The critics

April 26, 2010

In The New Yorker article titled “Back in the Bunker” by David Denby, he expresses disdain in regards to Hirschbiegel’s portrayal of Hitler and the Nazis in the movie “The Downfall.” He criticizes the depiction of a human Hitler and banality of the German army. Denby describes Traudl Junge as a “lazy person who allowed common clay to become der Fuhrer,” and acknowledges the director’s attempt to show the commonality of Hitler. Although Denby sees Hitler’s repulsive and perverse behavior, he still condemns the officer’s suicides, which he argues are displayed as an act of honor. While Denby praises Ganz’s performance as Hitler and declares the actor’s balance between weak and maniacal moving, he resents feeling pity and sympathy toward this loathsome man. Aside from his criticism in respect to the message of the movie, he argues that “The Downfall” is not the first movie to show Hitler’s last days, but still does not offer any more insights into Hitler’s downfall. Still, according to Denby, the repetitive idea does not validate Hirschbiegel’s depiction of Hitler, but rather makes it more in-genuine.

Denby beautifully describes Ganz’s performance as Hitler as a “puppet (that) comes to life.” He clearly identifies Hitler’s repulsive physical appearance, mentioning his greasy hair, wrinkled face, shaking hand and slumping body. He also describes his voice in a way that enables the reader to hear the character’s harsh speech. In order to show the humane characteristics, the critic describes the contrast between the appalling appearance and his kindness toward Traudl Junge, the cook and his dog. He includes scenes such as the violent attacks of against the civilians and the hanging of those who betrayed the Nazi party and assisted the Bolsheviks to support his claim that “The Downfall” shows the destruction that resulted from Hitler’s reign.  Denby uses Goebbel as evidence to support this claim that Hitler’s law continued to reign after his death. Denby represents Magda Goebbel’s monstrosity as he recounts the scene in which she slowly murders each of her children. He even describes their physical appearance in order to better evoke sympathy from the audience, just as the director intended. Yet, even though Denby uses Magda Goebbel’s evilness to show the continuation of Hitler’s reign he disregards such villainy as a means to describe Hitler’s close officials. Instead, he elaborates on the director’s innocent portrayal of the Nazis to prove his claim that Hischbiegel illustrated the Nazis as sensible and common.

Denby uses the young fighters to show that “The Downfall” avoids the wickedness of the Nazi supporters. Yes, it is true that the civilian fighters do not represent members of the shameful Hitler Youth, but rather victims of Hitler’s government. Yes, the viewer does feel more sympathy than disdain toward young Peter Kranz, but the violence surrounding such innocent characters does highlight the terror Hitler created throughout Germany and Europe. The stark contrast between life in the bunker and the sickening screams in the world above shows the violent consequences of Nazi rule.

Although Denby says that the director portrayed the officers’ suicides as acts of honor, I disagree with Denby’s interpretation. I do not think that the director intends to depict them as honorable, but rather tries to convey that the officers thought committing suicide was respectable. The suicides show the lasting effects of Hitler’s law rather than an honorable act. Had the director wanted to portray suicide as honorable he would not have included the argument between Schneck and Hewel, in which the honorable doctor, Schneck, clearly condemns suicide. Also, the sharp contrast between the illustrious Traudl and the pathetic Hewel show that those considered the “good” party members chose life over suicide. Furthermore, Speer’s obvious appall in response to Magda Goebbel’s desire to murder her children shows that the director did not depict death as a righteous decision. Also, the horror surrounding those civilians whose death was not self-inflicted, Traudl’s shocked expression when she learns about Goebbel’s plan for her children and Peter Kranz’s fear when finding his friend prove that the movie did not glorify death.

According to Denby, the Germans’ defeat resembled a normal military defeat rather than liberation from a tyrannical government, but in my opinion the continued fighting indicates the people’s sustained loyalty to Hitler, even after his death. Still, the immense amount of destruction indicates that the warfare was not typical and common. To further counter Denby’s argument, one can argue that the sunlight at the end of the film does show a liberation from a destructive government. Sunlight is only present in the film after Germany surrenders to the Red Army.

Although I do agree with Denby’s argument that the complacency of the officers and others in the bunker provided the weak Hitler with the ammunition to become a powerful figure, I do not disagree with Hischbiegel’s portrayal of the officers and Hitler. I think the director effectively showed that the people’s loyalty toward Hitler enabled the weak man to continually reign after his death. The portrayal of Hitler as human indicated that the Holocaust would not have been possible without the obedience of the German people, and therefore expanding the burden of responsibility. Throughout the movie I had resisted feeling pity for the mastermind behind the Holocaust, but it is not practical to categorize him as a monster and disregard the complexities behind the Holocaust perpetrators. Therefore, I agree that it is uncomfortable to view Hitler as a ordinary, but  as a human he should not solely represent a destructive ideology.

Whose Downfall?

April 25, 2010

These last scenes in the movie made me feel the most uncomfortable and sickened, not only because of the increased amount of gore, but because of the increase in brutality against those who are portrayed as innocent civilians. The destruction of the people causes me to think that the “downfall” describes the demolition of the German nation and people.

