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Holocaust and Genocide Analysis


Holocaust was one of the most terrible events in history if the world marked by extreme violence and hostility. The ideology provided by Nazi underlined the descent of the German people from the Aryan race and rejected all other nations. Jews were seen as enemies of the Nazi Germany and a threat to its existence. Hannah Arendt underlines that the Holocaust can be approached only through what it destroyed, and what the Holocaust did destroy goes beyond the lives and collective ways of life erased forever.

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The relationships historians normally presume between imagination and reality, experience and its retelling, being alive and being dead–these, too, have been radically and morbidly transformed (Bauer & Keren, 2002). Claims like these are so broad in their scope that they are almost inevitably dismissed as rhetorical. They are meant, however, to be taken literally, and a central aim of Arendt’s is to aid comprehension of them in a serious and literal way. In the book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt analyzes and evaluates the role of the Jewish ghetto leaders (the judenrate) in the destruction of their own people. She claims that it was one of the most terrible and dramatic events in the history of the Holocaust and the Jewish nation. Thus, this position is often contested and rejected by historians who investigate psychological and social factors of this event.

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Arendt accused Jewish leaders in extreme violence and hostility based on the evidence that most of them were mentally healthy. The panel found that the accused was mentally fully responsible. Mental disturbance and irresistible or unconscious impulses were ruled out as possible causes. The defense argument that Eichmann acted under a kind of hypnosis and that he secured the gun in a state when he was not himself was not shared by the psychiatrists. They also gave no credence to his declaration at one of the early hearings that he had planned to commit suicide at the embassy before Hitler’s portrait or to shoot at the portrait in a futile, but spectacular protest. The doctors were of the opinion that the anxiety caused by receipt of the postcard from his parents, together with contemporary press reports, resulted in ear which gradually gave way to a desire for vengeance, vengeance which he then satisfied deliberately and consciously, making intelligent choices from among the means at his disposal.

The doctors noted that, in the absence of pathological or psychiatric abnormalities which would tend to reduce responsibility, it would be up to the judge and jury to decide to what extent the youngster’s extreme anxiety should be considered an extenuating circumstance. The panel commented on Eichmann’s passionate idealism and the great influence of the very devout Jewish milieu in which he lived. His inflexibility in regard to principles, his emotional nature and hypersensitivity, and the precariousness of his situation had combined to lead Herschel inevitably towards ever-increasing emotional strain and solutions of a more extreme nature. Under a calm exterior, seemingly timid and self-effacing, Herschel was not only nervous but also quick tempered, given to precipitous actions. Under most circumstances, he was either for or against, without reflection but rather by instinct. He acted first and reflected afterwards (Bauer & Keren, 2002).

Arendt states that Jewish leaders ”were inspired not by conscience but by the desire to salt some money or some connections away for the dark days to come” (Arendt 1994, p. 116). According to a court-appointed worker, Eichmann tried to understand the reasons and aims of the inquiry and answered most questions readily. There is some evidence that Eichmann, depending on circumstances, would alternately profess knowledge or ignorance of the language, perhaps in order to avoid answering questions precipitously. During court interrogations, Eichmann gave the impression of constantly being on guard, and according to one observer, his countenance never lost the expression of a hunted animal. All in all, though, his defense was coherent.

He seemed to suffer from occasional convenient lapses of memory, and aided by his lawyers, he understood what would aid his defense or would thwart his accusers. Arendt tries to prove that Eichmann used Kant’s ethics but misunderstood its essence and main principles. For Eichmann, the legislator was Adolph Hitler and he followed his rules and principles, ideology and values. Arendt bases her argument on the idea that: Eichmann “identifies his own will with the principle behind the law-the source from which the law sprang. In Kant’s philosophy, that source was practical reason; in Eichmann’s household use of him, it was the will of the Fiihrer” (arendt 1994, p. 137). In contrast to many other historians, Bauer & Keren (2002), Niewyk (2002) Benz (2002) Arendt states that Eichmann did not have a choice. The struggle that historians may only sense between the reality of the Holocaust and the old words and concepts is, for them, an immediate presence.

