The Ambivalences of German-Jewish Identity: Hannah Arendt in Jerusalem Author(s): Richard Wolin Reviewed work(s): Source: History

and Memory, Vol. 8, No. 2, Hannah Arendt and "Eichmann in Jerusalem" (Fall - Winter, 1996), pp. 9-34 Published by: Indiana University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 01/11/2011 19:22
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Richard Wolin The Ambivalences of German-Jewish Identity: Hannah Arendt in Jerusalem

In investigating the rich philosophical legacy of Hannah Arendt, one cannot help but be struck by the fierce loyalty of her disciples
and intimates. One thereby gains a sense albeit, second-hand


of the profound intellectual magnetism she must have exuded. She attracted not only followers, one senses, but also initiates and

ly affected by such psychological and cultural anxieties is unques tionable. That her own conversion to Zionism and interest in circum Jewish affairs was verymuch a result of later biographical stances is a fact to which she would be the first to attest. As she avows in a revealing 1964 interview: "As a child I did not know that I was Jewish.... The word Jew' was never mentioned at home when I was a child. I first met up with it through anti-Semitic remarks ... from children on the street. After that I was, so to were, speak, 'enlightened.'"2 Arendt's own Jewish identitywas, as it first constituted by the "gaze of the other," in keeping with Sartre's affecting portrait of this process in Anti-Semite and Jew. Only amid the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the waning years of theWeimar

In particular, Arendt's difficult confrontation with her German Jewish identity is a topic that seems to inspire passionate reactions in her followers.1 Yet, it is certainly no surprise that several in the post-emancipa generations of German Jews who matured tion era faced a quandary as to what role their Jewishness would now play in their lives - the reactions of course ran the gamut to extreme from radical self-denial (assimilation or conversion) self-affirmation (Zionism). That Hannah Arendt was also profound

Republic ethereal

would she abandon her first intellectual love, the realm of German Geist, and devote her energies to what

nor the American. such that she displayed a lack of "Ahabath Scholem's well-known charge Israel" or love for the Jewish people.Richard Wolin labor: a study of the prove a profoundly autobiographical German Jewess and salonniste. a work that has spawned a voluminous secondary literature. In his posthumously published autobiography. and for two reasons: I have never in my life "loved" any people or collective . since Imyself am Jewish. gives eloquent testimony to this effect. "You I am not moved by any "love" of this sort.6 Yet. Secondly. another Heidegger student. that of Jewish self-hatred. I indeed love "only" my friends and the only in is the love of kind of love I know of and believe of the Jews" would appear to persons. and whose best friends had been a Jewish girl and I. had not the least scruple about showing complete indifference to the universal fate of the Jews. who found themselves overnight transformed from civic equals to full-fledged pariahs. such circuitous encounters with Judaism were far from exceptional among assimilated German Jews of the pre-Nazi era. while letting pass only those exceptions which had been provisionally laid down by National Socialism." she rejoined: firmed by Arendt's response. nor the working class or anything of that sort. Ironically. as something rather suspect. read Dostoev sky and Kierkegaard. Karl Lowith. the validity of Scholem's are quite right.4 To say that its author manifested profound can hardly be adjudged controver ambivalences Germanjewish that one should immediately cede to sial. Rahel Varnhagen. As Lowith observes with respect to fellow Heidegger student Oskar Becker: would 10 The same person who in our Freiburg student days had studied mathematics. would seem to possess no claim was con small merit.neither the German people.3 In our century one would be hard pressed to identify a more provocative study bearing on problems of Jewish character than Eichmann in Jerusalem. others. Of course. this "love me.5 This does not mean some of themore censorial claims that were made against her: for as Gershom example. music and philosophy. . nor the French.

Scholem was not summoning her to love all Jews. had to sit in judgment. expressions of sympathy or compassion were not to be found. one can only say that. More than anything else. sadly.7 I know is part and their content.could not Report on the Banality of Evil" help but raise serious misgivings even on the part of well-intentioned critics. As Walter observed: presumed Laqueur "Hannah Arendt's reproaches were those of an outsider. Instead. Instead.Arendt missed the point. circumstances in a murder camp was forced to take part in the Everyone working of the machine. had many). who had herself been spared the worst. She did not make such allowances for her fellow . lacking identification: theywere almost inhumanly cold. Arendt's rejoinder concerning her imputed lack of "Ahabath Israel" .was beside the point. and she was letting this fact be known. He was pointing out what over the course of Arendt's long treatise was obvious and undeniable: from a formal standpoint her narrative betrayed no trace of solidarity with her people of origin. in certain quarters) that by criticizing one another Jews only aid and comfort to "the enemy" (ofwhich the Jews. That this people had been recently subjected to one of the most brutal in recorded history seemed to matter little episodes of genocide from her perspective."8 The demarche of her book. she. Moreover. itwas her rhetorical high handedness and insensitivity that ended up provoking the wrath of so many. The crux of thematter was succinctly expressed by Laqueur as follows: To return to the fabled exchange with Scholem: in retrospect."A . as signaled by its notorious subtitle . to be provided criticism concerned the sure. Scholem was far from advocating an unthinking Jewish nationalism (he was. a along with Buber and Judah Magnes. small group of Palestinian Jews who sought to promote Arab-Jewish Nor was it his position (one definitely harbored understanding). Amid three hundred pages of analysis and description.The Ambivalences ofGerman-Jewish Identity I cannot love myself or anything which parcel of my own person. affiliated with the Ichud.that she loved only her "friends" and never entire "peoples" . the obverse seemed to be true: the historical behavior of the Jews as a people had gravely disappointed her. Hence. Scholem's and captious toneof Arendt's remarks as much as unsympathetic 11 "Miss Arendt found mitigating for non-Jews.

