I took a group of new friends to Yad Vashem today. The tour guide remembered me from previous visits and suggested I might instead want to see a new exhibit devoted to the arrest and trial of Adolph Eichmann rather another visit to the Holocaust History Museum. And so, on a day when the history hall was crowded to capacity, I set off for a section of the auditorium and in near solitude contemplated the personification of what Hannah Arendt famously termed "the banality of evil."
All the details of Eichmann's capture and arrest by Mossad agents in Argentenia in 1961 were there. Hand drawn plans of the raid, photos of his modest and rural home outside Buenos Aires, and the ID card he was issued to work in the local Mercedes Benz plant. The contents of his pocket the night he was apprehended. It was all there.
But the most chilling part was seeing the man himself in archival footage of his testimony from his trail. He was entirely unremorseful, behaving as if the though of apologizing for the deaths of so many had never occurred to him. Unrepentant to the end, he spoke of the deaths of women and children with a chilling detachment. Taking no responsibility for his actions, he was "just following orders."
At one point Eichmann likened himself to Pontius Pilate, caught in an unwinnable situation. But he professed no hatred, nor showed any emotion aside from a nervous contortion of his face on occasion. He demonstrated no ideological bent, either grand or depraved. He may have had one, but the defense he offered was little more than to say he did what he was instructed as if there is absolution in blind obedience. As Arendt observed when she covered the trial for the New Yorker, Eichmann seemed not a lunatic, not even a monster or an evil villain, but more a tragically deficient man who refused to assume any responsibility for his own actions.