Hannah Arendt is nowadays praised as one of the most important political theorists and philosophers of the 20th century, something that seem inconsistent with the many reviews her texts about the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 got at the time of its publication. The movie, entitled after her, recounts this episode, from the moment she offered herself to serve as The New Yorker reporter, her thought and writing process and the public’s response to the publication of her article and, later, book.
It is fascinating when somebody theorizes her own life experiences, or the experiences of her own generation, objectively. A sensible point of view, avoiding the danger of simplifying events, is something hard to conquer, and in her case, hard to advocate. Many people seemed to think Arendt was making excuses for Eichmann’s behavior, and consequently for the nazis behavior as a whole, when in reality she was reporting the perception Eichmann had of his own actions. He portrayed himself as a bureaucrat, someone who was merely following orders and not necessarily understood the consequences of what he did daily while working for Hitler’s government. From his perspective, all he did was sign documents and follow orders. Adolf Eichmann, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, was responsible for several deportation proceedings, including the transportation of over 1.5 million Jews from all over Europe to killing centers located in occupied areas of Poland and the Soviet Union while working for the Clearing Activities division of the Gestapo between 1940 and March 1941. As a result of the trial held in Jerusalem, Israel, in 1961, Eichmann was found guilt and sentenced to death. He was hanged in June, 1962, his body was cremated and his ashes were spread at sea, beyond Israeli waters.
Many of Arendt’s friends and fellow scholars expected a jewish woman and a concentration camp survivor to be more emphatic on his active responsibility in regards to the numerous deaths. Not only that, they never expected she would public blame part of Jewish leaders for their participation on the persecution of their own people, being known some gave valuable information on other Jews to nazis in exchange for their personal protection.
For so many reasons, Hannah Arendt is a must-see. From the recount of a historic episode to the discussion of philosophical, academic and scientific standards her work stand for, it is impossible to leave the room without reflecting about World War II, the banality of evil, to use Arendt’s phrasing, and what sort of changes society went through since 1940. Ultimately, it makes us think about the past that shaped what the world is now and it leaves us questioning the notion that we would learn from our mistakes, since ethnic and religion differences are still factors for crimes against humanity nowadays.
* A friendly reminder for those who don’t appreciate captions: Hannah Arendt is not an american movie, but most of it is spoken in English.