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Perpetrator Studies Network


Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem

Philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt’s seminal account of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel. Eichmann was a Nazi SS officer who played a key role in the organisation of the Holocaust. The account caused much controversy after its publication as Arendt humanises Eichmann and coins the term the “banality of evil”. The phrase refers to Eichmann’s behavior at the trial: he showed no remorse for his actions and instead claimed that he bore no responsibility because he was simply “doing his duty”. Arendt’s reading of Eichmann went against accounts of monstrosity/demonization that surrounded perpetrators of the Holocaust at the time. Arendt presents Eichmann as an ordinary man who relies on chlichés and was motivated by careerism rather than ideology. Banality in this interpretation does not mean that the actions were banal but that the motivations behind them were. The concept has been frequently critiqued and misinterpreted. Other elements of Arendt’s account have caused controversy as well, such as her discussion of the cooperation of Jewish functionaries.

Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Penguin, 1963. Print.