The book is an account of Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem for his role in the holocaust, and is exactly the way a journalistic account should be – based on facts, raising the relevant questions and unbiased. Hannah Arendt neither accepts Eichmann or any Nazi criminal as a psychopath or homicidal maniac, nor does she absolve them of their role in ‘Ha Shoah‘, on the pretext of being mere cogs in the wheel, for the cog stands as a human in the court of justice . She is, like most people, horrified at the extent to which this criminal ‘never realized what he was doing‘, for his complete thoughtlessness, his apathy towards the moral choice available to him, his banality. She thus stripped these Macbeths, as they are perceived by society at large, to reveal a criminal who is simply a switch in the system, a very compliant switch, quite satisfied with going on and off on command. What she tries to point out is that it is the switch or the banal criminal that is more dangerous than the lunatic, for he is a common, repeatable phenomenon.
This report found itself amidst widespread controversy (something that every un-fearing journalist is likely to encounter at least once in his/her profession). For one, she tried too hard to understand things from Eichmann’s perspective, often rationalizing some of his actions, and described him in monochromes of a plainness which most people convinced of Eichmann’s acute antisemitism disagreed with. She also questioned Israel’s right in holding the trial and to make matters worse, pointed out some of its own laws that were not different from the Nuremberg Laws in essence. What sparked most criticism, however, was her expansion on the role of Jewish Organizations during the Shoah and her remarks on the possibility of far fewer deaths in absence of the Jewish collaboration with the Nazi’s in the destruction of their own people.
Some of the criticism seems undeserved – as she did agree with the court’s verdict and praised it for delivering justice, and she did believe that despite all rationalizations, Eichmann made a choice to participate and deserved punishment for that. However, you are forced to wonder if her banal, stupid Eichmann is not too much at loggerheads with the other staunch ‘anti-semitic expert on the Jewish Question’ that the world knows, and whether she did refuse to see the complete reality.
There are times when the report looks too stretched and you feel you are reading the same sentences you had perhaps read in a chapter before. That however does not take away their essence and sometimes even serves to reinforce points. It is those points which make you think of the holocaust in terms outside of sheer horror and disgust and fight the immediate instinct to shut your eyes in face of the Assembled exterminations.