Community

SJCA: Hannah Arendt Film Discussion

Saratoga Jewish Community Arts, with a generous grant from the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York and sponsorship of Temple Sinai of Saratoga Springs, presents a Zoom panel discussion of the film Hannah Arendt, by Margarethe von Trotta, on May 18, at 7 PM.
Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe the ordinariness of the Holocaust’s perpetrators; a thinker and writer, often referred to as a philosopher, considered herself a political theorist. She was struck by the danger of thoughtlessness and spent her life thinking about thinking. A German-born Jewish American intellectual and Jewish activist covered the infamous Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem for The New Yorker magazine. The film is not a story of Arendt’s life, but a focus on the controversy of her thoughts and ideas written about the kidnapping and trial of Eichmann, who faced execution for crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes against the Jewish people, and membership in a criminal organization. Trotta’s film has been praised for portraying thinking on-screen in a manner that is not boring. Hannah Arendt herself remains controversial even today.

She claimed Eichmann was not a “monster” in any typical or expected sense of that word. He was rather a bureaucratic functionary, unable to express himself in anything but cliches and incapable of thinking, of exhibiting the self-awareness required to question the laws under whose premise he labored. He was banal and the administration of a genocidal program proceeded from banality. According to Arendt, Eichmann was neither a fanatic nor a sociopath. He was an ordinary man who accepted the rule of his state, his party, and their Fuhrer. His embodiment of evil resulted from an inability or an unwillingness to think. Her report proposed “the banality of evil,” an expression which described the radical disparity between Eichmann’s underwhelming personality and the incalculable enormity of his sins.

“Arendt’s articles and her later book, Eichmann in Jerusalem,” says Phyllis Wang, Coordinator of SJCA, “across the years became something
to defend or condemn; her work unleashed a civil war amongst intellectuals. She was cursed as a self-hating Jew, a Nazi lover, and damaged her friendships.”

The Zoom panel discussion of Hannah Arendt will be presented on May 18 at 7 PM. Registration is required at sjca.sjcf@gmail.com Hannah Arendt is available for free on Kanopy, free to subscribers of Chair Flicks, and for a $3.99 rental from Apple.