of speculative philosophy. one is tempted to say) on Raul Hilberg's magisterial study. with truth was but impossible. it was Arendt herself who had one of the convincingly shown in The Origins ofTotalitarianism that hallmarks of totalitarian regimes was that theymade resistance all way or another. Perhaps in the derives from having been trained as a philosopher sumption of course.10 Ironically. however. The Destruction of the European Jews. In Eichmann in Jerusalem Arendt relied extensively (exclusively. to say the least. cooperated in one 12 that if the Jewish people and leaderless. their leadership Arendt's characterizations were no less blunt: Wherever Jews lived. Though. almost without exception. a bizarre moral equation of victims and persecutors." Such conceptual high idea. the lofty tradition of mode. Concerning her fellow Jews or. the Nazis. there would had really been unorganized have been chaos and plenty of misery but the total number of victims would hardly have been between four and a half and six million people."9We shall return to her depiction of Eichmann's as "banal. so much handedness might prove justifiable when confined to the discourse In works of historical understanding. Arendt's judgments have been criticized as such judgmental pre lacking in historical knowledge. Heideggerian German idealism has been frequently satirized by those who have cited Fichte's arrogant dictum: "If the facts fail to conform to the the worse for the facts. not only among the persecutors but also among the victims" insinuating.not society only in Germany but in almost all coun European tries. The whole The overall conclusion she drew on the basis of these observations was hardly more charitable: "As a Jew. inmany respects.Richard Wolin evildoing Jews." She went on to discuss "the totality of the moral collapse the Nazis caused in respectable . more precisely." and the misunderstandings to which it gave rise. and this leadership. they can make one look foolish. itwas work was pathbreaking Though Hilberg's . On many occasions. for one reason or another. there were recognized Jewish leaders. this role of the Jewish the leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly darkest chapter of the whole dark story.

(i. Under the circumstances it seemed a reasonable 13 effective until the final deportations. all other options disappeared. The Nazis to hand-pick a second generation of themselves then proceeded leaders. During the initialmass deportations. easily compro to self-interest. the complexity and variety of Jewish responses to underestimated Nazi persecution. These tactics sought to exploit tensions among the German high command over whether the exploitation of approach. These Jewish cooperation gradations. however. the SS would either arrest the Jewish leaders or execute them on the spot. into two periods: before and In the eastern Galician after the first mass murders.. In many respects. without warning. when. Arendt failed to distinguish the various stages of with Nazi persecution. too. Thus. It was also a course that proved "Final Solution" should prevail. mised by appeals collaboration was a fairly simple affair. One of its discussion of the Jewish Councils." town of Jewish labor for war aims or the anti-utilitarian logic of the . Arendt made the shortcomings of Hilberg's work her own. as Judenrat Yehuda Bauer observes in his History of the Holocaust "The histories of most ghettoes can be divided .The Ambivalences ofGerman-Jewish Identity more problematical aspects was the hardly flawless. Thus. many Judenrat leaders refused to hand over Jewish liveswhen commanded to do so by the Nazis. Arendt. When confronted with Jewish intransigence. extermination) Like Hilberg. It was largely under this Nazi-selected second regime of officials that the deportations began to proceed. relied almost exclusively on non-Jewish In his study Hilberg Semitic sources which often portrayed Jews according to the basest of anti stereotypes: Jews were pliable and servile. about whose willingness to cooperate they could be Jewish assured. according to Hilberg.e.11 Nevertheless.. are crucial to evaluating questions of Jewish culpability. this rather simplistic in view of increasingly difficult to maintain picture has become evidence compiled by scholars who have relied on a mounting wider array of historical sources. The strategy of the Jewish Councils was to exchange goods and labor in the hope of saving Jewish lives. the consummation Judenrat to acquiesce in the face of a well-ingrained Jewish predisposition of historical persecution. in her rush to seriously generalize about the baseness of Jewish collaboration.

was predominantly a product of German coercion. these efforts seemed sensible to some reasonable men caught in a desperate situation."15 Perhaps response Arendt's to Nazism greatest failing as an analyst of the Jewish was that she came off seeming hard-hearted .let leadership . ghetto. for example. Yet Michael it should be mentioned that." What he found troubling in Arendt's account was what he called "a kind of demagogic will-to overstatement. three successive Judenrat leaders were executed because of their refusal to hand over Jews. There were among them also many swine.Richard Wolin Stanislawow.. As has often been remarked about Rumkowski's reign in the Lodz ghetto: had the Soviet troops arrived a fewmonths sooner.. many of the Councils supported Jewish such as the Warsaw resistance activities. "it became apparent how thin was the factual base on which [Arendt] had made her judgments. stances permitting. they were right or wrong. however. I was not there. Moreover.13 In Arendt's unsympathetic portrayal. Marrus has aptly observed that as the Eichmann polemic unfolded. occasions.12 In his study of the Jewish Councils. in retrospect. As Scholem observed: "some among them others were saints." Scholem concludes. coerced Jews to serve on them. and compelled circum often upon pain of the most brutal reprisals.the alone sympathy toward contingencies and extremes of the dire historical circumstances at issue.14 of the Jewish In general terms. were 14 democratically organized. were compelled to people in no way different than ourselves. Arendt's broad condemnation seems to have displayed little comprehension of . their cooperation. On almost all the Nazis forced the Jews to establish the Councils. following sober caveat: "The Jewish negotiations with the Nazis were. Isaiah Trunk demonstrated conclusively how Jewish "collaboration." "I do not know whether Nor do I presume to judge." He concludes with the . Few would deny that corruption existed among segments of the were Jewish leadership. he would have gone down in history as a hero instead of a traitor. such crucial distinctions are flattened out. Some. who terrible decisions in circumstances that we cannot even make begin to reproduce or construct." far from being voluntary. however pathetic. pathetic efforts to snatch Jews from the ovens of Auschwitz as the Third Reich was beginning itsdeath agony.

