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Arendt and Eichmann: Behind Bars-Fiction by Edward Francisco
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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

eich15.jpg
Illo courtesy Bing Images

Arendt and Eichmann: Behind Bars

by Edward Francisco

 

          She heard the faint suspiration of breath as smoke materialized in an eerie halo above the smoker’s head. He extended the pack of cigarettes, offering her one.

          “No,” she said, not wanting anything he had to give. She seated herself without being asked to take a seat. The man across the table from her crushed out his cigarette in an ashtray provided, undoubtedly, by prison officials, not wishing their star prisoner to complain that he’d been neglected or mistreated. There was bitter irony in that.

          “You asked to see me,” she said in as matter-of-fact a tone as possible despite bile rising in her throat, the result of equal measures of fear and disgust.

          Adolph Eichmann eyed Hannah Arendt with a faint air of detachment, his head tilting as if to view her from a different angle. Maybe he wished to make her uncomfortable. The man’s eyes were gun-metal blue. He owned an aquiline nose, the sort displayed by Caesar on Roman coins. How had so noble a nose withstood the stench of the camps? High, chiseled cheeks complemented the total effect. Eichmann was nothing if not a poster boy for Ayrian ideals of power and beauty. Hannah concluded that it was one of life’s many inequities that age had mercifully spared Eichmann’s features during his years in hiding.

          By no one’s estimation would Hannah Arendt be deemed attractive. She was so plain as to be unrecognizable in a crowd. That was a fact of experience. At university she’d studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger, whose intellectual status in Europe at the time was that of a god. Arendt had fallen in love with Heidegger, and the two subsequently engaged in a short-term affair. In the wake of their break-up, Arendt moved to the University of Heidelberg, completing her dissertation in 1929. When later that year Heidegger failed to recognize her at a train station, Arendt was devastated. If Heidegger had loved her once, it was because she owned the mind of a man.

          “Thank you for agreeing to meet under these conditions,” Eichmann spoke apologetically, realizing that the Israeli soldiers flanking them and the omnipresent microphones recording their conversation in the tiny cell were hardly conducive to an incisive and free exchange.

          “I hadn’t thought you’d have heard of me,” Arendt said, impervious to Eichmann’s attempts at politeness.

          “Oh, my, yes,” said Eichmann. “Would you dare to hear what I know about you?”

          “If you wish,” Hannah said, careful to reject the crumb of flattery he’d offered her.

          “You were the stellar student of the brilliant philosopher, Martin Heidegger, who maintained his allegiance to the Nazi Party until the end of the war,” Eichmann announced proudly. “You, on the contrary, left Germany as a self-imposed exile and, later, took up the cause of our enemies. In 1951, you enjoyed a brief period of celebrity with the publication of your book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, a rather pedestrian assessment of the roots and influence of Nazism.”

          “If my analysis was so pedestrian, why did you ask to see me?” If her research had taught her one thing, it was the duplicitous and grandiose strategies of interrogation by the Nazis.

          “Because you, of all the correspondents covering this trial, may be fairest and most objective.”

          Eichmann took the pack and matches from the table and lit another cigarette. Hannah suddenly felt dizzy, claustrophobic. She fought the urge to rise and bolt to the door.

          “You’re mistaken, Colonel Eichmann, if you think I have a grain of sympathy for your plight.”

          “Otto,” Eichmann interjected.

          “Obersturmbannführer,” Arendt insisted on using his German military title.

          “As you wish,” Eichmann insisted. “However, you’re mistaken if you think I want your sympathy. That’s the last thing I want. In fact, I’m counting on your dispassionate qualities as a scholar to sift through the facts of the case and present a fair accounting of my role as an obedient functionary of the SS.”

          “Functionary?” Arendt asked, stunned.

          “Of course,” said Eichmann in a tone meant to absolve himself of any wrong-doing in the systematic murder of millions. “I was one of the many horses pulling the wagon and couldn’t escape left or right because of the will of the driver.”

          “Is that your defense?” Hannah asked.

          “What else could it be?” asked Eichmann. “I never did anything great or small, without obtaining in advance express instructions from Adolf Hitler or any of my superiors.”

          “If that is your defense,” Hannah concluded, “then there can only be one outcome to your trial.”

          “Do you think I’m a fool, Frauline Arendt?” Eichmann asked rhetorically without giving Hannah time to answer. “There never was but one outcome to this trial. The culmination of these mock proceedings was a fait accompli. Did you really think I expected to receive a fair trial from the Jew tribunal?”

          Hannah Arendt flinched. “Unrepentant to the end,” she murmured.

