Anthology – Peoples’ Plan for Life, Now and Forever …

Posted on August 25th, by A. Robert Johnson in Foreign Policy. Comments Off on Anthology – Peoples’ Plan for Life, Now and Forever …

“When Hannah Arendt wrote her postscript to the second edition of her Eichmann book, she had grown bitter. It was not she who had claimed ‘that the Jews had murdered themselves.’ The ‘well-known’ construct ‘ghetto mentality,’ which she attributed to the Israelis and which, she pointed out, had been espoused by Bruno Bettelheim, was not hers. Then she said that ‘someone who evidently found the whole discussion too dull had the brilliant idea of evoking Freudian theories and attributing to the whole Jewish people a ‘death wish’ — unconscious, of course.’ But who was that individual? When I first read these lines, I could not solve this riddle. I simply did not know anyone who wrote or spoke about death wishes in connection with the Jewish fate. More than twenty years passed before I read Arendt’s correspondence with Karl Jaspers. On March 24, 1964, he asked her whether I had defended her. She wrote back on April 24:

‘I have heard nothing about Hilberg taking my side He is pretty stupid and crazy. He babbles now about a ‘death wish’ of the Jews. His book is really excellent, but only because it is a simple report. A more general, introductory chapter is beneath a singed pig. (Pardon – for a moment I forgot to whom I am writing. Now I am going to let it stand anyway.)’

“The correspondence was published by Piper Verlag in Munich in 1985. The American translation, which appeared in 1992, did not contain the sentence with the words ‘stupid’ and ‘crazy.’ Curious, I inquired about this omission and was told that the statement was struck on legal advice.

“In the 1960s Piper Verlag was much more concerned with libel than in 1985. When that publisher considered her Eichmann in Jerusalem for the German market the possibility of lawsuits became a stumbling block. In the absence of footnotes, her multitude of statements about a great many living individuals, most of them in Germany, were unsubstantiated. Struggling in a four-page letter, dated January 22, 1963, with answers to Klaus Piper’s detailed questions, she said at one point:

‘Here as elsewhere I have used material presented in the book by Raul Hilberg that appeared in 1961. That is a standard book, which makes all the earlier investigations, such as those of Reitlinger, Poliakov, etc, appear to be antiquated. The author has worked for fifteen years only with sources, and if he had not, in addition, written a very foolish first chapter, in which he shows that he does not understand much about German history, the book would have been perfect so to speak. No one at any rate will be able to write about these things without using it.’

“I found this letter among her papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. Coincidentally, in that same collection I also unearthed a letter addressed to her on April 8, 1959, barely four years earlier, by Gordon Hubel of Princeton University Press. In that letter I discovered that the press had turned to her for an evaluation of my manuscript. Thanking her, Hubel enclosed a check. Here then was the source of Hubel’s argument—which he invoked in rejecting my work—that for all practical purposes Reitlinger, Poliakov, and Adler had exhausted the subject. This assessment was Hannah Arendt’s thinking a year before Eichmann’s capture in Argentina.

“I still wonder what triggered her reactions to my first chapter. Was she really aroused by my search for historical precedents, such as the roots of anti-Jewish actions from 1933 to 1941 in the canons of the Catholic church, or the origin of the Nazi conception of the Jew in the writings of Martin Luther? To be sure, she had a personal need to insulate the Nazi phenomenon. She went back to Germany at every opportunity after the war, resuming contacts and relationships. With Heidegger, who had been her lover in her student days and who was a Nazi in Hitler’s time, she became friendly again, rehabilitating him. But in dismissing my ideas she also made a bid for self-respect. Who was I, after all? She, the thinker, and I, the laborer who wrote only a simple report, albeit one which was indispensable once she had exploited it: that was the natural order of her universe.”

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