Mr. Adolf Eichmann
These passages (edited into paragraphs) are from Hanna Arendt’s 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, written after the trial of the war criminal Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi officer responsible for managing the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps as part of Hitler’s Final Solution. In this excerpt, she says that Eichmann’s evil did not arise from self-deception, but from the efficient, ingrained lies of the Nazi regime.
Eichman was hung in Israel in 1962.
"Is this a textbook case of bad faith, of lying self-deception combined with outrageous stupidity? Or is it simply the case of the eternally unrepentant criminal (Dostoevski once mentions in his diaries that in Siberia, among scores of murderers, rapists, and burglars, he never met a single man who would admit that he had done wrong) who cannot afford to face reality because his crime has become part and parcel of it?
Yet Eichmann’s case is different from that of the ordinary criminal, who can shield himself effectively against the reality of a non-criminal world only within the narrow limits of his gang.
Eichmann needed only to recall the past in order to feel assured that he was not lying and that he was not deceiving himself, for he and the world he lived in had once been in perfect harmony. And that German society of eighty million people had been shielded against reality and factuality by exactly the same means, the same self-deception, lies, and stupidity that had now become ingrained in Eichmann’s mentality.
These lies changed from year to year, and they frequently contradicted each other; moreover, they were not necessarily the same for the various branches of the Party hierarchy or the people at large. But the practice of self deception had become so common, almost a moral prerequisite for survival, that even now, eighteen years after the collapse of the Nazi regime, when most of the specific content of its lies has been forgotten, it is sometimes difficult not to believe that mendacity has become an integral part of the German national character.
During the war, the lie most effective with the whole of the German people was the slogan of "the battle of destiny for the German people" [der Schicksalskampf des deutschen Volkes], coined either by Hitler or by Goebbels, which made self-deception easier on three counts: it suggested, first, that the war was no war; second, that it was started by destiny and not by Germany; and, third, that it was a matter of life and death for the Germans, who must annihilate their enemies or be annihilated.
Eichmann’s astounding willingness, in Argentina as well as in, Jerusalem, to admit his crimes was due less to his own criminal capacity for self-deception than to the aura of systematic mendacity that had constituted the general, and generally accepted, atmosphere of the Third Reich.
"Of course" he had played a role in the extermination of the Jews; of course if he "had not transported them, they would not have been delivered to the butcher." "What," he asked, "is there to ‘admit’?"
Now, he proceeded, he "would like to find peace with [his] former enemies"…
…This outrageous cliche was no longer issued to them from above, it was a self-fabricated stock phrase, as devoid of reality as those cliches by which the people had lived for twelve years; and you could almost see what an "extraordinary sense of elation" it gave to the speaker the moment it popped out of his mouth.
Eichmann’s mind was filled to the brim with such sentences."