Although the cover of the movie features Hitler, one has to fall from valor and honor in order to have a downfall. Hitler represents an ideology and the belief in the Fuhrer which was sustained during life in the bunker and after his death. Even after Hitler’s death, the majority of the high officials still supported Hitler’s law and vowed to commit suicide rather than live in a nation without the Fuhrer. Magda Goebbels executed her plan in respect to her children and prohibited them from having a future without national socialism. Even after this death the officials still argued whether to surrender or to continue fighting for Hitler’s cause. In a conversation with the professor, one man announced that he was committed to his oath and will not surrender. The officials who remained in the bunker echoed this belief and said that their honor won’t allow them to surrender. They followed Hitler’s example and committed suicide because they could not “outlive the Fuhrer’s death.” Also, when those who fled the bunker merged with the crowd of German people, the Germans still saluted, despite the fact that Hitler had already died. This shows that Germany maintained loyalty toward him throughout the entire war. Therefore, he had never truly fallen. This idea is illustrated in the cover. The dvd cover illustrates him as a strong and determined leader. His hat covers his uncontrollable hair, which the class previously agreed represents his loss of control. The image does not show his shaking hand, a sign of weakness, nor does it capture his frustration. Instead the idea of destruction is shown through an image of the city. In addition to including the ruined city, above the title of the movie the cover reads “a nation awaits its downfall,” further showing that the movie is about the surrender of Germany, not Hitler.

The movie never showed Hitler’s face after his death, which is a sign of respect, but also proves that the term “downfall” does not refer to him. Had it signified his death, then the director would have shown his death and ended the movie there. Instead the audience sees the brutality committed against the German people, heard their screams and saw their bloodied bodies. The German boy begged the soldier to let his grandmother and grandfather free, which greatly countered Magda Goebbel’s willingness to murder her own family. The reluctace of Goebble’s daughter to swallow the “medicine” highlighted the violence committed against the innocent and naive. It also demonstrated the consequences of unfaltering loyalty. This idea appears again at the very end of the movie when the elder Traudle Junge talks about her ignorance toward the massacre of 6 million people. Although she initially did not feel responsible for the Holocaust, she later says that youth is not an excuse for ignorance. The contrast between her pride at the beginning of the movie when she is selected as Hitler’s secretary and her regret as an elderly woman demonstrates her downfall. Her regret signifies the downfall of those who were loyal to the Fuhrer.  Also, amid the death and violence, soldiers announce honors and medals, which shows how the people’s devotion led to their inevitable destruction. Even though the movie shows the murder of the high officials, the deaths of the civilians,which were not self inflicted, shows the division between the deaths of the Fuhrer and the German people.

During a conversation in the bunker, one man suggests a surrender in order to protect the civilians, but the majority of the Nazis say that they still want to follow the Fuhrer’s orders. This exchange again suggests that the loyalty to Hitler led to the downfall of the civilians. The destruction of the innocent shows that the movie is about the ruin of the German people, which further implies that those who executed Hitler’s orders are representative of any civilian loyal to their government.

While Arendt deemed all participants worthy of guilt, The Downfall provides its audience with a different portrayal of the German civilians. The film’s depiction of the German people resonates with a quote from Gunter Grass’ memoir Peeling the Onion. Upon returning to Germany after his release from a POW camp he sees the destruction of the cities and says that the demolition has made victims out of the perpetrators. The Downfall captures this idea in scenes 10-18.

The portrayal of the war through the eyes of children provokes the viewer to feel sympathy for the German people, including Hitler and the others in the bunker. Traudl’s reaction when she realizes that Mrs. Goebbels brought the children to the bunker with the intent that they would die with the Fuhrer highlights her innocence. Her doe eyes show how sheltered she had been and her startled reaction demonstrates her naivety. These three characteristics are often associated with children, so the connection between children and suffering forces the reader to sympathize with Traudl and the Goebbel children rather than condemn them for their loyalty to the regime.

Also the frequent bombings bring the viewer into the violence. The explosions enter the screen from all angles, surprising the audience and putting them off guard as well. This technique increases their own anxiety and fear as well. During one of the bombing scenes the camera lens represents Peter’s view point. The camera pans the destruction and lands on the disturbing image of a woman’s distorted face. The camera then quickly cuts to Peter’s reaction, which resembles the viewers’ own reaction to the sight. Using a child’s viewpoint to show the destruction entices the viewer to sympathize even more with the civilians. The pity increases when Peter runs into his father’s arms and when his mother cares for him. The image of the family demonstrate how common the German civilians are and allows the audience to relate to the characters. The director repeatedly uses this technique. Mr. Goebbel opposes his wife’s decision to let the children die with the Fuhrer. He argues that they too deserve a future. The portrayal of this high Nazi official as caring and protective father further implies that these characters have humanity and are understandable to some extent. Also when the mothers rush outside after a bombing raid to caress the bodies of their loved ones evokes sympathy from the viewer. This scene shows the destruction’s impact on the innocent and helpless.

