Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem Conference


Thursday, 23 January – Saturday, 25 January 2014
Glasscock Building and Annenberg Conference Center, Texas A&M University

About the Conference →
Schedule (REVISED due to delayed university opening on Friday)
Presenters (bios and abstracts) →
Conference Registration →
Film Screening Registration →

About the Conference

“Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: 50 Years On” is a conference commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem at the Melbern Glasscock Center for Humanities Research on January 24-25, 2014. The conference will be kicked-off with the screening of Michaël Prazan’s documentary The Trial of Adolf Eichmann on January 23, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. This conference is part of a two year series entitled “World War II and its Global Legacies.” Conference proceedings will include topics relating to the trial, Arendt’s philosophy, our understanding of Nazism and totalitarianism, human rights, international law, and more.

A “World War II and its Global Legacies” Initiative Event

Conference supported in part by:
Melbern G. and Susanne M. Glasscock
Scowcroft Institute
Department of International Studies
Dean of Faculties
Department of Philosophy
Office of the Vice President and Associate Provost for Diversity
Department of Communication
Department of History

Conference Schedule:

All events on 3rd floor of the Glasscock Building unless noted otherwise. 

Thursday, 23 January 2014

2:00 p.m.             Informal Roundtable (Pre-conference event)
“Boycotting Israeli Universities?” A conversation with Russell Berman, former president of the Modern Language Association (MLA) (Location: 311 Glasscock Building)

3:30 p.m.             Visiting Scholar Lecture (Pre-conference event)
“The Dilemmas of Human Rights: Ideals and Illusions” by Seyla Benhabib, Yale University (Location: 311 Glasscock Building)

7:30 p.m.             Screening of Michaël Prazan’s The Trial of Adolf Eichmann (RSVP required)
Introduction and Q&A by director Michaël Prazan. (Location: Annenberg Conference Center)

9:15 p.m.             Coffee and Cookie Reception

Friday, 24 January 2014

10:00-10:15         Breakfast and Introduction

10:15 a.m.           Session I • Chair: Robert Shandley Professor and Head of International Studies, Texas A&M University
Dana Villa, Notre Dame – “Eichmann in Jerusalem: Conscience, Normality, and the ‘Rule of Narrative’”

11:00 a.m.            Session II • Chair: Linda Radzik, Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Texas A&M University
Leora Bilsky, Tel Aviv University – “An Arendtian Perspective on the Right to Truth in International Law”
Russell Berman, Stanford University – “Arendt’s Conservatism and Her Eichmann Judgment”

12:30 p.m.           Lunch (provided by the Glasscock Center)

1:00 p.m.               Session III • Chair: Adam Seipp, Associate Professor of History, Texas A&M University
Dan Conway, Texas A&M University – “A House Divided: Banality as a Condition of Evil”
Valerie Hartouni, University of California San Diego – “Thoughtlessness and the Optics of Moral Argument: Screening the Spectacle of Eichmann”

2:30 p.m.             Break

3:00 p.m.             Keynote Lecture 
Seyla Benhabib, Yale University – ”From ‘The Right to Have Rights’ to Eichmann in Jerusalem and Back”

Saturday, 25 January 2014

8:30 a.m.              Breakfast (provided by the Glasscock Center)

9:00                        Session IV • Chair: Apostolos Vasilakis, Instructional Assistant Professor of English, Texas A&M University
Carolyn Dean, Yale University – ”Eichmann’s Victims and the Future of Holocaust Historiography”

9:45-10:00            Break

10:00 a.m.           Session IV continued
Lawrence Douglas, Amherst College – “Eichmann in Jerusalem, Demjanjuk in Munich”
Rebecca Wittmann, University of Toronto – “Holocaust Trials, History, and Memory: The Enduring Fascination with Adolf Eichmann and the Role of Law in Shaping Perpetrator Representation”

11:30 a.m.           Closing Remarks

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Seyla Benhabib | Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy, Yale University
“From ‘The Right to Have Rights’ to Eichmann in Jerusalem and Back”

