Words as weapons: “Eichmann in Jerusalem”

Hannah Arendt offers a devastating portrait of humanity in Eichmann in Jerusalem, an assemblage of five successive articles written in 1963 for The New YorkerWords as weapons: "Eichmann in Jerusalem"It is in this work that Arendt coined the phrase, “the banality of evil”, positing that the mass murder perpetrated by the Nazis was not as much a thing of malevolence as it was of bureaucracy. She explains how words were used as weapons, to indoctrinate and then engineer the mass murders. Death camp architect Heinrich Himmler referred to the Holocaust as follows: “These are battles which future generations will not have to fight again.” Eichmann believed the “battles” to be geflugelte Worte (meaning “winged words” or words from classic literature), when in reality they were only the tools of propaganda.

Words as weapons: "Eichmann in Jerusalem"

Wagner’s “Ring Cycle”

In other words, not only does Eichmann not acknowledge the evil of his work, neither does he understand how the evil was disseminated. Arendt goes on to cite a story of a leader speaking to Bavarian peasants in 1944: “The Fuhrer in his goodness has prepared for the whole German people a mild death through gassing in case the war should have an unhappy end.”

Words as weapons: "Eichmann in Jerusalem"

Goebbels family – all of whom died of cyanide

Arendt’s text reveals how the people of Germany were indoctrinated as a cult, who were willing to go to the bitter end to satisfy their leader not out of malice but because “honor is loyalty”. Therefore it should not come as a surprise that Eichmann maintained his innocence in the extermination of millions; he and his Nazi brethren were gassed by their own words.

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