The director again shows the war’s influence on the children when the physician detonates the bomb and kills himself and his family. The director uses the image of the baby doll to imply that the family was murdered. The child’s toy shows the suffering of the youth again.

Even Hitler can be compared to a child. In these scenes he reminded me of Max from Where the Wild Things are. He can easily be compared to a child who throws temper tandrums when he does not get his way, and then escapes into his delusional and fabricated world. When Hitler could not meet with Fegelein he stomped his feet like a young child. The same thing occurred when he learned of Himmler’s betrayal. Also, his level of confidence and trust resembles that of a child. He is shocked by Himmler’s abandonment and the viewer almost pities him because of his palpable disappointment.

Still, while the audience sympathizes with the sufferers, Eva does not seemed fazed by it. While she writes a letter to her sister describing all her riches and jewelry a violent scene plays over her voice. The sharp contrast highlights her ignorance or apathy to the world beyond the bunker and her family.

The Downfall Parts 1-9

April 20, 2010

For this assignment, we had to watch scenes 1-9  of “The Downfall” and comment on the director’s portrayal of Hitler and one other character. For the second character I chose Traudl Humps Junge because I think the portrayal of the two characters is intertwined and feeds off of each other.

Although the director does not directly indicate that the elderly woman at the beginning of the film is the older Traudl, I assumed the woman’s former identity was the youngest secretary. The film beings with the elder Traudl commenting on her experience as a contributor to the Third Reich. She says that she was not enthusiastic and prior to her arrival in Berlin, she had no intention of supporting the Nazi Party. Throughout the first nine scenes, the younger Traudl reiterates that her family did not approve of her joining the Nazi cause, which may contribute to her later anger and regret. In the opening scene when the elder woman appears repentant for her support of the Third Reich, the director uses a low aperture so that the character drastically stands out from the background. This idea contrasts her relationship to the Nazi Party because, like so many German civilians, she was obedient and followed Hitler’s orders. Aside from the aperture, the light is also bright, perhaps indicating that she understands her past mistakes, unlike Eichmann who would not repent for his participation. This light in the first scene contrasts the following scene. Although there is still a light or Traudl’s face, the rest of the image is dark as she entered the headquarters under the cover of the night. She is marched in along with four other girls and stands in a line facing the Fuhrer. Perhaps her association with the four other girls illustrates her representativeness. She is not unique, but rather one of many who unquestioningly supported Hitler.

During the scene where she is alone with him, she sweats and furrows her brow while furiously typing as Hitler dictates to her. Her nervousness enables the viewer to perceive her as human, worried about getting the desired job. This occurrence is relatable, but the context and consequences of her job differ from the viewer’s own experiences. Returning to the significance of light, repeatedly the lights would flicker while Traudl was talking to Gerda. I interpreted the flickering lights as a struggle between deciding to stay or leave, which ultimately signified the decision to remain loyal or act morally and for herself. The scene ended with the lights on, showing that her belief in the Fuhrur remained. While light often insinuates enlightenment, this time the lights shows her inability to act in the public sphere and oppose Hitler’s orders. Still, her constant nervousness portrays her as a victim of her government, trapped in a fate she had not desired. This regret is highlighted when she says that she feels as if she is trapped in a dream she cannot wake up from. Following this statement, she runs down a dark hallway away from the camera. Perhaps this conveys an attempt to escape, but the narrow hallway further proves that she is trapped as a loyal secretary. Her loyalty again appears when she offers to remain in Berlin. She is representative of the unquestioning obedient citizen.

The director first shows Hitler in terms of his interaction with Traudl and the other women. He stands facing them, his back to the camera, but then requests that Traudl enter his office. She sweats nervously as he dictates to her, showing his authority and calm demeanor when giving orders. He appears stoic and lacks emotion. Throughout the first nine scenes, Hitler continues to talk to groups of people rather than individuals, perhaps showing that his following is generated by group think. When he counters Mohnke’s concern about the civilians, Hitler replies that “in a war like this there are no civilians,” which shows that he expects all German citizens to assume the role of soldiers and sacrifice themselves for the cause. I understood the phrase “in a war like this” to indicate that under a totalitarian government there are no individuals to care for. The idea of the totalitarian society is apparent again when he says that he does not care whether the people survive if Germany does not. This shows his nationalism and that he places the nation above the people. He even goes as far to say that if the nation does not exist, the people have not right to either. He passes judgment on who has the right to live, which is the basis of the Holocaust as a whole.

Although he speaks with such authority and many of the advisors are reluctant to counter him, when looking at the map, he was on the only man in the room sitting. Everyone else was standing above him. Perhaps this direction shows his downfall and that he no longer has the upper hand in the war. This scene contrasts the earlier scene where he stands above the model city of Berlin and imagines that the new city has intellectual value throughout the world. I found it ironic that he, who demolished humanity’s ability to think, thought of his nation as the intellectual capital. This illustrated his disillusionment with his own society. Also, his temper and estatic shouting further highlights his delusion and portrays him as a crazy human being. By portraying Hitler as irrational and border line insane, the director shows his own criticism of the Nazi regime.

