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Conference seeks to answer Holocaust questions

‘Banality of evil’ explored 50 years after Eichmann trials

Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 23:01

Much of the discussion and education of the Holocaust is focused primarily on the actual events that occurred during the Holocaust, said Ashley Passmore, professor of German, Jewish studies and international studies, but the aftermath, including the trials and proceedings following the Holocaust, are much less discussed and comprehended today.

The Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research and the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center will host “Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: 50 Years On” Thursday through Saturday, a conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” originally published in the New York Times.

As a part of a two-year series, “World War II and its Global Legacies,” the conference will explore Hannah Arendt, the late journalist and philosopher, whose well-known work concerned the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a key figure in the S.S. in Nazi Germany.

“He was largely involved in the organization, deportation and extermination of the Jews, primarily in Poland, including Auschwitz,” said Richard Golsan, director of The Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research.

The conference features discussions surrounding human rights, Arendt’s philosophy and the Eichmann trial conducted in Israel in 1961.

“She asks questions such as, ‘Who is capable of committing such evils?’ and ‘Under what conditions?’” Golsan said.

One of Arendt’s most well-known ideas was her conceptualization of the “banality of evil.” She theorized that the greatest evils throughout history, including the Holocaust, were not executed on a day-to-day basis by “fanatics” or “psychopaths,” but by the ordinary and bureaucratic person, who accepted the terms of the state and didn’t question them.

Thursday, the conference will show a screening of “The Trial of Adolf Eichmann,” directed by critically-acclaimed French documentary filmmaker Michaël Prazan. Golsan said the screening serves to educate students on the trial and brings aspects of the trial such as the legal and philosophical concerns of Hannah Arendt into question. The screening will include an introduction and Q-and-A, featuring the director himself.

Ashley Passmore, lecturer in the Department of International Studies, said the conference would be a valuable experience to all students.

“The story of the Holocaust isn’t over,” Passmore said. “That’s why today, we can still talk about it. The questions that it raises still are not satisfactorily answered.”

Robert Jameson, junior biomedical engineering major, echoed Passmore’s viewpoint.

“The Holocaust was not only an important and recent impact even on modern culture, society and international relations, but also has a staggering psychological impact,” Jameson said. “Something for students to learn is not the ‘who and what’ but the ‘why and how.’”

Jameson spent the spring of his sophomore year studying abroad in Bonn, Germany, and will study abroad this summer in Rwanda — both nations that faced genocides within just 50 years of each other. He said he is interested in seeing what students can learn about the capabilities of mankind.

“I’d love to see what there’ll be with regards to the banality of evil, and how this may be applicable to the Rwanda incident,” Jameson said. “My travel to Germany influences me to go as well, and I’d love to hear the opinions of the scholars, historians and others with regards to the trial.”

Jessica Drake, junior English literature major, said the conference can motivate Aggies to evaluate their work, lives and community, and question whether or not they live their day-to-day lives ethically and morally.

“One must be certain that the direction they lead is not in contradiction to what we know in our society as morally right,” Drake said.

 

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