Hannah Arendt was interned in the South of France by the Vichy government and would have been transported to a Nazi death camp, had she not escaped with her family to America where she became a professor of philosophy, or a political theorist as she preferred to call it.
Margarethe Von Trotta’s film is not a biopic of this courageous lady’s wartime adventures. It concerns a moment in her life when intellectual analysis and political expediency clashed. The result demonstrates, even as late as the 1960s, that Israel was more concerned with public perception than truth.
After MOSSAD agents snatched Adolf Eichmann from Argentina, illegally by the way, and put him on trial in Tel Aviv, the die was cast.
Hannah saw Ben-Gurion’s hand behind it.
“The youth of Israel do not understand the dark days,” she concurred. “They think only criminals and whores could have survived the camps.”
Eichmann’s evidence would inform them otherwise.
She was sent by The New Yorker to cover the trial. “He’s not anything like I expected,” she said. “He’s not like a Nazi. He sits in his glass cage. He’s not spooky at all. He’s a nobody.”
Finally, after coming to her own conclusions that Eichmann’s responsibility for the transportation of Jews to the camps did not involve moral judgement on his part, as to what happened to them afterwards indicated a bureaucratic strain of stultifying mediocrity: “He was simply unable to think.”
When her articles, criticising the conduct of the trial and certain Jewish leaders during the Holocaust, appeared in print, all hell broke loose. The Jewish community in New York turned against her and even MOSSAD sent representatives to dissuade her from publishing, as hate mail arrived by the vanload.
Von Trotta conveys this critical onslaught powerfully and Barbara Sukowa gives a strong performance as Hannah.
It is never easy to cover literary battles on film where intellectual debate takes the place of hand-to-hand combat.
And so it is here – a think piece of academic interest rather than a martial arts action package.