Hannah Arendt grappled with the Holocaust throughout her lifetime, creating the concept of “the banality of evil” to understand the widespread complicity in the mass killings. Arendt struggled to understand anti-Semitism throughout her life—she wrote her dissertation on a German Jewish salon hostess who converted to Christianity in the early 1800s, then protested the rising Nazi movement and was arrested by the Gestapo. After her release, she fled to Paris, where she helped rescue Jewish children and send them to Palestine before the Nazi invasion forced her to flee to America. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, she discussed the ingrained racism of Europeans and coined the term “radical evil” to describe the intensity of the Holocaust compared with earlier anti-Semitism. But her later coverage of a Nazi war crimes trial, Eichmann in Jerusalem, caused her to revise her theories in favor of the banality of evil, the belief that the Holocaust was perpetrated not by raging hatemongers but by bureaucrats who failed to see the moral consequences of obeying orders. Arendt went on to become the first female full professor at Princeton University, writing and teaching on political theory.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Hannah Arendt." (Viewed on January 26, 2015) <http://jwa.org/people/arendt-hannah>.