Bettina Stangneth shows that Adolf Eichmann acted out of genocidal anti-Semitism, and challenges Hannah Arendt’s claim that he was “terribly and terrifyingly normal.”
Ms. Stangneth, drawing on documents and research that Arendt never had access to, reaches a different conclusion: He was a master manipulator. “Whether he was in the Third Reich, Argentina, or Israel, Eichmann gave detailed and well-informed accounts of the murder of millions. He simply adjusted the account of his own role, and his attitude toward the murders, to his changing circumstances,” she writes.
Argentina was instrumental in his escape, and of others:
Ms. Stangneth, drawing on research by the Argentinian author Uki Goñi and others, also reminds us how openly the networks of former Nazis operated and how far they reached. Like thousands of other Nazis and collaborators, Eichmann escaped to Argentina with the help of Italian Catholic priests and Argentinian officials while carrying Red Cross travel papers. Ms. Stangneth emphasizes the lack of interest Allied authorities showed in bringing former Nazis to justice after the war. This is consistent with my own research, which shows that the Nazis’ escape networks were well-known by many governments and institutions, including the U.S. State Department, as early as 1947. But with the increasing tensions between the West and the Soviet Union, denazification efforts became less and less important. After the Korean War broke out in 1950, attention almost completely shifted to the new enemy: communism. It now appears that the German intelligence service was aware of Eichmann’s whereabouts as early as 1952 but showed little effort to apprehend him. Only Israel was willing to take justice into its own hands.
Richard Wolin at the Jewish Review of Books (emphasis added): Arendt, Banality, and Benhabib: A Final Rejoinder
Nor have I ever claimed that Eichmann was “demonic,” “perverted,” or diabolical. This is a willful misattribution and, more importantly, an attempt to avoid dealing with what Eichmann in fact was: a believer in genocidal anti-Semitism.
Thoughtlessness comes in a variety of guises. One of them is academic hero-worship: reverence for an intellectual icon in the face of a burgeoning mass of evidence indicating that she may have grievously erred. Perhaps Kant said it best in his famous essay “What is Enlightenment?” when he observed that, “Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another . . . Dogmas and formulas . . . are the ball and chain of his permanent immaturity.”
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