Seyla Benhabib, born in Istanbul, Turkey, is the Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Yale University since 2001 and was Director of its Program in Ethics, Politics and Economics from 2002 to 2008. Professor Benhabib is the recipient of the Ernst Bloch prize for 2009 and of the Meister Eckhart Prize for 2014 (two of Germany’s most prestigious philosophical prizes) as well as the Leopold Lucas prize in 2011.  She was President of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in 2006-07. She has previously taught at the New School for Social Research and Harvard Universities, where she was Professor of Government from 1993-2000 and Chair of Harvard’s Program on Social Studies from 1996-2000. From January to July 2009, she was Senior Fellow at Berlin’s Wissenschaftskolleg.  She was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2013 and Senior Research Fellow at NYU’s Straus Center for Justice and Legal Studies.

She is the author of Critique, Norm and Utopia. A Study of the Normative Foundations of Critical Theory (1986; dtsch. Kritik, Norm und Utopie, Fischer Verlag, 1992); Situating the Self. Gender, Community and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics (1992; winner of the National Educational Association’s best book of the year award; dtsch. Selbst im Kontext, Suhrkamp 1995) ; together with Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell and Nancy Fraser,Der Streit um Differenz 1993; in English,  Feminism as Critique (1994); The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt (1996; reissued in 2002; Hannah Arendt und die Melancholische Denkerin der Moderne, Suhrkamp 2006); The Claims of Culture. Equality and Diversity in the Global Era, (2002); The Rights of Others. Aliens, Citizens and Residents (2004), which won the Ralph Bunche award of the American Political Science Association (2005) and the North American Society for Social Philosophy award (2004); translated as Die Rechte der Anderen (Suhrkamp 2008) and  Another Cosmopolitanism: Hospitality, Sovereignty and Democratic Iterations, with responses by Jeremy Waldron, Bonnie Honig and Will Kymlicka (Oxford University Press, 2006); dtsch. Kosmopolitismus und Demokratie (Campus 2008).  Her most recent publications are: Dignity n Adversity: Human Rights in Troubled Times (Polity: 2011) and together with David Cameron, et al. The Democratic Disconnect. A Plea to Revive Citizenship and Accountability in the Transatlantic World (The Transatlantic Academy: Washington, DC, 2013).

Her work has been translated into German, Spanish, French, Italian, Turkish, Swedish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese and she has edited and coedited 10 volumes on topics ranging from the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt to democracy and difference to feminism as critique; the communicative ethics controversy and identities, allegiances and affinities, and most recently, together with Judith Resnik, has published Migrations and Mobilities: Gender, Borders and Citizenship (NYU Press, 2009).

She has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1995 and has held the Gauss Lectures (Princeton, 1998); the Spinoza chair for distinguished visitors (Amsterdam, 2001); the John Seeley Memorial Lectures (Cambridge University, 2002), the Tanner Lectures (Berkeley, 2004) and was the Catedra Ferrater Mora Distinguished Professor in Girona, Spain (Summer 2005). She received Honorary degrees from the Humanistic University in Utrecht in 2004,  the Instituto de Estudios de las Mujeres of the University of Valencia (2009) and from Bosphorus University in 2011.  She will receive an Honorary Degree from the Graduate School of Georgetown University in May 2014.

Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) is a work that is riven by her particular identity and fate as a German and European Jew as well as by her universalist thinking as a political philosopher. The tension between the universal and the particular runs throughout the work: at times Arendt writes with the pathos and indignation of a Holocaust survivor, who is baffled at Eichmann’s obtuseness no less than at the political naivetee of her own people. At other times, she writes in the impersonal voice of a thinker it seems hailing “from nowhere,” reflecting impartially upon the universal themes of evil, its banality, genocide and crimes against humanity.

After documenting this dualism of voice and of points of view running throughout the text, I will reflect on two universalistic themes: the question of crimes against humanity and genocide and the aporias of “the right to have rights.” We read and re-read Arendt today, I will claim, not because she got Eichmann “right” (she most likely did not) or because her reflections on the behavior of Jewish leaders and the Jewish Councils were historically accurate (in some cases they were not). We read her precisely because of the tension between the universal and the particular. The fate of European Jewry becomes an allegory as well as a harbinger of a power that the techno-mediatically fitted and over-powerful state system possesses in our times over the lives of individuals.