" characterized Eichmann as a "convert to "was of course the cornerstone of that Jewish cooperation he [Eichmann] did. they seem imperious and clumsy ."16 That Arendt imprudently referred head of the Reichsvereinigung der deutschen Juden) as the 'Jewish Fiihrer. As one commentator put it: "She had a great deal of intelligence but little common sense and apparently no political instinct. in a letter to Jaspers that was II Arendt's circumstances was capacity for judging particular are distorted by her fidelity to higher principles. she went so far as to describe the a word. Even a stalwart supporter such as the historian Hans Mommsen was forced to avow. Hannah Arendt was nothing if not judgmental.17 Her suggestion that in the 1930s the Zionists and Nazis shared a common vision and worked hand-in-hand . owing to their inflexibility." 15 published well after the trial. that "The severity of her criticism and the unsparing way in which she argued seemed inappropriate given the deeply tragic nature of the subject with which she was to Leo Baeck (the dealing.thereby suggesting a macabre equation of victims and perpetrators . they come off sounding tyrannical. she expressed the tasteless opinion that "Ben Gurion kidnapped Eichmann only because the repara tion payments to Israel were coming to an end and Israel wanted to put pressure on Germany for more payments.. in his introduction to the German edition of her book." and on countless occasions everything stooped to compare the nationalist aspirations of Zionism and National Socialism . and her judg ments.did very little to temper the massive claimed one point.seemed 1930s as Nazism's "pro-Zionist period" particularly spiteful and insensitive.The Ambivalences ofGerman-Jewish Identity and uncaring at one of themost tragicmoments ofmodern Jewish history. woman of principle.18 Finally."20 It was clear that she was philosophical more comfortable than operating on the level of metapolitics stance is most fully politics per se (her basic "metapolitical" . Yet."19 critical response she would receive. when principles are brought to bear on circumstances where they do not quite fit. she was a not a political animal. Principles wonderful and she was without doubt and above all a things. often seemed tyrannical..

And . embarrassingly desegregation on the wrong side of the issue.Richard Wolin articulated in The Human Condition). moreover. had put my child into a more humiliating position than it had been in before. ruling [concerning desegregation]. Instead. And her efforts to judge affairs by such ethereal standards often came to grief. sadly. with character intellectual arrogance. the stakes of the public school Arendt also drastically misjudged movement in the US in the 1950s. Arendt's philosophical mentor. she proffered a shocking and misguided appeal to understand." With startling ignorance of the culture and mores of the Jim Crow to the South. but unavoidably.. and she Her inability to forgive. Of course. but for the Republic as whole. how unrealistic an option that was. "If I were a digging in her heels mother in the South." she observed in "Reflections on Little Rock.21 As a justification of his own lapses in political judgment." she tradition of "states' rights": "Liberals fail nature of power is such that the power "that the continued. along with members of the Ichud. well understood which was to have been the theme of her last great work. her fellow Jews had failed her. would play a dominant role in her analysis in the Eichmann affair. was a great thinker. I would feel that the Supreme Court Negro unwillingly." Since power rests are undermined. in "Reflections was hamstrung by her rigid and anachronistic Rock" her analysis reliance on the categories of the "social" and the "political. Her sentiments were certainly noble. again. Martin wars never forgave them." Arendt... too. as a whole will suffer if the regional potential of the Union foundations on which this states' rights in this country are among themost authentic sources of power not only for the promotion of regional interests and a diversity. this was a terrific irony in the case of a someone who so world 16 Heidegger."22 was the case with her understanding of the role of European As on Little Jewry in The Origins of Totalitarianism. claimed. but the subsequent Arab-Israeli have shown. she favored the creation of a bilateral Arab-Jewish confederation. but she also that on occasion would lapses in political judgment displayed prove egregious. to the creation Though a Zionist. she was vehemently opposed of a Jewish state. Once the demands and frailties of human judgment. that "He who thinks greatly istic German must err greatly.

where it existed. was essential ly meaningless. Moreover. however. conceptually overdetermined. they would only become so with the apartheid legislation of the 1935 Nuremberg party congress. Supreme Court ruling. one might She had brought her precon say. using political means . of the political by the social as had identified the monopolization one of the chief causes of achieve social ends of a judicial decision integration would 17 bear on a situation in which they proved radically inapplicable. social as mandated by the recent equality. The idea that such attitudes could be "legislated away" must have seemed. was all that American Blacks could aspire toward. Yet. and that.The Ambivalences ofGerman-Jewish Identity she defined freedom or politics. experiences with anti-Semitism as a schoolgirl. Arendt misconceived the desegregatio ." their interpenetration was always fatal. This is one of the reasons she claimed that the Supreme Court decision had put Black mothers in a more difficult situation than before. Political equality. under the strictures of the old "separate but equal" system. the social situations of Southern Blacks under segregation and German Jews were hardly comparable. Court-mandated outstanding virtues. She would insist on her "rights. she argued. Yet. "action. based on her own personal history. such experiences were fundamentally alien to the intricacies of Ameri can racism. moreover. her myopia was." following Aristotle. political freedom. integration reminded her of her own Yet. In The Origins of Totalitarianism. Once again." but could hardly expect the prejudicial attitudes of her classmates to change. under ceived normative categories the "social" and the "political" to or "life. Arendt was unable to present see that in the South the social and political lot of African Americans was inherently interrelated. and society as a sphere as a realm of human of economic necessity she prove disastrous. argued Arendt. would the danger of a white backlash. She failed to realize that conditions of segregation social equality was a necessary prerequisite for the attainment of genuine political freedom and empowerment. Nor was a willingness to admit she had erred one of Arendt's Arendt had also misread the Little Rock situation autobiographi cally in terms of her own experiences as an assimilated German Jew who came of age during the Second Empire. .federal enforcement Thus. she reasoned. laughable.

The the condescension a separate peace.Richard Wolin nist efforts in terms of the same erroneous concept she had earlier employed to analyze theGerman-Jewish behavior: that of the social climber or "parvenu." Parvenuism was to her the reprehensible 18 circum upshot of Jewish assimilationism.both personal and intellectual . as itwere. Such behavior was court Jews of the old regime and allegedly foreshadowed by the in post-emancipation would achieve renewed prominence Europe and Gerson von such as the Rothschilds with Jewish notables . her poor judgment with regard to Little Rock represented a "dark foreshadowing of the Eichmann blow up. It was concern with Jewish destiny during the war that her historical In thereafter it would undergo a precipitous decline. all the the parvenu and the pariah. between two major Jewish social types. may the harsh that she first developed It was there. characterological opposition it seemed. peaked. evaluation of Jewish the key to her uncharitable many respects as portrayed inEichmann in Jerusalem comportment during the war be found in her essays from the 1940s. That under American stances the integration movement could have different and more for generations of downtrodden African positive consequences Americans was a thought that never occurred to her. As Ralph Ellison later observed. For Arendt. Arendt thought she could attribute the paternalism of Jewish social organization as well as of Jewish philanthropy to thismentality. for example. features of Diaspora Judaism could be traced back to debilitating the parvenu: the Jew who denied his own Jewishness for the sake of social acceptance. Most of her wartime in the German-language articles appeared weekly Der Aujhau and were republished in the late 1970s in The Jew as Pariah. turning his back on the plight of his less fortunate coreligionists in the process.with the precari ous position of the Jew in the modern world. parvenu constantly sought to attain with the power hierarchies of gentile society."23 Ill Those familiar with Arendt's wartime essays on the future of in the that the views she expressed Zionism will recognize Eichmann book were merely the culmination of a decades-long confrontation .

