann said to his fellow Nazis: “I will jump into my grave laughing, because the fact that I have the death of five million Jews on my conscience gives me extraordinary satisfaction.” Here is how Miss Arendt explains such a strange source of satisfaction for a normal man who did not really hate Jews:
In his mind, there was no contradiction between “I will jump into my grave laughing,” appropriate for the end of the war, and “I shall gladly hang myself in public as a warning example for all anti-Semites on this earth,” which now, under vastly different circumstances, fulfilled exactly the same function of giving him a lift.
The “vastly different circumstances” are that he did not say “I will jump into my grave laughing” before his Jewish accusers. Instead he offered to hang himself as an example to anti-Semites. This should have warned Miss Arendt that anything he told the court concerning his attitude toward Jews was suspect.
How does Miss Arendt explain the fact that Eichmann joined the Austrian Nazi party in 1932? After all, anti-Semitism was a rather prominent feature of Nazi propaganda. She writes:
“A leaf in the whirlwind of time . . . he did not enter the Party out of conviction, nor was he ever convinced by it . . .” as he pointed out in court, “it was like being swallowed up by the Party against all expectations and without previous decision. It happened so quickly and suddenly.” . . . he did not even know the Party program, he never read Mein Kampf. Kaltenbrunner had said to him: Why not join the S.S.? And he replied, Why not?
All this is rather negative. Were there positive reasons for Eichmann’s joining the Nazi party?
Of course that was not all there was to it. . . . From a humdrum life without significance and consequence the wind had blown him into History, as he understood it, namely, into a Movement that always kept moving and in which somebody like him—already a failure in the eyes of his social class, of his family, and hence in his own eyes as well—could start from scratch and still make a career. (p. 29)
Why should Miss Arendt’s readers believe that “he did not enter the Party out of conviction, nor was he ever convinced by it?” Her supporting evidence is culled exclusively from Eichmann’s self-defense.
Eichmann’s friend, Dr. Kaltenbrunner, who brought him into the Nazi party, was a leader of the Austrian Nazi movement and an organizer of the S.S. The Dolfuss government imprisoned him for sedition. Was he, too, without Nazi convictions? Did this leader of the S.S. keep the Nazi program secret from his friend, Eichmann? Miss Arendt notes, but does not really notice, that Eichmann had been a member of the youth section of a “violently pro-German and anti-republican, German-Austrian organization of war veterans.” (p. 28) The wind that blew Eichmann, this “leaf in the whirlwind of time,” into the Nazi movement did not have to blow very hard.
Miss Arendt’s account of Eichmann’s early years in the Nazi movement casts doubt on her notion that Eichmann “did not enter the Party out of conviction. . .” In 1934, Eichmann applied successfully for a job in Himmler’s S.D. The activities of the S.D. were top secret. How could this Nazi organization draw Eichmann, a recent recruit, into its top secret operations if he showed no signs of political convictions? Within a few months, Miss Arendt recounts; “he was put into the brand-new department concerned with Jews.” (p. 33) Is it conceivable that Eichmann was given this assignment without having indicated that he had a “proper” attitude toward Jews?
The picture Miss Arendt sketches of Eichmann’s entry into the Nazi party may not be entirely false. A person may find a role in a political movement attractive because it gives “significance and consequence” to his life. But this attitude is not an alternative to political conviction. On the contrary, those who have such motives are most in need of justifying reasons. They are most anxious to be convinced. The dullest Communist who finds a role for himself in the Party knows and believes the Party line.
Eichmann was indeed a Zionist
Miss Arendt informs her readers that Eichmann, early in his career, was required “to read Theodor Herzl’s Judenstaat, the famous Zionist classic, which converted Eichmann promptly and forever to Zionism.”
It is hard to believe that Miss Arendt means what she says. Is she being ironic? On the contrary, her own comments on Zionism would suggest that Eichmann’s conversion is quite believable. Throughout her book she shows similarities and points of converging interest between Zionism and Nazism. The unwary reader who knows nothing of Zionism would have no reason to question Eichmann’s acceptance of Zionist views. For example, in the early period, official Nazi policy favored emigration of Jews to Palestine.
Miss Arendt comments on this policy:
During its first few years, Hitler’s rise to power appeared to the Zionist chiefly as ‘the decisive defeat of assimilationism.” . . . the Zionists too believed that “dissimilation,” combined with the emigration to Palestine of Jewish youngsters and, they hoped, Jewish capitalists, could be a “mutually fair solution.” At the time, many German officials held this opinion. To be sure, no prominent Nazi ever spoke publicly in this vein .
