Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer

Knopf  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.”

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