Also, throughout the film there were shots where Hitler would be talking to one of his advisors, but the advisor’s face would be in focus and Hitler’s face would appear blurry. Perhaps this showed that he could not longer be seen as a reliable leader as the advisors began to rely on their own judgments, or at least consider opposing Hitler’s policies.

In “Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann Reconsidered” by Peter Schotten, Schotten argues that Arendt wrongly attributed Eichmann’s conduct to his inability to think. He uses Heidegger’s behavior and intellect to counter Arendt’s belief in the value of thinking. Schotten also includes various philosophers’ definition of thinking to support his thesis, as well as quotations from filmmaker Pierre Sauvage. His presentation of various opinions in respect to the meaning and consequences of thinking suggest that Arendt based her argument off of only one interpretation of “thinking.” Schotten concludes that Arendt chose Socrates’ definition of thinking, not to prove that anyone can be like Eichmann, but to show that she is not like Eichmann.

In his essay, Schotten fails to use any textual evidence to support his claim. Instead, every passage he includes further validates Arendt’s argument that lack of thinking causes evil. A large portion of his essay speaks about the reverse of moral rule, referring to Arendt’s inclusion of the new temptation against not murdering. When comparing the foolish Eichmann to the intellectual Heidegger, Schotten attempts to demonstrate that the ability to think did not enable Heidegger to live a moral life. Like Eichmann, Heidegger supported the Nazi Party, allowing Schotten to argue that intellect cannot save someone from evil, but Schotten uses a different definition for thinking than Arendt. According to Schotten, Arendt defines thinking by the ability to question, following Socrates’ belief. In terms of a totalitarian society, the ability to question is erased, further supporting Arendt’s own thesis that thinking can prevent immense evil.  In an effort to disprove Arendt, Schotten writes that Arendt “not only believed almost everyone could engage in critical self-examination, but also accepted as faith that they should want to,” (143) suggesting that the ability to think is not practiced by all. This belief does not support his argument that thinking does not prevent evil, but rather says that a larger population than Arendt believes cannot think, which, in turn, still supports Arendt’s initial claim that evil is ordinary. Also, Schotten indicated that “Socrates had declared that is was better to be wronged than to do wrong,” which coincides with Eichmann in Jerusalem and Arendt’ criticism of the Jewish Councils who facilitated the deportations. Arendt even quoted the rabbinical saying “‘Let them kill you, but don’t cross they line,'” (119) which resonates with Socrates’ notion written above. Following this intellect’s belief, evil can be prevented. Also, Schotten asks whether thinking would have changed the attitudes of believing Nazis, but Arendt successfully answers this question in Eichmann in Jerusalem. The resistence in Denmark and Bulgaria altered the beliefs of the Germans located in those two nations. Therefore, when placed with opposition, questioning initial beliefs does terminate evil actions. While Schotten’s question intended to disprove Arendt’s claim, textual evidence from Eichmann in Jerusalem supports her thesis.

Returning to the comparison between Eichmann and Heidegger, Schotten’s essay argues that lack of judgment is what causes evil, but according to Aristotle “practical wisdom plus conscience” (142) produces judgement; therefore, thinking is needed in order to decipher between right and wrong. Schotten quotes Rabbi Joseph Telushkin who said “Heideger was, in moral terms, an idiot” (141). While this statement suggests that moral knowledge is needed to avoid evil-doing, moral thinking is still a way of thinking.

Schotten also contradicts himself in the essay, making his argument less credible. He argues that thinking cannot influence one’s moral decisions because many of those righteous gentiles acted out of habit. He accredits the rescue of 5000 Jews by 5000 villagers to their instinct and lack of thinking, yet later in the article he argues that Nazi ideology “profoundly altered their deepest sense of right and wrong” (145). Essentially, Nazi ideology successfully erased citizens’ prior judgment. Although Schotten said that Arendt’s thesis lacked any recognition of Nazi ideology, when Schotten did acknowledge the affects of Nazi propaganda, he negated his previous evidence against Arendt. Also, Schotten writes that Eichmann’s success paralleled his hatred of Jews, but Arendt’s book clearly notes that Eichmann did not act out of hatred, but rather out of obedience and ambition.  Schotten does not have any evidence to support this claim, forcing this statement to seem ridiculous and discrediting his argument.

While his explanation of Socratic thinking does suggest that Eichmann’s inability to question proves he is unlike Arendt, he did not effectively show that Arendt overestimated the power of thought. He merely explained her definition of thinking, and then tried to take the term “thinking” out of context of the book.