Thus. Arendt had only the following to say: The Jews. trying their hand "realistically" in the horse trading politics of oil in the Near East.25 Of Jewish efforts to create a state in Palestine at the height of the Holocaust (1944). itwas an attitude that served to perpetuate Jewish political immaturity.displaying oneself ground in the public realm . avoided all political action for two thousand years. As such the Jews represented a type of ur pejorative bourgeois. The result was that the political history of the Jewish more dependent upon unforeseen. Arendt apolitical nature. are uncomfortably 19 . As a fulfillment." Arendt's portrait of the parvenu often traded in the basest Jewish stereotypes. one of the chief reproaches Arendt would formulate against the Jewish people was that of its one tomince words. who proved incapable of aspiring to the more lofty to a type public virtues of the citoyen. such accusations the Jews were viewed as irredeemably oikos-directed: their people in the sphere of operations was "society" or the "household" Greek sense. was social acceptance.The Ambivalences ofGerman-Jewish Identity since what the parvenu desired above all Bleichroder. scornful of those who were forced to make a living via the sphere of "circulation. In France. Moreover. where politics .Ever the aristocrat. the non-parvenu Bernard Lazare could find no fellow Jews to come to the aid of his internationalist program insofar as in that nation 'Jewswho had outgrown the petty-trader's haggling" were nowhere to be found. wedded of German Jewish arrogance. so that the Jews stumbled from one role to the other and accept ed responsibility for none. people became even accidental factors than the history of other nations. without giving up this concept.was deemed the highest mode of human self seemed especially damning. Never expressed this as follows: thought Jewish history offers the extraordinary spectacle of a in this respect. unique with a well-defined concept of history and a well-circum scribed plan on earth and then.24 When viewed against the neo-Aristotelian "metapolitical" back of The Human Condition. which began its history people.

To take only one example: she refused to recognize the fact that. but itwas a method "phenomenological" had its risks. and privileged Jews. Arendt's subsequent analysis of the behavior of Jewish leaders during the Holocaust was a foregone conclusion. often acted altruistically merely out of self as Arendt claimed . if Jewish leaders were by definition bourgeois plutocrats.not with the Nazis. with a passion for horse-trading. She would formulate an ideal type on the basis of a Arendt few dominant physiognomic traits and instances (for example. blind to the realities of their insecure pariah existence and unable to distin guish friend from foe. as indeed proved the case in the instance procedure at hand. For. moreover.Richard Wolin like people who. devoid of political virtue and capacity. parvenu assimilationists. This was very characteristic of her that way of proceeding. 20 the collaborationist thought she could easily deduce of the Jewish Councils on the basis of her sketches of the mentality parvenu as a social type. Zionist organizations. her ran aground.and consequently were able to save interest countless Jewish lives. prior to the war.27 When the facts failed to conform to her typology. decide tomake up for the lack of both by imitating themagnificent shouting that usually accompanies like these made Israel" seem these gaudy transactions." As Sharon about the nature of Jewish her preconceptions leadership inmodern times.Arendt herself. who granted to the few while denying special rights and advantages to the Jewish people as a whole. however.26 observation Remarks "Ahabath Scholem's like an about her lack of understatement. by "collaborating" . the roles played by Disraeli and the Dreyfus Affair in disproportionate her discussion of anti-Semitism in The Origins of Totalitarianism) or and then treat these typologies as infallible methodological interpretive Muller has perceptively observed: Given keys - as phenomenological "essences. then collaboration them with the enemy and betrayal of their own people was the inescapable fate of the Jewish leaders of the Nazi era. had enthusiastical . but disposing of neither horse nor money.

Other examples of pariahdom essay on this theme were more problematic: Charlie Chaplin. this declaration sounded the death-knell of Ichud hopes for a bilateral Arab-Jewish confederation." as though Zionist sympathizers unilaterally subscribed to concerning "eternal anti-Semitism" or to the 21 Palestine. who had converted to Christian . The parvenu's endemic social . who denied his Jewish ancestry. whose thought she helped rescue from she cited in her famous oblivion. Youth Aliyah. her effect that "the anti-Semites were doing the Zionists' work for them. while refusing to abandon her Jewishness. its serviceability for purposes of historical analysis was dubious.The Ambivalences ofGerman-Jewish Identity worked for one such organization. Strangely.the desire to "fit in" and be like everyone else conformity embodied the ethos of "inauthenticity" so prevalent among conditions of a modern mass society. Conversely. But it also meant that in her eyes the chauvinistic worldview of the Revision ists had undeniably triumphed over the more moderate elements in the Zionist camp. and Kafka." Arendt's already tenuous Zionist sympathies underwent a defini tive transformation in 1944 when theWorld Zionist Organization itsAtlantic City Resolution promulgated calling for a "free and democratic Jewish commonwealth" to embrace the whole of parvenu/pariah contrast derived from the . the pariah's refusal to play along and stubborn affirmation of his own marginal itybetokened an ethic of Heideggerian "authenticity. Yet. Heine. Instead. For Arendt. conversely. fought a battle for Jewish acceptance on the basis of universalistic moral and legal grounds.had remained literarymerits notwithstanding fairly underdevel was her pariah-concept oped. she refused to view the Zionist movement terms.29 In the end. especially when one considers the paucity of historical instances she was able tomuster in its support. lexicon of existential philosophy. as evidence of Zionist folly. she was fond of citing Herzlian maxims Herzl's Weltanschauung point for point. The than highly chauvinistic and non-humanitarian rigidities of her negative typology allowed her virtually no other options.his considerable ity. Here her ideal type was the French socialist Bernard Lazare. although she had vigorously argued for the creation of a Jewish army during the early years of the war.28 The pariah. whose political consciousness . in Paris during ly in other the 1930s. Though illuminating and well intentioned.