          “Unrepentant?” Eichmann repeated, crushing out his cigarette. “I’ve done nothing for which I have a need to repent. Repentance is for children.”

          Arendt recalled the testimony of dozens of eye witnesses who’d seen Eichmann order deportations of tens of thousands of children to death camps where they were gassed and their bodies dumped into mass graves for the sake of expediency. When the number of Jews slated for extermination exceeded the personnel necessary to dispose of the corpses, children were permitted to live, though they faced starvation, illness, and brutal labor. Some were subjected to state ordered “medical experiments” often resulting in torture and death.

          “Are you suggesting,” Arendt began, pausing to steady the timbre of her voice, “that you weren’t complicit in the genocide directed at millions of European Jews?”

          “I never killed a single Jew,” Eichmann declared. “In fact, under normal conditions, I should be receiving a commendation for saving the lives of Jews.”

          All traces of fear at being in the presence of a monster were swept away in an instant of anger. She concluded that Eichmann was delusional despite the sobering assessment of psychiatrists declaring him perfectly sane.

          In Gottes namen, how did you save Jews?” Arendt asked.

          Eichmann looked surprised. “In 1938, I was promoted to second lieutenant in the Schutzstaffel, tasked with the responsibility of heading the Center for Jewish Responsibility. My role was to facilitate emigration of Jews from Germany while finding other destinations for them. In eighteen months, I arranged egress for almost one hundred thousand people. Many undoubtedly went on to live productive lives.”

          “And when emigration laws were repealed, and Jews were forced to remain within the border of Nazi-occupied Europe, what were your responsibilities then?”

          “It was unthinkable that I would not follow orders,” Eichmann said.

          “Even if obeying those orders meant the untold suffering and death of millions of human souls?” In that instant, Hannah realized she’d adopted the tone of Eichmann’s interrogators.

          “I don’t believe humans have a soul,” said Eichmann with an air of tiredness.

          “If human beings are soulless,” Arendt remarked, “then it stands to reason that you experienced no qualms of conscience in shipping millions of men, women, and children to death.” It was apparent that Eichmann was one of those rare individuals void of doubt or anxiety. Hannah had not heard of his being troubled by insomnia or psychosomatic ailments either.

          “I would have had a bad conscience only if I had not done what I’d been ordered to do.”

          “Are you saying that you’re absolutely certain of the rightness of your actions?” Hannah asked tentatively, not certain she wanted to hear the answer.

          “In the sense of the indictment,” Eichmann said, “I am without guilt.”

          Arendt paused to study Eichmann’s expression, his posture, even his tar-stained fingers. How many cigarettes had he smoked during nine months of interrogation since his capture in Argentina where he’d lived for years incognito?

          “Are you surprised, then at the charges you’re facing?” Hannah asked.

          “Surprised at the charges, but not surprised at being charged,” he said.

          “Explain,” Arendt urged.

          “I do not acknowledge the legality of this trial. I don’t need to acquaint you with the fact that I was kidnapped by an Israeli commando squad in Buenos Aires and whisked to Israel on an El Al plane. I am here against my will.”

          Hannah was tempted to remind Eichmann that Jews had been herded into camps and kept against their will, but to do that would imply no difference between Mossad, the Israeli secret police, and Nazi Germany’s Gestapo. Hannah could not forget that Eichmann was disingenuous and dissembling, even as he seemed oblivious to his own culpability in mass murder.

          “Few criminals are willing to confront charges and stand trial of their own volition,” Hannah reminded Eichmann.

          “Since I’ve committed no crime,” Eichmann hastened to defend himself,” I cannot be tried as a criminal. I’m not on trial. Israel is. I am the sacrificial lamb Israel needs to justify its existence to the rest of the world.”

          “You, and Nazi henchmen like you, gave birth to the nation of Israel—albeit unwittingly,” said Arendt, realizing in that moment her obligation to draw large pictures for the nearly blind.

          “Israel is a strip of land stolen from Palestinians who were expelled from their homes—a war crime that Israel committed purposefully and with the sponsorship and sanction of powerful American Jews. These same Jews invest millions each year to fund the diplomatically immune and largely unaccountable United Nations. Is it a coincidence that UN headquarters is located only four miles from Wall Street? Jewish bankers drive American diplomacy, and American diplomacy sanctions the terrorist tactics of the Shin Bet, Israel’s not so secret service, a fact to which Palestinian refugees can attest.”

          Eichmann withdrew another cigarette from the pack on the table. Arendt was silent while he lit it.