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Russell Berman | Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities, Departments of Comparative Literature and German Studies, Stanford University
“Arendt’s Conservatism and Her Eichmann Judgment”

Russell A. Berman is the Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford, appointed in the Departments of Comparative Literature and German Studies. He is also Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He has written widely on German literature and culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, on critical theory, and on contemporary politics. He is the editor of Telos.

Arendt generally eludes easy political categorization because she does not participate obviously in any ideological camp. However aspects of her thinking are consistent with elements of conservatism, which is particularly clear in her estimation of Eichmann. The denigration of the bureaucratic state and its functionaries, the insistence on the ordinariness of the Nazi leadership, and the depiction of Eichmann as lacking in intelligence provide clues to Arendt’s political assumptions. Her vision of civic life, however, puts her at odds with identity-political communities—for Eichmann, with the Jewish community, and elsewhere with the African-American community—and raises questions about her model of collaborative action.

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Leora Bilsky | Professor, Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law, Director of the Minerva Center for Human Rights
“An Arendtian Perspective on the Right to Truth in International Law”

Leora Bilsky is a Full Professor at the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law where she serves as Director of the Minerva Center for Human Rights at Tel Aviv University. Her main areas of research and teaching are international criminal law, political trials, transitional justice, feminist legal theory, and the relationship between law, history and memory. She is the author of Transformative Justice: Israeli Identity on Trial (Michigan University Press, 2003), and is currently working on a book-length project on the Holocaust restitution litigation of the 1990s as well as on the right to truth in international law.

Arendt is known for her critique of the use of witnesses in the Eichmann trial. She argued against the decision of the Israeli prosecution to call “witnesses of suffering” whose testimony was not directly related to the determination of the defendant’s guilt, undermining in her view the objectives of criminal justice. In other words, Arendt objected to what scholarship later defined as the “didactic purposes” of international criminal law, and refused to see in criminal trials an arena to give voice and recognition to victims.
Since the Eichmann trial, international law has developed in two seemingly opposite directions: one based on punishment – international criminal tribunals as well as universal jurisdiction – and the other based on reconciliation, with various types of truth and reconciliation commissions. Common to both tracks is the recognition of the “clarification of the truth” as an objective in the process of transitioning to democracy, and specifically the rise of the individual victim’s right to the truth.

In this presentation I examine and evaluate the development of the human right to truth in light of Arendt’s writing. At first glance, it seems that Arendt’s warnings were not heeded. Faced with the violence committed by criminal regimes, both international criminal law and truth commissions have precisely adopted the approach inaugurated in the Eichmann trial. However, a deeper look into Arendt’s writings uncovers warnings about the development of the right to truth as an individual and absolute right overcoming limitations of time and place. In contrast with the optimistic story international law tells us about the growth of the right to truth as a human right, based on Arendt’s writings I will point to the dangers such a right creates both for criminal law and political discourse. I ask whether the growing legalization of the truth might not actually undermine the democratization in the name of which human rights activism is conducted.

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Daniel Conway | Department of Philosophy and Humanities, Texas A&M University
“A House Divided: Banality as a Condition of Evil”

A native of Terre Haute, Indiana, Daniel Conway received his BA in Philosophy and Economics from Tulane University, and his PhD in Philosophy from the University of California, San Diego. He has held faculty appointments at Stanford University, Harvard University, The Pennsylvania State University, and Texas A&M University, where he is Professor of Philosophy and Humanities with an affiliate appointments in the Religious Studies program and the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Social, Cultural, and Political Theory. He has lectured and published widely on topics pertaining to 19th Century Philosophy, Social and Political Philosophy, Philosophy and Literature, and Philosophy of Religion. He is the author of three books, the editor (or co-editor) of thirteen volumes, and the author of over on hundred articles, essays, and entries to scholarly journals, edited volumes, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. His research has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Oregon Humanities Center, the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD), the National Humanities Center, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Penn State University, and the Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research at Texas A&M University. He has held visiting appointments at Harvard University, University of Oregon, University of Warwick, the National Humanities Center, UMass Amherst, and Amherst College.