having teacher. in her view. looking back at the onset of the Hitler years.that is. until the Eichmann controversy. which in the early 1930s she had earlier bitterly renounced." she claimed.Richard Wolin she viewed as illusory the idea that Jewish freedom from persecu on the creation of a Jewish state. she went so far as to claim that Zionism all along had represented "the mentality of enslaved peoples. Thus. with the emergence of turn-of-the-century Zionism. "And I never forgot that. Instead of acknowledging the fact that there existed a number of competing tendencies within the Zionist and that the final struggle for its outcome and movement. she rededicated herself to the ideals of German philosophy. "I found the so-called Jewish question to define a meaningful concept of a Jew's place in the boring")31 world. the belief that it does not pay to fight back. it is striking to observe that for someone who had been the grain of a thoroughly assimilationist struggling against I was simply naive. From then on. an embittered and polemical essay. Jewish concerns were entirely absent from Arendt's next two same major books. she appeared simply back in scorn. no longer seemed worth 22 were fighting. The insights into Zionism from her wartime essays into the anti-Semitism chapter of The Origins of incorporated her Totalitarianism. she reestablished contact with her former lover and It was at this point that.of course somewhat exaggerated: Never . the Jewish people had at last become genuinely politicized." virtue of my background ("By upbringing Arendt once confessed. For the reason it is hardly surprising that. and summary appraisals came back when her prior condescending to haunt her with a vengeance. It was at this point in her life thatArendt abandoned her fifteen-year interest in Zionism. so to speak.. she spoke of the revising her Varnhagen as being "alien tome inmany ways. they had embraced a politics of the wrong kind. I left Germany dominated by the idea ."32 book In 1951. Yet. The battle. to turn her direction had yet to be fought. abandoned her interest inJewish concerns. that one must dodge and escape in order to survive. she essentially abandoned interest inJewish affairs .. Martin Heidegger.when faced with the prospect of study in the early 1950s. in Arendt's eyes. "Among intellectuals Gleichschaltung was the rule. In "Zionism tion depended Reconsidered" (1944)."30 Ironically.. The Human Condition and On Revolution.

when she sent the Freiburg sage a copy with a heartfelt note appeared.whose Authen opposition Jargon of had appeared three years earlier ...e. as articulated in the Eichmann book.and other members of the ticity Frankfurt School) who had insinuated an integral connection between Heidegger's Nazism and his philosophy. has become the cornerstone .The Ambivalences ofGerman-Jewish Identity again! I shall never again get involved in any kind of intellectual business. Now she claimed that Nazism was a could have nothing whatsoever thought.34 In an impassioned 1946 Partisan Review essay she had her former mentor as "the last (we hope) vigorously denounced romantic ." which to do with the pieties of German consequently IV The to Judaism would idiosyncrasies of Arendt's relationship remain a matter of limited biographical interest were she not one of the leading twentieth-century interpreters of totalitarianism and the Holocaust. Her next major work. The Human Condition. itwas this profound sense of betrayal that caused her to reject the ideals of German philosophy . in the German translation of The Human Condition 1960. But the reconciliation with Heidegger in the early 1950s seems to have changed all that."36 By the time Heidegger's (1969)." Nor was her opinion of his philosophy in the least bit flattering: "Heidegger's ontologi cal approach hides a rigid functionalism in which Man appears only as a conglomerate of modes of Being.or "intellectual business. which is in principle arbitrary. since no concept of Man determines Being."33At the time. was saturated with the scholarly-existential themes of her youth. her controversial "banality of evil" thesis.whose complete irresponsibility [i. his Nazism] was partly attributed to the delusion of genius. she had desperately wanted to dedicate the work to Heidegger. In fact." as she put it and to become passionately interested in Zionism. However.37 "gutter-born phenomenon. insinuating as much in a touching poem composed in his honor. eightieth birthday rolled around Arendt circled the wagons around her beleaguered mentor in to those (presumably Adorno ."35 Yet. 23 claiming that "the book evolved directly from [our] firstMarburg days and it owes you just about everything in every regard. I want nothing to do with that lot.

According to this perspective. theywere impervi ous to the horror of their deeds. Tocqueville democratic leveling characteristic ofmodern society was conducive to despotism.and this as punishment is the right of the criminal more than two thousand years been the paradigm has for basis of the sense of justice and right of Occidental man and punishment guilt implies the consciousness of guilt. As stakes involved in and political such. the impersonal form of of destruction" term) ultimately began to "machinery (Hilberg's the bureaucratic perpetrators take on a life of its own.thatwas one of the predominant features of totalitarian society. For that guilt is not accompanied by even the mere mere pretense of responsibility. Arendt would build on approach to explain the system of organized terror Tocqueville's . the had committed "crimes without conscience. is a responsible person. As Arendt explains: Just as there is no political solution within human capacity so the for the crime of administrative mass murder. which was organized according of labor.38 evidence that the criminal . From Arendt's perspective. however.and the concomitant inability of disaggregated masses to resist . Where all are guilty.Richard Wolin of the so-called "functionalist" interpretation of Auschwitz. in producing role of modern bureaucracy mass death. reassessing was to the functionalist approach. So long the appearance. who had been suddenly deprived of their former social niches or estates. nobody in the last analysis can be judged. Because acted at a remove from the actual killing sites. and the centralized power of the democratic leader. the historiographical her intellectual legacy are immense. the Holocaust According a function of "modern society. can find no satisfactory reply to human need for justice the totalmobilization of a people for that purpose. . principles of bureaucratic specialization and the division little awareness that they meant that the executioners possessed had actually done anything wrong. It produced an uneven balance between atomized individuals. the functionalist approach emphasizes a qualitatively new." In his analysis of primarily 24 had already shown how the revolutionary France. In The Origins of Totalitarianism." The nature of Nazis to modern the killing process. the Above all.