          “It never ceases to amaze me,” Hannah said, “how murderers can exonerate themselves of their crimes while blaming their victims. If you object to the establishment of Israel as a nation, then you have only yourself to blame.”

          “I will say once more that I committed no crimes. I broke no laws—in Germany. The only crimes with which I’ve been charged are based on laws enacted to punish people like me. Because I do not recognize Israel as a sovereign state, I do not recognize the legitimacy of its laws.”

          “You would have been tried in Germany had you stayed to face the music,” Hannah pointed out.

          “With a much different outcome, I’d allege.”

          “You have no guarantee of that.”

          “But I am certain of the verdict in this trial, though I err in referring to it as a trial.”

          “Then what would you call it?”

          “Not a trial, but an orchestrated spectacle. You Jews are nothing if not skilled propagandists. However, I must admit that it is a bit unnerving to be the first man in history whose trial is being televised. What better way to keep the world’s attention focused on an imaginary Holocaust?”

          “Few outside Germany doubt that the Holocaust is a fact, Herr Eichmann.”

          “What is a fact, Frauline Arendt? Is it a fact to believe the evidence before our eyes? Is it a fact that Jews are the unluckiest people on earth or that Jewish suffering is singularly special, to be spoken of in referential tones, while enshrined by special laws designed to punish the enemies of Jews?”

          “A fact requires evidence. A million corpses are evidence of a million murders. Nazis perfected the calculus of destruction.”

          “If only it were that simple,” Eichmann averred. “Don’t you think that irrational motives are often at the basis of the fate of a people? Beyond the understanding of a human being? Surely life teaches us that what leaders do will not always lead to the aim and destination they intended.”

          “Are you asking me to believe that you were only an innocent executor of some mysteriously foreordained fate, some Hegelian spiritus mundi, requiring blood sacrifice to ensure Germany’s glorious destiny?”

          “I will only scandalize you when I say that Hitler was innocent of the slaughter of the Jews. He was a victim of the Zionists, who had compelled him to perpetuate crimes and to create the legend that would eventually enable them to achieve their aim: the creation of the State of Israel.”

          Hannah suddenly recalled a story she loved to read as a girl growing up in Germany. It was British author Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Her favorite part was an exchange between the Cheshire Cat and Alice on the subject of madness:

          “Oh, you can’t help that” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

          “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

          “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

          If Hannah were to believe the Cat, then the world itself was insane, rendering Eichmann’s “sanity” as useful to him as the huge bulk and muscles of the dinosaur.

          “Are you suggesting,” Hannah asked, “that Jews were complicit in their own destruction?”

          “Jews will do anything,” Eichmann said, “including selling out their own. Trust me when I say that the SS rarely were tasked with rounding up Jews. We didn’t have to. The Jews appointed to the Judenrat, the Jewish council, performed the chore for us.”

          Eichmann wasn’t telling Hannah anything she didn’t know. She was aware of Jews who’d collaborated with Nazis and had benefitted as a result. They rationalized their decision by saying that if they weren’t doing it, someone else would be.

          “Does it surprise you the lengths people will go to appease their tormenters?” Hannah asked.

          “Nothing surprises me, Frau Arendt,” said Eichmann. “Not even the bogus charges leveled at me or the sham trial I’m forced to endure. These are nothing but the machinations of a people convinced of the righteousness of their actions.”

          “We claim only one right – the right to survive. Israel is a message to the world that people like you will never again be in a position to destroy us.”

          “Even if it means adopting the tactics of your tormenters?” Eichmann said with a sly smile.

          “If that’s what it takes,” said Hannah, staring at him eye-to-eye.

          “Then you’re no better than we are despite all your talk of principles,” Eichmann taunted.

          “I hope only that we’re no worse,” Hannah declared, shifting in the chair and signaling her wish to end their conversation. The time was short between them now.

          “One thing more, Frauline,” said Eichmann as Hannah rose, standing above him. The guards, within earshot, stood perfectly still. “Did you get what you came for? Have I satisfied your curiosity?”

          “Do you wish to know the truth?” Hannah asked.

          “Certainly,” said Eichmann.

          “I’m disappointed.”

          “Disappointed?” Eichmann asked.

          “Disappointed to discover you’re the one thing I never expected.”

          “What’s that?” Eichmann asked.

          “Ordinary,” said Hannah Arendt. “Ordinary.”






Edward Francisco is author of 10 books, including novels, poetry collections, and works of scholarship. His stories and poems have appeared in more than 100 magazines and journals. He is professor of English and Writer in Residence at Pellissippi State College in Knoxville, TN.




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