Eich­mann Before Jerusalem: The Unex­am­ined Life of a Mass Murderer

Bet­ti­na Stangneth; Ruth Mar­tin, trans.
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By – December 22, 2014

Stangneth, an inde­pen­dent philoso­pher whose exper­tise is in the phi­los­o­phy of Immanuel Kant and the con­cept of rad­i­cal evil, has writ­ten a schol­ar­ly work which should put to rest the debate over Han­nah Arendt’s descrip­tion of Adolf Eich­mann as a study in the banal­i­ty of evil. At his tri­al in Jerusalem, Eich­mann man­aged to por­tray him­self as an over­worked bureau­crat fol­low­ing orders in his role as the imple­menter of Hitler’s extermina­tion cam­paign against the Jews. He went on to describe him­self as just a small cog in the exter­mi­na­tion machine rather than the cen­tral archi­tect of the Final Solution.” 

Focus­ing on Eichmann’s writ­ings and his taped inter­views with Willem Sassen while in hid­ing in Argenti­na, Stangneth has accumu­lated a trea­sure trove of doc­u­ments that alters the image Eich­mann cul­ti­vat­ed in Jerusalem. In her prodi­gious work, Stangneth uncov­ers an Eich­mann far dif­fer­ent than the one who was described by Arendt. Her research reveals an Eich­mann who prid­ed him­self on his effort to exter­mi­nate the Jews of Europe. Fur­ther­more, in a series of inter­views with Sassen, a Dutch Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tor and a mem­ber of the SS jour­nal­ist corps who also was ghost writer for escaped Nazi crim­i­nals liv­ing in in Argenti­na, Eich­mann, lack­ing any remorse, tells Sassen, you must under­stand that this is moti­va­tion when I say, if 10.3 mil­lion of the ene­mies (Jews) had been killed, then we would have ful­filled our duty. And because this did not hap­pen, I will say to you that those who have not been born will have to under­go that suf­fer­ing and adver­si­ty… We have done what we could.” 

Else­where, Eich­mann , jus­ti­fy­ing his partici­pation in mass mur­der, argues that con­science was sim­ply the moral­i­ty of the father­land… the voice of blood.” In the same vein, Eich­mann con­tend­ed that the dri­ve to self-preser­va­tion is stronger than any so-called moral judg­ment. Eich­mann sin­cere­ly believed that the ene­my pre­vent­ing the tri­umph of the Nazi Her­ren­volk was the Jew and for that rea­son they must be annihilated. 

Stangneth argues that Eich­mann was not a reclu­sive bureau­crat sim­ply fol­low­ing orders, but a true believ­er in the Nazi geno­cide of the Jews. Unlike Arendt, who may have been fooled by Eichmann’s demeanor in Jerusalem, Stangneth con­cludes that the real man in the glass booth was a skilled manip­u­la­tor and an unre­pen­tant mur­der­er eager to boast of his past glo­ries.”

Relat­ed content:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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