The Ambivalences ofGerman-Jewish Identity to Arendt.' she is an remarked. "co-responsible irresponsibles" insofar as they were view. as some were inclined to do." 'bourgeois... collectively as a people would be misguided and senseless. all the habits of a good paterfamilias who does not betray his wife and anxiously seeks to secure a decent future for his children. they were of universal significance and could have happened virtually anywhere. She described henchmen as simple cogs in a "vast machine of administrative mass murder." .39 internation In Arendt's 25 and we would do well not to submit him to too al phenomenon. among them predominated mediocrity-cum-bureaucratic conformism. nor heroes. Instead of being viewed as a German to be needed crime. In truth. the crimes that had been committed at Auschwitz said nothing about German history or the German national character."40 To punish the Germans therefore. the Nazi executioners According displayed neither "consciousness of guilt" nor a sense of personal responsibility for the Nazi the crimes that had been committed. As Arendt affirms in "Organized Guilt and Universal the average SS member is: Responsibility. many temptations in the blind faith that only the German mob man is capable of such frightful deeds. and he has consciously built up his newest . themalefactors were merely the typical representatives of modern mass nor society." Once again Arendt implicitly invoked the of "inauthenticity" to account for the category Heideggerian perpetrators' she argued. peculiarly modern type of mass murderer: the Schreibtisch tater or desk murderer." The uniqueness of the Holocaust was to be found in the creation of a new. as such. normal family men in search of job security and career advance ment. but by normal "bourgeois. In fact one of their distinguishing features was that they had been perpetrated neither by fanatics nor sadists. national of the character. They were neither Bohemians adventurers. "In trying to understand what were the real to act as cogs in the mass-murder motives which caused people we shall not be aided by speculations about German machine. the Nazis' misdeeds specifically understood as a manifestation of political modernity. a "bourgeois" with all the outer aspect of respectability. or so-called German history "The mob the end-result man. Instead.

minus the slogan itself . In its original article form ... it: "Hannah V To be sure. However. it relies entirely upon ers and family-men.the thesis garnered little event which became the occasion for a Yorker. Holocaust that the actions of the Einsatzgruppen (the so-called mobilized to the Nuremberg International killing units).. in a mass-circulation magazine." despite to refer to Nazism its When the thesis was bureaucratic-administrative underpinnings. on fanatics. on nor the fanatics. were anything but bureaucratic.41 the normality of jobhold 26 "Organized Guilt and Universal Responsibility" dates from 1945. of course. first and foremost less) major international reassessment of the criminal essence of the Nazi shock and dismay. How bad interpretation gave rise towidespread would things eventually become? When a French translation of Arendt's book regime as a whole the implications of Arendt's controversial a leading Parisian weekly entitled a cover story on Arendt: est-elle Nazie?"42 appeared several years after the initial controversy.What thisparticular genocide. articulated in the context of her report on the Eichmann trial.. as articulated by Arendt it fails to come to and others. tells only part of the story. according were responsible for the deaths of nearly two Military Tribunal. million Jews. Although . the fact of grips with is the specificity that it exclusively and explicitly targeted European Jews. all of the elements of Arendt's contro versial "banality of evil" thesis are already present. and relies good not nor sadists. there is a lot one can learn about the Holocaust by focusing on the bureaucratic dimensions of the killing process.Richard Wolin terror are not organization Bohemians . But as one can clearly see. that most assumption nor adventurers. on sadists. Arendt was still inclined as a form of "radical evil. In The Origins ofTotalitarianism.. that is. over-all people sex nor maniacs. family-men. who. Himmler's nor on organization nor congenital murderers. but. the New however (firstpublished . scholars would be quick to point out Though. the functionalist thesis itself.

For itwould be difficult to imagine a regime more bent on total ideological control than was Nazism during its in twelve-year reign. there could be no doubt about the absolute centrality of anti-Semitism to the Nazi worldview. itwas the fact thatmodern bureaucratic methods were placed in the service of a totalizing and fanatical racist ideology: the ideology of anti Semitism. Itwas also the product of the peculiarities of German (and European) history. The horrors of Auschwitz are not explicable strictly functionalist terms. the Holocaust Thus. The distinctive feature of Auschwitz was not its bureaucratic character. It was not only the result of a brutal and impersonal "machinery of destruction. the ideology of anti-Semitism. more specifically. Inevitably. Such predispositions often have more to do with the cultural-normative deficits of the nation in question than they do with itsmodernity. to the functionalist approach. to concentrate decision Ultimately. by relying on a generalizing explanation for the Nazi crimes. Not all societies characterized by the of formal or instrumental reason are predisposed predominance toward systematic mass murder. such an approach touch with the particularity of the phenomenon it seeks to explain. The main weakness of the functionalist approach is that it tends to underplay or discount one of the most salient features of Nazi rule: the prominence of ideology. not tomention exclusively her astounding (though hardly unique) claim that the crimes that had been committed at Auschwitz said nothing about "German history or so-called German national character. Arendt ruled out such considerations by her idiosyncrat ic focus on the bourgeois paterfamilias.The Ambivalences ofGerman-Jewish Identity other groups such as Romanies and gays had also been singled out for persecution and even mass annihilation. Whether did justice to the ultimate motivations of those who master-minded and carried out the killings is another question. Although in her response to Scholem concerning the . by seeking to attribute responsibility to the loses leveling forces of modern mass society. which.." itself needs 27 explaining. Arendt's methodological on the bureaucratic aspects of Nazism. but the fact remains that it did not happen anywhere. Instead. some eighteen years later. Of course. this focus was perfectly consistent with the "phenomenological essence" of Nazism she had it painstakingly constructed.. according could have happened anywhere. she would restyle into the banality of evil thesis.