A consideration of the architectural and economic images mobilized by Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem confirms her understanding of banality as a condition of evil in the late modern epoch. While the role of technological innovations and bureaucratic efficiencies cannot be discounted, Arendt directs her readers’ attention to the uniquely modern emphasis on the cultivation of those virtues and proficiencies that typically are collected under the umbrella of banality. For the purposes of this lecture, I will present banality as a psychological or emotional achievement that is reinforced and rewarded in various social contexts. The distinguishing mark of this achievement, or so I contend, is a sustained condition of functional self-division or –fragmentation, such that an agent may credibly seek refuge at any time from any specific assignment of moral responsibility.

Largely overshadowed by the controversies arising from Arendt’s choice of the word banality is her signal insight into the failure of modern (e.g., Enlightenment) morality to instill in human beings a fixed sense of personal responsibility. So as to retrieve this insight, I will present banality as the achievement and maintenance of a socially useful but morally irresponsible condition of opportunistic self-division. As exemplified by Adolf Eichmann, banality thus suggests a semi-permanent condition of arrested moral development, which permits agents, whenever necessary, to escape the full implications of the moral responsibility they apportion to themselves. Thus we see that banality names a (defective) moral condition wherein agents may assert their capacity for autonomous self-determination while simultaneously refusing any specific assignment of moral responsibility. Evil is banal, that is, in the event that agents hold (and understand) themselves to be morally responsible in a general, abstract sense—able, like Eichmann, to enumerate their good deeds while citing relevant moral authorities and duties—and morally irresponsible when urged to consider their concrete obligations to identifiable others.

Finally, the banality of evil poses a formidable challenge to those who follow in Arendt’s footsteps. In presenting banality as a socially-sponsored aim of moral development—and, so, as emblematic of late modern moral life—Arendt observes that our best systems of law and morality leave us ill-equipped to render a just verdict of the evils that may be traced, as in the case of Eichmann, to their origins in banality.

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Carolyn Dean | Professor of History, Yale University
“Eichmann’s Victims and the Future of Holocaust Historiography”

Carolyn J. Dean is Professor of History at Yale University.  She is the author of several books, most recently Aversion and Erasure: The Fate of the Victim after the Holocaust (Cornell, 2010). Her reserach interests range from the history of gender and sexuality to genocide studies and the Holocaust of European Jewry. She is also the author of many articles concerning the relationship between history and theory, where most of her work is situated.  She is currently working on a series of essays on recent narratives about human dignity and atrocity photography, and a larger book-scale project on the history of homophobia since the nineteenth century in Europe and the United States.

Arendt was wrongly accused of ‘blaming the victim,’ but she does prefer victims who speak “purely,” and are “free of sentimentality and self-indulgence.” Arendt’s discomfort with more emotive victims is not unusual in reference to victim testimony. Her work on Eichmann anticipates the transformation of the Holocaust into a form of unique suffering. Scholars now interpret the trial’s impact by reference to the impact of victim testimony on an international audience. Through the 1970s, Auschwitz eventually became the icon of ‘evil in our time,’ and the entire concept of the victim underwent revision. Jewish suffering, once marginalized, became a central reference point for all sorts of rhetorical claims by groups with a history of past persecution. In order to assess efforts to evaluate victims’ position in this context, I analyze the rhetorical constitution of victims and victimization in two recent and important books on the Holocaust of European Jewry.

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Lawrence Douglas | James J. Grosfield Professor of Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought, Amherst College
“Eichmann in Jersulalem, Demjanjuk in Munich”

Lawrence Douglas is the James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought, at Amherst College, USA.  A graduate of Brown University and the Yale Law School, Douglas is the prize-winning author of several books, including The Memory of Judgment: Making Law and History in the Trials of the Holocaust, a widely acclaimed study of war crimes trials, and two novels, The Catastrophist (2007) and The Vices (2011).  He has co-edited twelve books on contemporary legal issues, and has lectured in many countries, including addresses to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court.  The recipient of major fellowships from the National Endowment of the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Institute for International Education, Douglas has served as a visiting professor of law at the University of London and at Humboldt Universität, Berlin. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including, The Yale Law Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The New Yorker, The Times Literary Supplement, and Harper’s.