Miss Arendt refers to the early pre-extermination period in Nazi Germany as the “pro-Zionist” stage. She calls upon Hans Lamm to support her characterization: “For ‘it is indisputable that during the first stages of their Jewish policy, the National Socialists thought it proper to adopt a pro-Zionist attitude’ (Hans Lamm)”. She reports that Jews who returned to Vienna after forced expulsion “were registered in the police records as ‘returning from vocational training’” and describes this registration as a “curious relapse into the pro-Zionist stage of the [Nazi] movement.” She points out that “it was during these first stages that Eichmann learned his lessons about Jews.” and finds that “it is worth noting that his schooling in Jewish affairs was almost entirely concerned with Zionism. She also discovers an affinity of language and attitudes between Eichmann and Zionist representatives:
These Jews from Palestine spoke a language not totally different from that of Eichmann. They had been sent to Europe by the communal settlements in Palestine and they were not interested in rescue operations. . . They wanted to select “suitable material.”
Miss Arendt insists that Eichmann’s “first personal contacts with Jewish functionaries, all of them well-known Zionists of long standing, were thoroughly satisfactory (p. 37) and records his admiration for the Hungarian Zionist, Rudolf Kastner, with whom he negotiated in 1944:
The greatest “idealist” Eichmann ever encountered among the Jews was Dr. Rudolf Kastner, with whom be negotiated during the Jewish deportations front Hungary and with whom he came to an agreement. . . . The few thousand saved by the agreement, prominent Jews and members of the Zionist youth organizations, were, in Eichmann’s words “the best biological material.” Dr. Kastner, as Eichmann understood it, had sacrificed his fellow-Jews to his “idea,” and this was as it should be.
The implication is clear enough. Both leading Nazis and leading Zionists were concerned with saving “the best biological material.”
To sum up: Miss Arendt’s story is that during the early “pro-Zionist” stage of the Nazi regime, when many Nazi officials privately thought Zionism a “mutually fair solution” to the Jewish problem, Eichmann “learned his lessons about the Jews.” She discovers a similarity of language and political methods between Eichmann, a Nazi, and Zionist functionaries whom Eichmann admired, even as late as 1944, In other words, Miss Arendt claims that Eichmann simply swallowed the pro-Zionism of the early Nazi period and in his typically ludicrous fashion never gave it up. Getting “some firm ground under the feet of the Jews” remained fixed in this clown’s mind as a proper solution to the Jewish question even in the era of the Final Solution.
One of Miss Arendt’s troubles is her conception of Zionism. It is surely obvious that a Zionist is someone who believes that an independent Jewish state will serve Jewish interests. Yet Miss Arendt does not find Eichmann’s 1939 Nisko project inconsistent with his Zionist opinions—although that project called for a “Jewish state” in an area without water and ridden with cholera, dysentery and typhoid. The earlier Nazi policy was to rob Jews and let them emigrate to Palestine for there were few countries which would accept Jewish emigrants. This is the stage that Miss Arendt consistently characterizes as “pro-Zionist.” Were the anti-Semitic hooligans who chased Jews in the streets of Eastern Europe yelling “Go back to Palestine” also pro-Zionist? The directive to allow Jews to leave Germany for Palestine came from Hitler after he had studied not the Zionist classic, Der Judenstaat, but a Nazi tract of Alfred Rosenberg’s on the racial question. Was Hitler also pro-Zionist?
There was evidence, real evidence, at the trial concerning the nature of Eichmann’s “Zionism.” In 1937, Eichmann and a journalist from his office, Herbert Hagen, met with a Haganah man in Cairo. Here is Miss Arendt on the incident:
. . . according to Eichmann, what he [the Haganah man] told them there became the subject of a “thoroughly negative report” Eichmann and Hagen were ordered by their superiors to write for propaganda purposes; this was duly published.
But Miss Arendt does not repeat what was stated in this report, although the court paid great attention to it. Here is a statement from the Eichmann-Hagen report of 1937:
Since the above mentioned program of 50,000 Jews per year would chiefly strengthen Jewry in Palestine, this plan is out of the question in order to avoid the creation of an independent Jewish state in Palestine.
Not a word from Miss Arendt to indicate the plainly anti-Zionist character of the Eichmann-Hagen report, or the attitude taken by the court toward it. Eichmann tried to defend himself by claiming that the report had been written by Hagen, not himself. Eichmann’s own handwritten corrections and signature were taken by the court as proof of his responsibility. A strange Zionist, this Eichmann, who opposes an independent Jewish state in Palestine!
A most tantalizing contradiction now appears in Miss Arendt’s view of Eichmann. She has sketched him as a mediocrity who is “no case” of “indoctrination of any kind.” He exemplifies the totalitarian personality who, without ideological convictions, does anything he is ordered to. But in discussing Eichmann’s attitudes toward the Jewish question she informs her readers of his conversion to Zionism. So Eichmann did have political ideas and opinions! Side by side with her portrait of Eichmann the totalitarian personality who, with no convictions of his own blindly follows orders stands a different version: Eichmann, the early convert to Zionist opinion, who sends Jews to the gas chambers. The contradiction between these two portraits (both false) goes unrecognized by Miss Arendt. Yet, her notion that Eichmann exemplifies the totalitarian mentality is the major theme of her book. Did her persistent desire to link Zionist and Nazi attitudes render her deaf to her own discord?