In the final chapter in Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt quotes Eichmann and his attorney claiming that Eichmann is a scapegoat for the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. In an effort to relieve himself of responsibility he says, “his guilt came from his obedience, and obedience is praised as a virtue,” (247) thus placing blame on those who planned and initiated the Final Solution, rather than those, like him, who only executed the ideals of others.  The book as a whole illustrates the Third Reich’s leader’s abuse of citizens’ virtuous obedience. Eichmann’s claim contributes to Arendt’s continuos argument that Eichmann, as well as many other German civilians, were perfect products of a totalitarian society. Earlier evidence in the book supports that Eichmann “had never been a Jew-hater, and he had never willed the murder of human beings,” (247) further proving that his horrific actions were not a result of his own beliefs, but rather a desire to appease the government leaders. From the very beginning Eichmann admits that “he would have killed his own father had he received orders to that effect” (22).  Eichmann’s obedience is present throughout the book. Such a common desire relates to the theme of the book that anyone can become Eichmann under specific conditions. Even Arendt’s criticism on the compliance of the Jewish Councils demonstrate the banality of such obedience.

Eichmann acknowledges that the Nazi leaders abused engrained virtues.  In the middle of Arendt’s account of the trial she describes how Nazi propaganda altered the significance and consequences of leading a moral life. She explains that citizens still practiced the value of resisting temptation, but “evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it- the quality of temptation” (150). Therefore, while citizens under the Third Reich still exercised the honorable quality of resisting temptation, temptation was associated with not murdering; in turn, the government altered connotations and succeeded in attracting ordinary citizens to “help the cause.”

The majority of the book supports Eichmann’s claim that his participation in the party was a result of ambition and a need to obey the law, which supports the notion that all people are capable of complying with such atrocities. He is correct in that he is representative of all people who did not resist the Nazi Party.  His trial supports the idea we discussed in class that Israel tried to find the biggest name linked to the Holocaust and convict him because all others “responsible” for the tragedy “‘escaped and deserted’ them” (248).

Although the beginning of this passage resonates with Eichmann in Jerusalem in that he is representative of those who did not resist, Arendt’s commentary on Eichmann’s trail does not validate that Eichmann is the victim he claims to be. According to Arendt anyone who participated in the Holocaust, including the Jews who sacrificed their own community and Jews who simply did not resist, are guilty for the atrocities of the Holocaust. She is able to support this claim through her explanation of Bulgaria’s complete resistance, France’s ultimate lack of cooperation and Denmark’s opposition. Bulgaria and Denmark’s refusal to deport Jews and France’s protection over the French Jews proved that resistance significantly hindered the Nazi’s efforts.  Once the Nazi Party faced opposition they did not invest more energy into deportations and expulsions of those people.

Her stark criticism of those, especially the Jews, who complied with the Nazi’s demands paints anyone who participated in the Holocaust as a perpetrator, which strongly contradicts Eichmann’s claim that he is a victim. Still, Arendt’s numerous examples of instances where there was no opposition resonates with Eichmann’s argument that he is not a monster, but rather an obedient citizen similar to other Germans.

Although Arendt agrees with Eichmann that he was not a monster, not hanging him would have not only accepted evil as part of humanity, but would have said that evil is tolerable because it is banal.

In the Balkan States

March 29, 2010

Chapter 11 describes the deportations of the Jews from the Balkans in Europe. These countries include Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. Throughout the Balkan states, Jews were not a minority of any region and, unlike the Jews in Western Europe, it was rare to assimilate into their respective nation, and the Jews were not dispersed throughout Eastern Europe. Another difference between Balkan Jews and Western European Jews included economic status. The few Eastern European Jews who did assimilate belonged to the upper-middle class and intermarried with the Gentile population. Despite these uniting characteristics, each of the four Balkan nations mentioned in chapter 11 reacted differently to Hilter’s Final Solution.

Croatia protected those Jews who married government leaders, the very rich who cooperated and gave up their property and Jews who helped “The Croat cause.” These groups were not included in anti-Semetic legislation, so although on paper the country appeared to be judenrein, in reality a number of Jews still lived throughout Croatia. Arendt comments that assimilation provided security and a better chance of survival for Jews in Eastern Europe, especially in comparison to the rest of Europe.  The fact that assimilation provided security proves that nationalism was present throughout all of Europe, not just Germany, but other countries such as Croatia did not introduce such “ruthless toughness” to ensure the purity of their nation. Nevertheless, the idea of contributing to your nation was still highly valued.

In Serbia Jews were executed on the spot. Men were shot and women and children were gassed.