The Munich trial of Ivan Demjanjuk, which ended in May 2011, was in certain respects unremarkable. The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, who lived for decades in suburban Cleveland, was convicted of complicity in the deaths of at least 27,900 Jews during his service as a guard at the Sobibor death camp. The figure is surely horrific, and yet the crime itself – accessory to murder – is relatively inconsequential against the larger sweep of Nazi genocide. Demjanjuk himself was a limited man. If Hannah Arendt discovered in Adolf Eichmann an unforgettable exemplar of the banality of evil, Demjanjuk reminds us that there are drearier things than bureaucratic banality.

Nonetheless, the Munich trial was a historic event, bringing to a close the era of high profile trials of Nazi atrocities that reaches back to Nuremberg and reached its apogee in the Eichmann trial. My presentation will assess the importance and meaning of the Demjanjuk’s legal odyssey by comparing it to the Eichmann trial, the greatest of all Holocaust-related legal proceedings.

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Valerie Hartouni | Professor of Communication, University of California San Diego
“Thoughtlessness and the Optics of Moral Argument: Screening the Spectacle of Eichmann”

Valerie Hartouni is Professor of Communication at the University of California San Diego and author of Visualizing Atrocity: Arendt, Evil, and the Optics of Thoughtlessness (New York University Press, 2012). Hartouni’s research interests include the fields of political theory, legal theory, and history. Her early research was situated at the intersection of feminist, cultural, and science studies, her early research focused specifically on the disruptive cultural impact of “new” reproductive and genetic technologies. She has also been pursuing a more literary project on practices of dying, specifically, “some of the ways in which modern death is both staged and enacted as a particular kind of performance, structured according to certain plot devices that render it most one’s own and most not.”

In her controversial work Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt insisted that great evil is not necessarily a reflection of evil motives or an expression of natural depravity. Such evil, she argued, is better understood as the outcome of a certain thoughtlessness or inability to think from another’s point of view. Although Arendt sought to distinguish Eichmann’s inability to think from another’s point of view from conventional understandings of “empathy,” much contemporary commentary persists in reading Eichmann’s failure as a failure of empathetic identification. Indeed, even accounts that aim to adopt Arendt’s reading of Eichmann, it seems, cannot easily escape producing “thoughtlessness” as an absence of empathy or rendering what she argued was a political failure (a question of solidarity) as primarily a moral one (a question of sentiment). In this paper, I consider Eyal Sivan and Rony Brauman’s 1999 documentary The Specialist– a densely edited visual text that restages the trial through the lens of Arendt’s argument and attempts to recover one of the missed opportunities Arendt identified in her trial report to understand a new kind of criminal and crime . Examining, specifically, the logic of a sequence within the film in which we watch Eichmann watching footage shot by American and Russian troops as they moved across Europe liberating concentration camps, I argue that the documentary inadvertently reproduces precisely the problem it seeks to challenge. I consider, first, how the apathetic indifference of Sivan and Braumann’s Eichmann, despite the film’s best critical efforts, remains primarily a question of pathology rather than politics, the absence of feeling rather than thought, and then turn, briefly, to explaining why this matters.

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Michaël Prazan | Independent Filmmaker
The Trial of Adolf Eichmann – A film

After studying modern literature and French at the Sorbonne, he went to Japan in 1994 where he taught French language at the French Alliance of Nagoya for nearly two years. Back in France in 1996, he taught literature in different colleges of the Academy of Créteil while writing articles for newspapers, magazines and journals. Having published several essays, he obtained a doctorate at the Sorbonne in stylistic and produces documentary films.

Passionate about contemporary history, Prazan is interested in radical movements of the sixties and murderous ideologies (nationalism, terrorism, extreme left, anti-Semitism, radical Islamism, denial). After writing a book on the bloody epic from the Japanese Red Army (Les Fanatics , Seuil 2002), he directed a documentary for Arte (Japan Red Years) while continuing his work as a journalist and teacher.

