The Unthinking Man

Adolf Eichmann

“Now that I look back, I realize that a life predicated on being obedient and taking orders is a very comfortable life indeed. Living in such a way reduces to a minimum one’s need to think.”
– Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962)

Adolf Eichmann joined the Austrian Nazi party in 1932 and later became a member of the SS. When Hitler came to power in January 1933, Eichmann returned to Germany and joined the German SS full time. Since then he rose quickly through the ranks and enjoyed a successful career. Due to his organizational talents and ideological reliability, he was tasked by the party to manage the logistics of deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps by trains in Nazi-occupied Europe until the end of the war.

At the end of the war, Eichmann was arrested and interned in an American camp, but he managed to escape to Argentina. In 1960, Israeli secret agents Mossad * abducted him and took him to Jerusalem where he stood trial. Eichmann was sentenced to death and executed in Ramleh Prison on May 31, 1962 for crimes against humanity and the Jewish People.

Political philosopher and writer Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), reported on this trial for the New Yorker Magazine. At the trial, Eichmann defended his actions by saying that he was just following law and order. Even as he listened to the evidences against him, he seemed to see no wrong with what he had done. Arendt described him as a product of a system that had prevented him thinking critically, this man just chose not to think too hard about what he was doing. He was not brave enough to question the given rules and did not resist the thought patterns in a totalitarian state. He had been brought up to obey the law and trained to follow orders. Arendt coined the words ‘ The Banality of Evil ‘ ** to describe what she saw in Eichmann. Banal is something common, boring and unoriginal. Something not exactly evil, but equally dangerous.

By failing to question what he was told to do, and by following law and order, this man took part in the Holocaust even though from his point of view he was just creating train timetables.

*  Eichmann’s abduction carried out by Israel was criticized and is still criticized by some to this day, as a violation of a country’s sovereign right. Yet after back-room negotiations, Argentina and Israel laid the matter to rest by issuing a joint-statement in August, 1960.
**  Some critics accuse Arendt sympathized with Eichmann. And evidences – some of it known at the time, some surfaced since — indicates that Eichmann knew very much what he was doing with awareness of the evil.