In Bulgaria antisemeitism was present long before Hitler came to power, yet when the Nazi Party ordered the deportation of Bulgarian Jews, Bulgarian legislation protected Baptized Jews, Jewish physicians and business men and other members of the higher class were excluded from the anti-Jewish laws. This practice returns to the idea of killing a culture versus killing a people and how the Nazis failed to recognize the significance of a single life whether it be the life of little Hans Cohen around the corner or Albert Einstein. Arendt writes that the Nazi needed to teach them the policy of totalitarianism and “enlighten them about the requirements for a ‘solution of the Jewish problem'” (186). The use of the word “enlighten” implies honor  and shows the propaganda and cliched phrases that Eichmann is still unable to escape. Bulgaria further hindered Hitler’s plan when the government dispersed the Jews throughout the nation rather than concentrating them. Also, the Jewish leaders did not cooperate with the Nazi Party, preventing thousands of Jews from boarding trains to Treblinka. High Ranked Clergy in Bulgaria also protected Jews from deportation. The description of Bulgaria’s policies and actions during the Holocaust contradict Eichmann’s earlier claim that no nation or people opposed Hitler’s Final Solution, which provided him with justification for complying with the Nazi Party’s violent demands. This chapter provides evidence that a nation’s government, clergy, and Jews resisted deportation, which causes the reader to doubt Eichmann’s claims and Arendt’s apparent trust.

Greece faciliated deportation. Dr. Merten, a representative of the military government, moved the Jews into a ghetto near a railroad station so that they could easily be deported. Jews were relocated in Auschwitz and worked as death commandos. When Dr. Merten was placed on trial he spoke respectably of Eichmann and said that only Wisliceny was responsible for the atrocities, but in court Eichmann denied any relationship to Merten. This highlighted Eichmann’s inability to recognize an opportunity to defend himself and use facts and quotes to his benefit. Instead, he relies on his faulty memory and cannot properly represent or defend himself. This adds to the reader’s pity for Eichmann because clearly he is disabled and raises the question of to what extent does a handicap alleviate the apparent brutality of the crime and alter one’s perception of the criminal.

The chapter also discussed Rumania, which did not follow Hitler’s orders, but rather appeared to be one step ahead of the Nazi Party’s plan. Arendt writes taht “Anoenescu, from beginning to end, was not more ‘radical’ than the Nazis (as Hilter had thought), but simply always a step ahead of German development” (193). I thought this related to the idea that no ideas can flourish in a totalitarian society, so the practices and the policies of the Nazis were derived from the atrocities committed in Rumania. This also shows that the Rumanians, who have fallen away from the spotlight during post-WWII times, were not simply mitlaufers, but perpetrators themselves.

Who is really on trial?

March 18, 2010

I do believe that Arendt focuses more on Germany, and even other European nations, more than she focuses on Eichmann.  Still, I believe that she has the right to elaborately discuss Germany’s response to Hitler’s legislation in order for the reader to completely understand Eichmann’s responsibility and the extent of his guilt. Her focus on the German people, as well as other Europeans, serves as a constant variable to measure Eichmann’s actions against. Still, this then opens the question whether Eichmann should be judged according to the policies of the government when he committed the atrocities, or should he be judged according to good conscience and the innate knowledge that “thou shall not kill.”

Arendt says that the jurists who use conscience to measure the extent of Eichmann’s guilt “signifies a deliberate refusal to take notice of the central moral, legal, and political phenomena of our century,” (148) which suggests that Arendt believes Eichmann should be judged in the context of his actions.

She supports this argument when she says that Eichmann “always thought within the narrow limits of whatever laws and decrees were valid at a given moment, and the shower of new anti-Jewish legislation descended upon the Riech’s Jews only after Hitler’s order for the Final Solution had been officially handed down to those who were to implement it” (157). This passage indicates that he acted based on orders that were given to him, further supporting the idea that he is the perfect candidate for a totalitarian society. He was obedient and loyal, so although his actions counter what the spectators, judge, readers and the general public consider normal laws, the response of another general illustrates Eichmann’s defense perfectly. General Alfred Jodl, who was tried and convicted at Nuremberg, said that judging the Furher was “‘not the task of a soldier […] let history do that or G-d in heaven,'” (149) explaining that Eichmann, a man repeatedly enamored by members of good society, did not believe he had the jurisdiction to oppose them.  Also, Arendt uses another German general’s defense to explain Eichmann’s stance proves that Eichmann is representative of Germans, further validating her focus on the actions of the German population. Still, the fact that Genral Alfred Jodl was tried and hanged at Nuremberg, proves that this defense is not acceptable outside of the Third Reich and argues that Eichmann is guilty.  This excerpt shows that Eichmann is judged according to the political and moral climate during the time of the trial.

Arendts explanation that humans under the Third Reich operated much like humans during the time of the trial. Both are taught to “resist temptation,” (150) but the Nazi Party successfully altered the German’s conscience until the German people believed that murder was acceptable and to resist temptation would be to resist not murdering. In order to understand Eichmann’s obedience was not extraordinary, the reader needs to understand the cooperation of the public. Again, her focus on the German people shows the “banality of evil” and how Eichmann, a man described as “‘a common mailman'” by Servatius, was able to commit such criminal acts.

