Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem explains very well why the Holocaust occurred. Arendt’s chronicle, originally for The New Yorker, dissects one of the Third Reich’s greatest criminals and reduces him to a mere bureaucrat. Some resentful people, who surely did not read the book well, said that Arendt was defending Otto Eichmann.
What did Arendt find after deeply analyzing the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem? That the German was not properly a bad or ruthless guy. In fact, Otto Eichmann, who was responsible for sending hundreds of thousands of Jews to the gas chambers, was not even an anti-Semite. He had nothing against Judaism. Nor did he have any mental problems. He was a normal person, with a family, whom he loved. A good neighbor, a good worker. That, of course, does not delegitimize the conviction: he was a war criminal and deserved the death penalty, for so much harm he caused.
Hannah Arendt’s conclusion is not for Eichmann but against humanity. It is a severe blow to the idealization of the human condition. This is what she calls the banality of evil, is based on the premise that every individual is capable of the most perverse things under the right conditions. For a position, for professional success, to please the boss, for promotion, an authentically normal individual is capable of sending thousands of men, women and children to torture and annihilation camps.
This brings us to another fundamental discussion, which goes hand in hand with the banality of evil: collaborationism, added to the political theory following the complicity of French bureaucrats with the Nazis. It is not that they were anti-Semites or real criminals. They also wanted to keep their privileges, positions, or influence intact. So they collaborated, no matter that the handshakes were with blood-soaked hands. Collaborationism in its maximum expression was that of the Vichy regime in France, but it also manifested itself at different levels and at all times.
The Jewish people have had to endure both concepts, which go hand in hand. The banality of evil, together with the collaborationists, has harassed the legitimacy of the Jewish cause, with the purpose of neutralizing it. And very little has changed since Auschwitz or Arbeitsdorf.
During the siege we witnessed in the middle of last year by the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas against the State of Israel, Jews throughout the world suffered aggression and verbal attacks. It happened in many of the world’s capitals. Even in a metropolis like New York, so supposedly tolerant, progressive and diverse, the city with the largest Jewish population outside Israel, fundamentalist militants and American accomplices beat and insulted passers-by for wearing the kippah.
And so on, thousands of expressions. A former porn actress calling the State of Israel genocidal or an American singer marching alongside Palestinians burning flags with the Shield of David. Anti-Semitic pogroms in Western capitals.
But complicity is not only evident. It is also present in more subtle gestures. For example, this week a Tennessee school board voted to remove Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus from the eighth-grade curriculum. In his work, Spiegelman recounts—appealing to a metaphor in which Nazis are cats and Jews are mice—how his parents were persecuted in occupied Poland and then sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. In short, the award-winning work is an impeccable and digested testimony for children of the lowest point humanity has reached. An indispensable testimony, I stress, because we cannot forget what we are capable of.
The ten members of the school board argued that the book was “vulgar” and “inappropriate” for children because of the violent tone. They were concerned about the subject and language. All agreed that children should not be exposed to the testimony related by Art Spiegelman.
In this regard, the cartoonist said he was puzzled by the decision to remove the graphic novel from the curriculum and that he has met hundreds of young people who have learned adequately about the worst episode in human history thanks to his book. Spiegelman added in an interview with CNBC that the Tennessee school’s decision was “Orwellian.”
Seventy-seven years after the Holocaust, the worst mistake we can make is to erase the testimonies, as if that would erase the crimes and heal the victims. Such a mistake would push us once again to allow the development of genocidal or eugenic projects supported on the shoulders of bureaucrats with no bad intentions, but who are utter cowards. We are already seeing it, in fact, in countries like China, where a minority, this time Muslim, is being eradicated step by step.
Some wounds remain intact. Some unwittingly emulate the spirit of Eichmann or General Pétain, head of the Vichy regime. They do not realize it, but they are also part of the machinery.