The Banality of Evil

Below is a link to a photo album once owned by the Deputy Commandant of Auschwitz death camp. In it are photos of the camps officer corp at their leisure, we see them on away days, when they visit the countryside that surrounded the hell hole they helped administer. When they are enjoying a drink or in the festive season.

When you look at these photos Hannah Arendt book ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil’ comes to mind. Arendt’s thesis was that people who carry out unspeakable crimes against humanity may not be crazy fanatics at all, but rather ordinary individuals who simply accept the premises of their state and participate in any ongoing enterprise with the energy of good bureaucrats.

The men and women in these photographs, bar the uniforms, could be any governments or local authority bureaucrats on a works outing. Which for me makes them all the more terrifying, as when these people returned to work next day after having had an enjoyable day out, they continued with their ghastly work slaughtering countless men women and children.*

The link to the Photo album.

* I would like to thank Tony Greenstein for giving me the heads up on these Photos and congratulate both the New York Times and the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum for publishing them.



Filed under EU, extreme-right-politics- unaceptable-face-of-capitalism, fascism, golden-generation anti-Fascist, Holocaust, nazi-germany, WW2

5 responses to “The Banality of Evil

  1. Anonymous

    Arendt’s thesis on the banality of evil in relation to the crimes of Eichmann has been pretty much discredited.

    It was debated at length in the early 1960s and as Jacob Robinson demonstrated in his 1965 book – And the crooked shall be made straight, Arendt’s book on the Eichmann trial contained literally hundreds of errors.

    For those interested, an early examination by Robinson of Eichmann in Jerusalem in the July-August 1963 issue of Facts has been reproduced on the following website:


  2. Mick Hall


    I despair some times, instead of posting about the photographs, or to disagree with the points I made. You attempt to resurrect the old arguments between Zionists and those people who supported Hannah Arendt’s right to express her views.

    What is your point, are you saying that these Photos should not have been published, are you saying that evil is not often extremely Banal?

    Surly the lesson we need to learn about evil is it is more likely to appear banal that with horns on its head, one only has to see GW Bush to understand this.

  3. Anonymous

    Hi Mick,

    I certainly believe that the photographs should be published and I appreciate the fact that you have put them on your web site.

    Regarding Hannah Arendt – You state –
    “the old arguments between Zionists and those people who supported Hannah Arendt’s right to express her views”

    The opponents of Hannah Arendt’s thesis did not want to silence her in any way. They vehemently disagreed with her, but that does not mean to say that they wanted to silence her.

    For information the opponents of Arendt’s thesis were not simply “Zionists,” but included all sorts of people including well known historians. The notable and relevant one was of course Raul Hilberg. You are no doubt aware as Arendt admits at the beginning of her book on the Eichmann trial that she admits to have relied heavily upon the work of Hilberg for her historical analysis. Well Hilberg substantially disagreed with what has become known as “The Arendt Thesis”. This is discussed by Hilberg in his autobiography – The Politics of Memory: The Journey of a Holocaust Historian.

    I am not saying that evil is never banal, but I find it hard to accept that Eichmann was a banal character. A more recent and highly acclaimed biography of Eichmann by David Cesarani also does not portray Eichmann as banal. (Interestingly Cesarani is also highly critical of Eichmann in Jerusalem)

    You ask the point I was making – The answer really is that Arendt’s work is unreliable. That is not just something I say, but something leading Holocaust scholars say. I will add to Robinson, Hilberg and Cesarani – the notable Isaiah Trunk in his monumental work Judenrat. Of course to those names I could add numerous others. Arendt was clearly a brilliant woman – no one can take that away from her and I would have very much liked to meet her notably to discuss her opinions on totalitarianism – but despite being briliant, she was a philosopher or a political commentator – not a historian.

    Regarding your comment about GW Bush, I disagree with you as I do not believe that he is evil, but I did not post on your blog to have a discussion about him.

    I trust this is acceptable and thank you for your response.


  4. robb

    >>For those interested, an early examination by Robinson of Eichmann in Jerusalem in the July-August 1963 issue of Facts has been reproduced on the following website:
    < <
    Personally I think Paul Bogdanor,someone who can defends the atrocities committed by Israel and accuses Jews who do not support such brutal terrorist policies to be antisemetic, is delusional and probably a perfect example of an evil banality; if I believed in evil. So though I have not read Arendt’s book and cannot vouch for its accuracy I can vouch for Paul Bognadors odious nastyness(opposite side of coin to David Irvine). I also believe totally in the banality of evil, just look at the banality of our journalists, MPs and public , talking about the disaster and responsibility for murdering probably over a million people in Iraq as if we they were discussing a football match.


  5. Mick Hall

    Mikey [and RobB]

    Thanks for your further comment, I’m with RobB on this, although you may be correct about Eichmann not being banal there was certainly a banality about the nazis evil and as RobB writes not only them. I feel it is prevalent today, especially in the way the US/UK have intervened in Iraq.

    This struck me when I was watching General Colin Powell going through the motions at the UN Assembly when he made a nonsensical case about WMDs. I was watching the US bureaucrats that surrounded him, to a man they must have known their boss was talking crap as the boss himself obviously did, but they took a position of my country right or wrong; and it was up to them to do a good job on their nations behalf.

    Never for a moment thinking that perhaps by displaying such subservience they might be betraying both their country and its people, not least by splashing them all over with innocent Iraqi blood.

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