By Robert Gluck/JNS.org
Fifty years after Hannah Arendt came out with her controversial
book, “Eichmann In Jerusalem: A Report
on the Banality of Evil,” a new film from German director
Margarethe Von Trotta revisits the famed Jewish political theorist and her views
on the lieutenant colonel of the Nazi SS.
Click photo to download. Caption: The Hannah Arendt stamp, first issued in Germany in 2006. Credit: Deutsche Post AG via Wikimedia Commons.
Born to Jewish parents in 1906 in Hanover, Germany, Arendt
studied philosophy, was briefly imprisoned by the Gestapo, fled to Paris, was
interned in and escaped from the detention camp in Gurs, emigrated to the
United States, and became well known for her coverage of the Adolf Eichmann
trial for The New Yorker.
Von Trotta’s film “Hannah
Arendt,” focusing on the four years around the 1961 Eichmann trial, opens
at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival on July 28. Ron Feldman,
co-editor of “The Jewish
Writings of Hannah Arendt” and a visiting scholar at the
Graduate Theological Union, will lead a post-film discussion at Congregation
Sha’ar Zahov (Reform).
“The film reasonably portrays a lot of the personal situations
Arendt found herself in when she started writing her book, ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem,’ and the
intellectual and political controversies around it,” Feldman told JNS.org. “It portrays how she developed
her thinking. It’s not a documentary, it’s a biopic.”
Click photo to download. Caption: Hannah Arendt’s grave at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY. Credit: Rasputinfa via Wikimedia Commons.
In an interview with her publicist made available to JNS.org, Von Trotta talks about her use
of black and white archival footage of the trial to capture Eichmann’s
“not-thinking” character. The now-famous line—“the banality of evil”—that
Arendt used to describe Eichmann still reverberates today and usually leads to
a heated discussion about the Holocaust.
“You can only show the true ‘banality of evil’ by observing the
real Eichmann,” Von Trotta said. “An actor can only distort the image, he could
never sharpen it. As a viewer, one might admire the actor’s brilliance but they
would inevitably fail to comprehend Eichmann’s mediocrity. He was a man who was
unable to formulate a single grammatically correct sentence. One could tell
from the way he spoke that he was unable to think in any significant way about
what he was doing.”
Arendt was no stranger to controversy and Feldman, having
studied her work for years, understands her more than most.
“There is still interest in these issues that happened 50 years
ago,” Feldman told JNS.org. “‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ is still
read in universities and the book has had an amazing lifespan and this film was
made. Certain authors have claimed recently that this is one of the more
important intellectual and political controversies in American-Jewish
intellectual circles in the 20th century. Things have changed recently. When
Arendt went to the Eichmann trial and wrote about it, there were ways in which
she wrote about it that were provocative and also critical of the way the trial
was handled by the Israeli government. Part of it was …read more