The Banality of Evil

man sitting and closing eyes on teal bench

From 1933 to 1945, the Nazis political party terrorized people in Germany. Millions of people stood by and let other suffering because, they said, “They have not hurt me.” One person who felt the shame and guilt of not speaking up and acting in a more righteous manner was a prominent Protestant pastor, Martin Niemoller (1892 – 1984).

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out– because I was not a communist; Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out– because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out– because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me– and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

When Pastor Niemoller finally did speak out against Adolf Hitler, he was arrested and spent seven years in concentration camps.

Adolf Eichmann was one of the many Germans who defended the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, and became a central figure in The Final Solution, the termination of all the Jews in Europe.

After World War II, Adolf Eichmann was found hiding in Argentina. He was kidnapped, by the Mossad, arrested by the government of Israel, and taken to the Holy City of Jerusalem to stand trial for the central part he played in The Holocaust. Eichmann was found guilty on fifteen counts of war crimes. Among many other atrocities, Eichmann was found guilty of killing millions of Jews, for he was primarily responsible for their systematic deportation to the extermination camps, beginning in August 1941.

For his defense, Adolf Eichmann said he was only a career civil servant doing a job assigned to him by his superiors. He might have done evil deeds, but he did so without evil intentions.

A Jewish reporter for The New Yorker covering the trial of Eichmann in 1961 was Hannah Arendt.

            “Arendt found Eichmann an ordinary, rather bland, bureaucrat, who in her words, was      ‘neither perverted nor sadistic’, but ‘terrifyingly normal’. He acted without any motive     other than to diligently advance his career in the Nazi bureaucracy. Eichmann was not an    amoral monster, she concluded in her study of the case, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). Instead, he performed evil deeds without evil intentions, a fact connected to his ‘thoughtlessness’, a disengagement from the reality of his evil acts.            Eichmann ‘never realized what he was doing’ due to an ‘inability… to think from the standpoint of somebody else’. Lacking this particular cognitive ability, he ‘commit   crimes under circumstances that made it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he [was] doing wrong’.

            Arendt dubbed these collective characteristics of Eichmann ‘the banality of evil’: he was    not inherently evil, but merely shallow and clueless, a ‘joiner’, in the words of one   contemporary interpreter of Arendt’s thesis: he was a man who drifted into the Nazi Party, in search of purpose and direction, not out of deep ideological belief.” ~Thomas White, writing for The New Yorker

The banality of evil has been found in every generation. It is expressed in the thought, “He (or she) has never done anything to me.” Others may be hurt. but as long as self is protected, there can be love, fellowship, and enjoyment in the company of those who are known to hurt others.

“To bear with patience wrongs done to oneself is a mark of perfection, but to bear with patience wrongs done to someone else is a mark of actual sin.” ~Thomas Aquinas

“Lord, deliver me from the banality of evil. Amen.”

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