Malice in Action
In 1961, as a spectator at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt drew a compelling portrait of the desk murderer as the epitome of the banality of evil. She found in Eichmann a gray, mediocre man, a petty official who was carried away by the winds of history to become an arch-criminal. His primary motivation, so Arendt, was to advance his career. Ideology and even a full understanding of what he was engaged in were beyond him. This article takes a renewed look at Eichmann and his staff. It follows them into their office building, peers at the paperwork on their desks and listens to them discussing their labors during breaks. It follows them to their encounters with their Jewish victims, and listens as their secretaries reminisce twenty years later. The collective portrait that emerges of Eichmann and his colleagues is significantly darker from that of Arendt. These were ideological Nazis purposefully killing Jews in order to redeem the world.