In contrast to Arendt, historians suppose that many of the Jewish leaders were mentally ill persons suffered from psychological disorders and depression (Benz, 1999). The fact that many Jewish leaders were physically somewhat underdeveloped for their age did, in the eyes of the panel, reflect intellectual immaturity. Thus, Eichmann was of at least normal intelligence. The German authorities, not surprisingly, judged him to be of above-average intelligence, since this fitted their argument that his was a cold-blooded assassination, carried out under orders, and not the impulsive act of an immature, impressionable youth. Herschel displayed a keen interest in the world around him, was at least moderately worldly-wise, discussed events of the day, was interested in politics and newspapers, and enjoyed the normal pursuits of a person his age (Cesarani 2007).

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David Cesarani in the book Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes and Trial of a “Desk Murderer” found that Eichmann, like other Jewish leaders, was a complex, multidimensional character. Yet in this connection he provided a glimpse of his determination, which went well beyond his years, and which was only hinted at occasionally at the time, but which was later to be amply demonstrated in a much more dramatic fashion. Not long after his arrest, when the initial shock had worn off, he changed, at least in his own mind, from the tearful victim who in the past had occasionally been given to empty bravado, to that of avenger. Having suddenly moved from the anonymity of a young refugee, vilified for being Jewish and forced to hide from the authorities, to the object of world attention, Eichmann quickly took to his new status. Instead of hiding in the shadows, he now talked of “his people,” of “his mission,” of the sacrifice of his life, of his protest before the whole world. He clearly relished being the center of attention — the feeling that adults would talk about him rather than only to him. His handwriting remained typical of a teenager, but his signature became elaborate and pretentious.

Also, historians suppose that many Jewish leaders were motivated by the new ideology and seen their role as messiah who saved the world. The unusually close cooperation which had developed between the Jews and Nazi authorities, masquerading as representatives of the family of the deceased, was largely determined by the prosecution’s dependence on information available only from German sources and the unspoken aims of the two parties (Dwork and Pelt 2003). The government, still hoping to reach an accommodation with Germany, fervently hoped that the unfortunate events in Paris would not impede its efforts to improve relations with Germany, while the Nazi authorities sought to minimize the potentially negative impact of the forthcoming trial. Those who perceived Eichmann’s action as the direct result of Nazi excesses and saw in the trial an opportunity to expose them, predictably reacted strongly and with anger. Committees for the support of Eichmann were formed, seeking a trial which would provide an opportunity to expose before all the world the evil that was Nazi Germany (Friedlander, 2008).

The most important David Cesarani rejects Arendt’s opinion that the Jewish leadership was the darkest pages in the history of the Holocaust. He finds that there were only few Jewish who collaborated with Nazi, and it is incorrect to accuse the whole nation in this terrible crime. Arendt mistakenly identifies collaborators of Middle Eastern origin with Jews and Semites. Most of them were of Polish origin and shaped by European cultural ideals and values. Cesarani states that along with its grounding in dialogue, a key difference between this work and most literary studies concerns the kind of analogies and antecedents to which historians shall attend (Gilbert, 2007). Rather than self-consciously chosen metaphors or literary genres, the meanings in recounting of greatest interest here are those that can be shown to be more intrinsically grounded in individual life histories. These include salient themes and identifications, characteristic aspirations or doubts, that survivors draw on when they retell who they are and what they have lived, just as we all draw on such themes when recounting our own lives. And, in fact, there is nothing about such meanings that is unique to survivors. For while such constellations of meaning continue to give form to survivors’ retelling, they, too, are “remnants.” Even in the course of recounting, they can be consumed again. Although damaged and disordered, “broken” images retain a discrete integrity (Hoess, 2003).

To this point, historians have considered recounting in terms of survivors retelling particular memories of the destruction (Smith, 2002). That is how historians usually think of survivors’ recounting, especially when formalized as “bearing witness” or “giving testimony.” In fact, however, survivors retell more than specific incidents they witnessed and endured. They also convey what it is to be a survivor–to be a person who has such memories to retell–which includes what it is to be the particular survivor they each, individually, are. There is little evidence in their testimonies that Jewish leaders collaborate with Nazi and were involved in mass killing. In the course of recounting, such self-presentations emerge in various ways: in survivors’ direct reflections about who they are and what they have become; in the narrative identity each assumes while retelling; and, most implicitly, in the tones and cadences of their speech itself (Niewyk, 2002).