In class we discussed whether Arendt paints with too large a brush, meaning that she pushes the extent of the people Eichmann truly represents, but chapter 9 shows that she understands the limits of blame and guilt. Arendt says that Eichmann argued the refusal of other nations to accept Jews had enabled the Holocaust to occur. Arendt raises the question whether “a government that had shown itself unwilling to offer asylum to a few hundred or a few thousand of Jews,would be unlikely to raise many objections on the day when its whole Jewish population was to be expelled and exterminated?” (161) She argues that the nation’s reluctance to accept refugees serves as an argument, but did not a basis for a cause of the extermination. Hitler explained the Holocaust as a method to secure “‘our people,'” (161) implying that Hitler only intended the Germans to benefit from the expulsion and extermination, further showing that the actions and policies of other European nations did not contribute to his objective. Therefore, Arendt discredits Eichmann’s excuse that no other nation had absorbed the unwanted German Jewish population, “as though those European nations would have reacted any differently if any other group of foreigners had suddenly descended upon them in hordes– penniless” (156). This shows that Arendt although she uses the reactions of the Germany people to explain Eichmann’s responsibility, she still narrows those suitable for blame.  Her focus on Germany and detraction from the other European nations further highlight her strategy of using Eichmann to represent all Germans and their expectations.

After reading chapter six I had supported that Arendt determines Eichmann is legally guilty for his crimes during the Holocaust. While I still hold this opinion, I now believe that she argues that Eichmann, while legally guilty for his deeds, is not morally guilty. Arendt admits in the first chapter that in the court Eichmann is judged for his actions and not the reason behind his actions. Although whether he is morally guilty may be irrelevant to the trial, as she stated in the previous chapter, this does not imply that she has her own opinion on this matter.

In chapter seven Arendt again portrays Eichmann as an ordinary man intrigued by fame and success. She credits his attendance at the Wannsee Conference for his unwavering support of the Third Reich. Surrounded by numerous men of much higher rank who support the “Final Solution,” Eichmann questioned his own authority on the matter.  Eichmann described the men as “the elite of the good old Civil Service fighting for the honor of taking the lead in these ‘bloody’ matters” (114). Eichmann is easily swayed and the support of such, according to Eichmann, honorable men diminished the disturbing impact the violence on Eichmann. This passage highlights Eichmann’s own insecurities and need to agree with whatever source he deems credible. This relates to his desire to fulfill the Zionist belief of Hertzel. As a man who continually doubts his own morals, Eichmann follows the respectable men of society. Arendt indicates that she believes Eichmann is a meek and ordinary man when she says that “he was neither the first nor the last to be ruined by modesty” (114). The term modesty proves that she thinks he did not think highly of himself. While she acknowledges that Eichmann was typical and undistinguished, she still shows condemn for his participation in the Holocaust when she says that he was “ruined.”  Although he committed horrid crimes, it was not his nature to be destructive or even favorable of such terror.

While the Wansee Conference provoked him to support the “Final Solution” because he did not see any distinguished figure oppose the war, a lack of opposition was not reduced to the conference alone. Arendt tells the reader that he “could see no one, no one at all, who actually was against the Final Solution,” (116) further demonstrating that Eichmann is vulnerable and his actions are a product of his environment, not his nature. The cooperation of the victims continued to appeal to Eichmann’s conscience and relieve him of any moral guilt. Arendt writes that “without Jewish help in administrative and police work … there would have been either complete chaos or an impossibly severe drain on German manpower,” (117) again attributing the compliance and support of others for Eichmann’s ability and desire to fulfill his duties.  The cooperation of the Jewish citizens raises the question of who can be deemed a perpetrator. Arendt indicates that it was the Jews themselves who built the machinery need to execute the Final Solution. Her description of the Jews, the victims, participation in the Holocaust proves that all European citizens were struggling to achieve success and security during the time of Nazi Germany. Such selfishness was not reserved for faulty characters like Eichmann, but rather everyone. Again, this contributes to the disturbing notion that all humans are capable of committing such atrocities when they feel threatened. The participation of the already successful Jewish citizens truly exemplifies the “banality of evil.”

Therefore, while I think that Arendt still views Eichmann as guilty for his actions during the Holocaust, she argues that he cannot be judged as morally guilty because to do so would be to convict all humanity.  This can be seen through Arendt criticism of Mr. Servatius. She argues that he is incompetent at devising a successful defense and providing accessible evidence to improve Eichmann’s image. Although Servatius does not tell the judge, Arendt tells the readers that once Eichmann became an expert on evacuation, he relied upon his old Jewish associates to help him successfully transport the European Jews. Arendt says that had Servatius proved the cooperation of the Jewish Elders “this would have done more to demonstrate the atmosphere in which Eichmann worked than all the unpleasant and often downright offensive talk about oaths, loyalty, and the virtues of unquestioning obedience” (120). The propaganda was not the driving force behind Eichmann’s actions, but rather the compliance of the victims soothed the conscience and alleviated guilt. Arendt’s description of the Jewish compliance shows that she wants to draw connections between the Jews and Eichmann. Both acted in order to protect themselves from the Third Reich.

