“The Trial That Never Ends: Hannah Arendt’s ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ in Retrospect” edited by Richard J. Golsan and Susan Misemer— Revisiting the Banality of Evil

Golsan, Richard J. and Susan Misemer, editors. “The Trial That Never Ends: Hannah Arendt’s ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ in Retrospect”, (German and European Studies)” University of Toronto Press, 2017.

Revisiting The Banality of Evil

Amos Lassen

About four years ago, I saw the excellent German film “Hannah Arendt” and it greatly rekindled my interest in the philosopher. As a graduate student I was lucky enough to have studied with Arendt one summer, and I have never lost the respect I have for even through the repercussions that followed her opinions about Adolf Eichmann and his trial. I may not have agreed with some of what she said but she remained one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century. I, once again, immersed myself in what she had written and what others had to say about her and decided to teach a course that I called, “Meeting Hannah Arendt” and found myself giving my opinions all over the Boston area.

Now, the University of Toronto has published “The Trial that Never Ends: Hannah Arendt’s ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ in Retrospect” giving me so much more to think about. Here was a Jewish woman who with a few sentences managed to cause uproar in academic circles and in the Jewish community. The years following this were not kind to her but it is fascinating to see here that her opinions are once again being discussed and argued about. There is a renewed interest on the Eichmann trial and in the nature of his crimes and in the writings of Hannah Arendt. One of the places where these are being looked at seriously is the State of Israel and it is fascinating to know that among Israeli youth, Arendt is being adopted as a seer and a visionary. In Israel, the Holocaust is a difficult topic, especially with the youth who do not want to be reminded of and identified with it. If you think about that, you will understand why.

The essays in this volume re-evaluate the legacy of Hannah Arendt’s famous book and the issues she raised, specifically the “banality of evil”, the possibility of justice in the aftermath of monstrous crimes, the right of Israel to kidnap and judge Eichmann, and the agency and role of victims. The contributors include new writing by Deborah Lipstadt, Bettina Stangneth, and Shoshana Felman and there are new areas that open for historical, legal, philosophical, and psychological speculation. Some of the contributors look at Arendt’s own ambivalent attitudes towards race and critically interpret the nature of the crimes Eichmann committed with regard to the recent newly discovered Nazi documents. Every word here seems to have purposely chosen so that what we read is interesting but also scholarly, readable and provocative, like Arendt herself. To date, this is the most “comprehensive and definitive account of the true historical and philosophic meaning of Hannah Arendt’s ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’”. Here we see that Arendt’s study was more than just an attempt to deal with the horrors of the past; it was also a prophetic look at “the evils that lurked ahead for the Jewish people, the state of Israel and indeed for civilization itself.”

 

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