Arendt and Eichmann: Behind Bars
by Edward Francisco
She heard the faint suspiration of breath
smoke materialized in an eerie halo above the smoker’s head. He extended the
pack of cigarettes, offering her one.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
hadn’t thought you’d have heard of me,” Arendt said, impervious to Eichmann’s
attempts at politeness.
my, yes,” said Eichmann. “Would you dare to hear what I know about you?”
you wish,” Hannah said, careful to reject the crumb of flattery he’d offered
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.”
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.
you, of all the correspondents covering this trial, may be fairest and most
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
mistaken, Colonel Eichmann, if you think I have a grain of sympathy for your
Arendt insisted on using his German military title.
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.”
Arendt asked, stunned.
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.”
that your defense?” Hannah asked.
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
that is your defense,” Hannah concluded, “then there can only be one outcome to
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?”
Arendt flinched. “Unrepentant to the end,” she murmured.
Eichmann repeated, crushing out his cigarette. “I’ve done nothing for which I
have a need to repent. Repentance is for children.”
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.
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?”
never killed a single Jew,” Eichmann declared. “In fact, under normal
conditions, I should be receiving a commendation for saving the lives of Jews.”
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?”
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
when emigration laws were repealed, and Jews were forced to remain within the
Nazi-occupied Europe, what were your responsibilities then?”
was unthinkable that I would not follow orders,” Eichmann said.
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
don’t believe humans have a soul,” said Eichmann with an air of tiredness.
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.
would have had a bad conscience only if I had not done what I’d been ordered to
you saying that you’re absolutely certain of the rightness of your actions?”
Hannah asked tentatively, not certain she wanted to hear the answer.
the sense of the indictment,” Eichmann said, “I am without guilt.”
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?
you surprised, then at the charges you’re facing?” Hannah asked.
at the charges, but not surprised at being charged,” he said.
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.”
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.
criminals are willing to confront charges and stand trial of their own
volition,” Hannah reminded Eichmann.
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.”
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.
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.”
withdrew another cigarette from the pack on the table. Arendt was silent while
he lit 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.”
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
would have been tried in Germany had you stayed to face the music,” Hannah
a much different outcome, I’d allege.”
have no guarantee of that.”
I am certain of the verdict in this trial, though I err in referring to it as a
what would you call it?”
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?”
outside Germany doubt that the Holocaust is a fact, Herr Eichmann.”
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?”
fact requires evidence. A million corpses are evidence of a million murders.
Nazis perfected the calculus of destruction.”
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.”
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
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.”
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:
you can’t help that” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
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
you suggesting,” Hannah asked, “that Jews were complicit in their own
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
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.
it surprise you the lengths people will go to appease their tormenters?” Hannah
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.”
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.”
if it means adopting the tactics of your tormenters?” Eichmann said with a sly
that’s what it takes,” said Hannah, staring at him eye-to-eye.
you’re no better than we are despite all your talk of principles,” Eichmann
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
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?”
you wish to know the truth?” Hannah asked.
to discover you’re the one thing I never expected.”
that?” Eichmann asked.
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.