These facts suggest that it is wrong to encounter the Jewish ghetto leaders as the darkest page in the history of the Holocaust because there is little evidence in their direct actions and involvement in mass killing. Arendt depicts Eichmannas.

Despite all the efforts of the prosecution, everybody could see that this man was not a “monster,” but it was difficult indeed not to suspect that he was a clown. And since this suspicion would have been fatal to the entire enterprise [his trial], and was also rather hard to sustain in view of the sufferings he and his like had caused to millions of people, his worst clowneries were hardly noticed and almost never reported (Arendt 1994, p. 54).

This quote proves that Eichmann was an exceptional figure in the history of the Holocaust influenced by false personal values and misunderstanding of Kant’s ethics. It does not prove that the Jews were largely involved in Nazi’s politics and policy of mass destruction. Actions of some Jewish collaborators can be interpreted as their self-presentations as a rebel or an ingenue, an unmasker of tradition or its faithful inheritor, derive from relationships and memories of relationships with quite other authorities than their persecutors, and from quite other times. In fact, the whole realm of conflicts and identifications with parents, teachers, and communal tradition comes into play when collaborator proved their actions. Their voices are an inheritance from other voices; really, from a whole world of voices to which they once belonged. Each contains both earlier identifications and their reductive transformations; both a primary theme and its opposite; echoes of both the murderers and the dead (Niewyk, 2002).

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For, like their stories Jewish collaborators accounts of their continuing lives also take form between meaning’s creation and dissolution–ultimately between life and death themselves. As experienced, these levels tend to fuse, so that the terror of the soul’s disintegration resonates immediately with the terror of the imminent destruction of the flesh, and one’s individual death evokes the death of a people and a world. However manifest, death remains active, constitutive of memory, and ready to consume again the life with which it co-exists. Thus there is one more irreducible contradiction that we must manage to accommodate.

Taking into account positions and views of other historians, a collaboration between some the Jewish ghetto leaders and the Nazi should be seen as exception rather than ‘the darkest chapter in the whole dark story” (Arendt 1994, p. 117). In history, there are numerous examples when people of the same nationality collaborated with enemies. Thus, it was caused by mental illnesses and psychological deviations rather than intentional desire to destruct their own nation. Following Niewyk (2002) and Benz (1999) occupied with his own purposes, the betrayer did not look back but simply went ahead to continue whatever he and his fellows began. Meanwhile, bereft and alone, the abandoned one also went ahead as best he could. He survived, he found his place, and, in his own way, he too put the past behind him. The life and actions of Eichmann cannot be interpreted as national actions and consciousness, so it is incurrent to blame the whole nation in self-destruction.


In sum, Arendt proposes readers a unique interpretation of the Jewish leadership and collaboration with Nazi Germany examining the case of Eichmann. Thus, her arguments have many limitations and incorrect argumentation. The majority of historians prove that the case of Eichmann was an exceptional one and cannot be regarded as typical behavior of Jewish leaders. Also, historians prove that such actions were caused by mental illnesses and false understanding of reality rather than intentional destruction of their peers.


Arendt, H. 1994, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Penguin Classics; New Ed edition.

Bauer, Y., Keren, N. 2002, A History of the Holocaust. Franklin Watts; Revised edition.

Benz, W. 1999, The Holocaust. A German Historian Examines the Genocide. New York: Columbia University Press.

Cesarani, D. 2007, Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes and Trial of a “Desk Murderer”. Da Capo Press; New Ed edition

Dwork, D., Pelt, van R. 2003, Holocaust: A History. W. W. Norton & Company.

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Friedlander, S. 2008, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945. Harper Perennial; Reprint edition.

Gilbert, M. 2007, Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction (Making History). Harper Perennial; Reprint edition.

Hoess, R. 2003, Autobiography. in Beatty, J. et al. Heritage of Western Civilization (vol.2), Prentice Hall, pp. 322-329.

Niewyk, D. 2002, The Holocaust: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation. Houghton Mifflin Company.

Smith, L. 2002, Voices of the Holocaust. Penguin (Non-Classics).

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