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The Necessity of Reflection and Confession

In the early 1960s, political writer Hannah Arendt attended the trials of Adolf Eichmann, the German officer who had orchestrated much of the Holocaust. In 1934, Eichmann had been appointed to the Jewish section of the “security services” of the SS. From then on, he became deeply involved with the formulation and operation of the “final solution to the Jewish question.” He drew up the idea of deportation of Jews into ghettos, and went about gathering Jews into concentration camps with murderous efficiency. He took great pride in the role he played in the death of six million European Jews.

At his trial, Arendt expected to find a monster. Only a deranged psychopath could lend his considerable organizational skills to the mass murder of millions in Nazi Germany. What stunned Arendt was her startling discovery of a “normal” and “simple” man at the trial. The notorious architect of the Holocaust did not appear as a devil but as a banal bureaucrat doing what he was told.

Hannah Arendt’s book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, provides an unnerving account of unreflective living. Eichmann insisted in the trial that he was not a murderer but that his conscience demanded of him unquestioning submission to the demands of his superiors. Those demands resulted in the calculated deportation of millions of women, children, and men to their orchestrated deaths.

As Arendt reported, psychologists diagnosed Eichmann as “normal” with familial affections that were enviable. Herein lies the horror. Eichmann loved his wife; he was a good father. He was not a monster. He was banal, unremarkable, and commonplace. This “normal” man could be transformed into the abhorrent perpetrator of humanity’s grossest crimes because his banality and ambition kept him from an inner examination of his life.

Possible Preaching Angle:

Eichmann’s crimes seem far removed from anything ordinary people would commit. But without self-reflection and confession, normal people are capable of horrific evil. Psalm 36:2 (“In their blind conceit, they cannot see how wicked they really are,” NLT) has something to say about Eichmann and the banality of evil. It has something to say to us.

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