Michael Prazan published his first novel in 2007 entitled The mistress of Charles Baudelaire Plon. He wrote and directed “Einsatzgruppen, the death squads,” a documentary about the genocide of the Jews is the mobile killing commandos and their auxiliaries, during Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. He received the award for best documentary Jewish Motifs International Film Festival in Warsaw in 2010.

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Dana Villa | The Packey J. Dee Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame
“Eichmann in Jerusalem: Conscience, Normality, and the ‘Rule of Narrative'”

Dana Villa is Packey Dee Professor of Political Theory at the University of Notre Dame.  He is the author of Arendt and Heidegger:  the Fate of the Political (1995), Politics, Philosophy, Terror (1999), Socratic Citizenship (2001), and Public Freedom (2008), all from Princeton University Press.  He is also the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt (Cambridge University Press, 2001) and the co-editor of Liberal Modernism and Democratic Individuality (Princeton, 1996).  His articles and essays have appeared in such journals at The American Political Science Review, Political Theory, New German Critique, The Review of Politics and the Revue Internationale de Philosophie.

This essay begins by addressing a popular theme in what I call the “third wave” of criticism of Eichmann in Jerusalem, namely, the literary theorist Shoshana Felman’s contention that Hannah Arendt had a unduly “conservative philosophy of law,” one which blinded her to the deeper meaning of the Eichmann trial as a public event. That meaning, according to Felman, was that it gave voice to the victims of the Holocaust for the very first time. Arendt’s strict focus on Eichmann and his deeds prevents her from appreciating this fact, and (indeed) leads her to criticize the proceedings as having all the trappings of a “show trial.”

Against Felman, I argue that Arendt did not have a “conservative legal philosophy” that led her to exclude the “voice of the victim” as technically irrelevant. Rather, she wanted to penetrate the public-political aspects of the trial in Israel, the better to a) gauge the type of perpetrator Eichmann was and b) understand the peculiar nature and workings of his conscience and sense of duty. It is important in this regard to note that Arendt never characterized Eichmann as a bureaucratic cog in a much larger machine of extermination, nor as a robotic executer of orders. Rather, she insists again and again that he carried out his “murderous duties” with “zeal and meticulousness.” The central problem of Eichmann in Jerusalem is thus how is it possible for an agent initially repelled by the thought of the physical extermination of the Jews to become a zealous executor of evil as policy.

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Rebecca Wittmann | Associate Professor of History, University of Toronto
“Holocaust Trials, History, and Memory: The Enduring Fascination with Adolf Eichmann and the Role of the Law in Shaping Perpetrator Representation”

Rebecca Wittmann (PhD University of Toronto) is Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on the Holocaust and postwar Germany, trials of Nazi perpetrators and terrorists, and German legal history. She has received fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service). She has published articles in Central European History, German History, and Lessons and Legacies. Her book, Beyond Justice: The Auschwitz Trial (Harvard University Press, 2005) won the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History. She is currently working on her second book project entitled Guilt and Shame through the Generations: Confronting the Past in Postwar Germany. 

The fascination with Adolf Eichmann, the man, the Nazi, the bureaucrat, the facilitator, the murderer, exceeds that of almost any other major Holocaust perpetrator. Why is that, exactly? Is the Eichmann trial solely responsible? Or is Hannah Arendt the main reason why countless biographies have and continue to appear on the subject of this enigma, why we feel compelled to understand what motivated him? In this paper I will explore the relationship between scholars’ continuing scrutiny and analysis of Eichmann himself and the way that the law, particularly in Holocaust trials, shapes, guides, and often distorts our understanding of Nazi perpetrators and their motivations. I will assess the impact of Nazi trials – both the Eichmann trial and German trials – on memory and representation, and argue that trials generally do a very poor job of bringing us to a closer understanding of the people who carried out the Final Solution. Despite the fact that we look to trials to get to the “truth” of what really happened in the Holocaust, and to atone for those crimes, the real lessons of history are not to be found in legal proceedings.

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Event photos

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