a December idea. perhaps to such an extent that Arendt herself could barely recognize it. therefore. and so forth. she denied having hailed from the milieu of the German left. country of origin would some protection. she was not being entirely honest. professors (above all. racism) which pertain to the "superstructure" instead of the social "base. and non-Jew on her thinking about totalitarian ism and the course of European history was enormous."44 An emphasis on the so-called "structural" aspects of Nazism has always been a distinguishing to feature of left-wing analysis of fascism. not to mention networks of friends.and in an act of narcissistic self thereby. the telltale blind spot of this approach has been "soft" ideological factors (e. By emphasizing the "universal" opted for constituents of the Final Solution at the expense of their specifical to avoid implicating her lyGerman qualities. Margaret Canovan of the Holocaust quite well when she observes: "By interpretation in terms not of its specifically German Nazism understanding linked to Stalinism as well. it to admit invention. ex-commu nist. It was clear that the influence of her husband Heinrich Blucher . at an unconscious level. "Heinrich suggested the phrase *thebanality of evil' and is cursing himself for it now because you've had to take the heat for what he thought of.Richard Wolin Eichmann book. traditions. that Auschwitz for such an was avowal in .. Conversely. Heidegger). context but of modern developments Arendt was putting herself in the ranks of the many intellectuals of German culture who sought to connect Nazism with Western thereby deflecting blame from specifically German modernity. There Jaspers of evil thesis was originally Blucher's banality remarks that. 1963 letter from Jaspers indicates that the fact. In her excellent study of Arendt's political philoso has identified this aspect of Arendt's phy."45 As Steven Aschheim points out in the same regard: "Arendt appears almost as a philosophical counterpart to the of the more staid conservative German historians such as analyses Gerhard Ritter and Friedrich Meinecke who argued that the rise meaningful sense too troubling a German Perhaps. she also managed .43 In 28 Raul Hilberg toHans Mommsen.g. from Franz Neumann have been would have implicated all of her earliest cultural and intellectual attachments and beliefs as a highly assimilated German Jew. herself." reason why Arendt But there is perhaps another biographical a functionalist approach.

"49 But she decided and her thesis remained unaltered."46 29 suspected she had been hoodwinked by his unassuming courtroom In fact.once again in a generalizing mode . 'organic' German develop ment than with the importation of essentially alien and corrupting modern mass against humankind and only secondarily crimes against Jews. one of the salient traits of her various attempts to come to grips with the Jewish catastrophe . ifone is to historicize Arendt's axiom concerning the banality of evil. a studied aversion to framework for the Holocaust to be "a man that Israeli psychiatrists had found Eichmann obsessed with a dangerous and insatiable urge to kill. Thus. narrative emphasizing the But by relying on a generalizing of unemotional she confused the issue. she came across some fairly damning countervailing evidence: prosecutor Gideon Hausner's revelation consistent with her own as an assimilated ambivalences cultural-biographical profound German Jew. centrality she insisted time and again that Eichmann was not a Though monster. The problem is that such helpful corrections remain at odds tenor of Arendt's narrative.47 Instead. one of the problems of the original Nuremberg trials was that was the particularity of the Holocaust nowhere in the indictment as a 'Judeocide" recognized. following Jaspers' lead. preferred that the accused be tried before an international court rather than by the Israelis.The Ambivalences ofGerman-Jewish Identity of Nazism had less to do with internal. one must realize that she chose a narrative that was . negligible significance Ultimately.Arendt. while rewriting her story from the New Yorker demeanor." "a pervert these claims were of ed. version to the book version. that he was "terribly and terrifyinglynormal. Arendt certainly did not consider the Nazis' crimes to be banal. this specificitywas lost amid the general charge of "crimes against humanity. the evil he was responsible for certainly was not.that Eichmann had committed crimes practices and ideologies." one always Thus at the time of the Eichmann trial. though Eichmann himself may have been banal."48 Arendt's supporters have long sought tomake her banality of evil thesis plausible by pointing out that.from The Origins of Totalitarianism to Eichmann inJerusalem . with the dominant by choosing "A Report on the Banality of Evil" as the subtitle of her book. Yet. Schreibtischtdter. sadistic personality. she herself had opened the floodgates tomisunderstanding. since she believed .

as Dan any weight Diner has remarked. In the end. nowhere was itgiven psychologically insupportable in her reflections and analyses. were welcome and worth exploring: Jewish political hypotheses of "modernity." bureaucracy. planned and her countrymen was a thought that remained by to her. than with the anguish of the victims. "her line of argument seems to have more in common with the self-exonerating perspective of the perpetrators. all other strata of the German people. the place that was most immediate and obvious: those "deforma that facilitated both tions" of German historical development Hitler's rise to power as well as the acceptance of his rule by broad In her mind. conversely." the rise of "mass immaturity.Richard Wolin attributing specifically German responsibility to the events in Itwas as though Arendt had looked everywhere else than question."50 Solution executed 30 ." and so forth. hence. That the Final to the Jewish question was conceived. "thoughtlessness. the excrescences man.

for European Center 1996.The Ambivalences ofGerman-Jewish Identity Notes 1 a to both I of such fanatical devotion experienced telling confirmation a I published her thought and person when evaluation of retrospective some recent revelations concern in the New Republic. 3 Karl Lowith. 4 See for example Jacob Robinson. 27-37. Heidegger attempted to the various threads of Arendt's relationship Jewish were to me Of less the specific material importance to my account It was as than the emotional I had breached though to Remember: "An Affair of the ensuing pitch or violated a sacred 31 objections denunciations. 1964). in "'Eichmann Scholem in Jerusalem': and Hannah Gershom so-called German ambivalences have been Jewish a number of persons who knew her well recently by of her life. 1995). Arendt: Essays in Understanding. Trial. Arendt." Minda de Gunzburg University." Later: A German in Jewess (New York. Magician. Krummacher. 7 Letter An to Gershom Scholem. F. trans. See also Elzbieta 1995. Studies. 1994). her work Taking ing her paramour disentangle concerns. King (Champaign. the fewish Catastrophe. See Hannah and the my article. emotional ties to her former mentor and long-standing as my I to Martin point of departure. 6.. Letters Exchange of 24 July between 1963. last couple of decades confirmed during the . 5 Arendt's to me Eichmann und diefuden (Munich. 1994). 12."fewishFrontier30 (May 1963): 8. And the CrookedShall BeMade Straight: The Eichmann (New York. and Hannah Arendt *s Narrative Hannah ed. Hannah Arendt-Martin Reservations (New Haven. 1965). New Republic. Elizabeth IL. 2 Hannah ed. My Life in Germany before and after 1933. and the Age of Totalitarianism. Die Kontroverse: 6 A charge made by Marie Syrkin in "Miss Arendt Surveys the Holo caust. 9 Oct. 22-23 Mar. Heidegger of Arendt's with interpretations concerning Ettinger's correspondence in "The Arendt have been Ludz by Ursula Heidegger expressed Heidegger conference Correspondence: "Hannah Arendt A Twenty Harvard Preliminary Years delivered at the Report." Ettinger. A. Jerome Kohn 1930-1954. portal.