It appears to me that Arendt is only critical of those who, like the conspirators, try to portray themselves as moral. Arendt describes those who acted more like Nazis in order to protect themselves from the Party. Still, Arendt indicates that the term “inner emigrant,” the term that describes those who inwardly opposed the Nazi Party, but publicly cooperated with the policies of the Third Reich, “had become a sort of joke,” (127) proving her contempt for those whose actions and “morals” were in discordance. She mocks these “inner emigrants” even more and continues to defend that Eichmann was ignorant to peoples’ opposition to the Nazi Party. She says that “While Eichmann may never have encountered an ‘inner emigrant,’ he must have been well acquainted with many of those numerous civil servants who today assert that they stayed in their jobs for no other reason than to ‘mitigate’ matters and prevent ‘real Nazis’ from taking over their posts.” (128) The quotes surrounding “mitigate” and “real Nazis” further prove her disdain for people like the conspirators who only act to protect themselves.  The mention of “today” proves that only when their reputation is at stake do they defend their actions, still trying to achieve success and respect in society. Her repulsion toward those who betrayed their initial beliefs to improve their own standings contributes to her defense of Eichmann, who does not deny his association with the Nazi Party.

I believe that while she does argue he is legally guilty and that Eichmann supports the idea of the “banality of evil,” her account of the trail may appear as a defense of Eichmann because she values his honesty in respect to his reasons for compliance during the Holocaust.

Guilty Conscience

March 14, 2010

Arendt is critical of Eichmann’s involvement in the “Final Solution.” In the beginning of the book Ardent said that “on trial are his deeds, not the suffering of the Jews, not the German people or mankind, or even anti-semitism and racism” (5). Although she condemns Eichmann, she maintains the stance that his actions should be judged and not his beliefs. Chapter six provides commentary on the conscience of the perpetrators, and Arendt still questions how the killing of the Jews influenced Eichmann’s conscience, “but this was a moral question, and the answer to it may not have been legally relevant” (91). Therefore, while his compliance in executing the “Final Solution” can be judged by the court, his sensitivity, or lack there of, should not influence the judge’s decision.

Still, Arendt takes Eichmann at face value. Eichmann does not deny his association with the Holocaust. He explains his repulsion when visiting Auschwitz and Treblinka and is forced to witness the gassing of the victims. Eichmann recalls that “‘A physician in white overalls told [him] to look through a hole into the truck while they were still in it. [He] refused to do that. [He] could not” (88). His reaction to the gassing, although disguised as mercy death, still disgusted Eichmann, enabling him to appear humane and sympathetic. Arendt tells the reader that after learning about the atrocities committed in the camps, Eichmann purposely transported thousands of Jews to ghettos, in turn, shielding them from death. The inclusion of this information first relieves Eichmann of immeasurable guilt. Arendt writes that Eichmann, “plagued by his conscience,” (96) avoided participating in the murderous process. The usage of the word “plagued” proves the strong influence of Eichmann’s conscience, yet this obedient individual still longs to contribute to the Third Reich’s glory and assist them it the process of the “Final Solution.” Despite the initial humanity Eichmann showed when witnessing the atrocities, Arendt says that Eichmann proves “how long it takes an average person to overcome his innate repugnance toward crime, and what exactly happens to him once he has reached that point” (93).  Despite Eichmann’s opposition to the camps, he silences his conscience and takes part in the crime. This transition makes Eichmann appear more guilty because he cannot use ignorance to shield him from guilt. While Arendt does not believe the legal system should judge his attitude toward the crimes, his disgust does not alleviate him of any guilt, but instead makes him appear more guilty.  Although Eichmann did not pull the trigger or herd the Jews into the chambers, he still facilitated the process and was aware of the result of his actions.

It is his awareness that adds to his guilt. His knowledge of the secret code and  the “‘language rule,'” (86) further demonstrated Eichmann’s awareness of the “Final Solution” and purpose of his job. Still, he eroded his ability to clearly understand  the Third Reich’s objectives. His inability to think and his “susceptibility to catch words” (86) replaced his original perception of the crimes. This connects to Eichmann’s repeated cliches and faithful belief in propaganda.

Aware of his crimes, Eichmann attempts to defend himself, arguing that his only other option was suicide, but Arendt opposes this statement and points to numerous instances where defiance of the Third Reich did not result in death, but rather a lower position. This supports that Eichmann followed orders in order to achieve success.

She compares him to the conspirators who supported the Third Reich and Hitler’s plight until they realized Germany’s unavoidable destruction. Arendt criticizes these people who do not have firm beliefs, but instead base their actions on “the notion of being involved in something historic, grandiose and unique” (105). She condemns those who were only motivated by Germany’s defeat, “betraying everything that was in they way of their claim to power” (102). The actions of these mindless conspirators parallels Eichmann’s decision in regards to his responsibility in the Holocaust and contribution to the “Final Solution.”

Even though earlier evidence indicates Eichmann was not anti-Semetic and did not organize the transportation of the Jews out of hatred, his actions and knowledge of their repercussions make him guilty. The account of his dissolving conscience only  illustrates how Eichmann is ambitious, average and the perfect citizen of a Totalitarian government, but it does not rid him of any guilt or responsibility. According to Arendt, he should be judged by his actions not his reasoning.