23 Ralph Ellison. Isaiah the Banality of Evil Holocaust (New York. 12 Yehuda Bauer. The Destruction of the European Jews (New York. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics Feldman 246-47. Arendt. 1 (Winter of how 21 22 Hannah 1959): 46. (Cambridge. Lotte Kohler 1926-1969. The Origins 1958). of Letters A Exchange 243. ed. from the second omitted Hannah 58. 1982). of 59 15 Michael Literature. Lectures Political see her to this subject. Laqueur's in Jerusalem.. Saner." Jew . 110. Ron "Hannah in the Modern Laqueur. 1978). 1987): and of Recent the Eichmann toAuschwitz: trans. of Totalitarianism as Pariah. 125. Arendt. 10 Hannah (New York. 119. Jaspers Correspondence. '"Eichmann in Jerusalem': An Scholem and Hannah Marrus." "Hannah elitist and apolitical and its markedly philosophy the Eichmann and Arendt 275. Trial. 18 Eichmann Haven. Jerusalem. "Zionism Reconsidered." "Jewish Fuhrer" It is in quoted (New Young-Bruehl. 363.Richard Wolin Arendt. 1964). Arendt. remark inadequate knowledge Eichmann in the early about "convert to Baeck For qua the book. 1982). are statements "contains which many of its conclusions Some thought through." For an indication on Kant's Arendt. The inferusalem. Philip O'Connor History. no. Arendt ed. 24 25 Hannah Hannah Arendt. CO. History see "Hannah Arendt From Weimar Survey 149. Love Eichmann Elisabeth 40. Holocaust (Boulder. 1985).. notes book that the Eichmann obviously an For was the not sufficiently 1991)." H." (Mar. she planned approach Ronald Beiner 1982). trans. Mommsen betray 17 1960s" (p." Arendt "Hannah Laqueur. (Chicago. 586. Arendt. 110. 1987). 11 Raul Hilberg. 16 For "A History ofModern "Journal the Holocaust: the English translation. (New York. 32 3:1030-44." 8 Walter 9 in Hannah Age. 1964). ed." Dissent "Reflections 6." Judenrat: The Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe between under Nazi Gershom 1972). 255). in The 130. reference edition Arendt: see Judaism. WesternSocietyafterthe Ibid. 19 Hannah 20 Arendt-Karl of the World ed. (New York. (New 1992). on Little Rock. views are 109. Philosophy. 8. in in Lyman Letgers. Occupation (New York and London. a child of German existential Mommsen: "She remained echoed by outlook. Shadow and Act (New York. 166-67. 108. inJerusalem. Trial. in Hans Mommsen. Robert and Rita Kimber and Hans York. History of the 13 14 Trunk. of the material as a of available to in German Essays 271.

Diner Arendt Observateur." 11. 20. Thought (London. 30 31 33 34 Arendt. people of Her and Political of the Jewish "opinion Hannah Arendt-Karl Jaspers Hannah Arendt: and A 44 45 46 Ibid. term The controversial 'Judeocide" was introduced . Arendt. Heidegger andModern Philosophy (New Haven. Reconsidered.. my faithful 33 to whom both unfaithful.. Arendt-KarlJaspers Correspondence. Letter "Zionism of 7 Sept. Reconsidered. it to you. Aschheim. at in Michael Hannah Arendt." 1952 in Hannah 150.The Ambivalences ofGerman-Jewish Identity 26 27 28 Ibid. the discourse 47 111-12. ed. 293-303. "Heidegger Eighty. Is Existenz Philosophy?" Partisan Review 18." Murray." 32 Ibid. in the last subject Especially structure the discursive of an ex-communist "Hannah a 1963 Arendt letter to Reconsidered" Arendt Jaspers. Culture Confrontations with National Socialism Reinterpretation Catastrophe: and Other German Crises into Jewish (Basingstoke. Heidegger. "Organized as Pariah. 230. 197. 232. Arendt's Social Studies43 (1981): 249-50. 67-90. Muller. Correspondence." and Universal 1978). Hannah Jew Arendt. "The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition. Hannah Arendt-Martin 114. 40 41 42 43 Ibid. Margaret Steven Canovan.. makes itself conspicuous. is not always what 511. was in question 398. on "Blucher's and influence inspiration for research. 231. that Blucher's wish. no. See. 1992). 11.. Responsibility.. has remarked: is still a Le Nouvel Guilt in Ettinger.. Essays The read as follows: poem The How and And dedication could of this book is left out. InterpretationofJewishHistory. E. Sharon 133-34. 1 (Winter 1946): 46." in TheJew as Pariah. of Eichmann "Zionism inJerusalem: Hannah 141ff. I dedicate I remained in love. 234. cited in Young As Dan Hannah and narrative remarks one third part of Origins." might 542. "Jewish 29 Hannah Arendt.. in The 39 Ibid. Ibid.. Hampshire. "The Origins Arendt. 48.. 1996). in Understanding. The publication Hannah Bruehl. In (unpublished manuscript). for example. "What 35 36 37 38 Hannah Cited See Arendt. trusted friend.

and Crimes against Humanity inJerusalem. See his Rememberingin Vain: The Klaus Barbie 49 50 Trial Eichmann Diner. the Heavens Not 48 A similar dilemma has been noted byAlain Finkielkraut in the case of the 1987 trial of Klaus Barbie. 22-23. 34 . 8. (New York. Mayer Solution" inHistory in Why Did 1988). "Hannah Arendt Reconsidered.Richard Wolin of Holocaust Darken? The "Final studies by Arno J." (New York. 1992).

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