Literature of the Holocaust
maintained by Al Filreis

Aharon Meytahl on Arendt and Heidegger

The relations and the affair between Hanna Arendt and Martin Heidegger sound as a pulp fiction story. At the time the affair began, he was magnetic lecturer, university professor about to publish, according to many, the most important philosophy book in the 20th century. He was 35 years old, married with children, a gentile who studied under Husserel. She was 18 years old promising student of philosophy, a Jew. The affair lasted four years. Then, he joined the Nazi party, severed his relations with all his Jewish acquaintances and terminated the affair with Arendt. She left Germany, came to New York and became one of the most prominent intellectuals of 'our crowd' in the city.

After the war, they met again. He, frustrated, aging philosopher, denounced as a prominent Nazi professor, not permitted to resume his academic activities, sharply criticized by his pre-war colleagues. She, a lady of letters in prime of her life. Contrary to others, she is willing to find excuses for Heidegger's behavior. She defends him and tries to help. It is not clear whether the love affair continued after the war. Friendship certainly did.

Elzbieta Ettinger, a professor at MIT, got access to correspondence between the two, and published a short book about their love and friendship. The book is reviewed by Paul Roazen in the summer issue of the American Scholar.

To make the story of Jew-Nazi lovers even more complicated, Roazen writes about the now famous report of Eichmann trial by Arendt, and compares the negative attitude of Arendt to the victims with her toleration and apologetics of Heidegger.

'Eichmann in Jerusalem' is indeed not free of blunders. Coining the expression 'banality of evil' was nothing more than just this - coining an expression. Put on trial, not knowing what lies in the future, or even worse, knowing it, the accused are most of times banal. The perpetrators at the Nuremberg trials were not less 'banal' than Eichmann (with possible exception of Goehring). The insignificance of the humiliated perpetrator does not, however, make, the crimes and the evil banal. So were the 'confessions' of the once powerful leaders of Russian Revolution in Stalin trials. The appearance in the dock, or in glass cage, is no evidence as to banality of evil.

Her comments about 'collaboration' were wrong. It was very easy not collaborate with Nazis while living in New York. The options of heads of Judenrat in Warsaw, or Lodz or any other ghetto were far more involved and much less clear.

Ridiculing Gideon Hausner, the Attorney of the State and Chief Prosecutor, as an Ostjude was tasteless too. Apparently Hannah Arendt did not read attentively instruction number 17 of Strunk and White: 'Do not inject opinion (unless there is a good reason ...).'

Still, the explanation for her behavior by Roazen is far too sweeping and, I think, wrong. This is what he writes:

"If Eichmann was simply following orders, and his conduct certifiably normal within the context of Nazi Germany, her own defense of Heidegger can reflect the way a social thinker such as herself might be conditioned by circumstances and advantage to curry favor in the midst of the most vile forms of evil. Having as a Jew escaped from Germany in 1933, Arendt remained for the rest of her life loyal to the whole philosophic tradition that had helped lead to Hitlerism ..."

Roazen is pushing his experience in psychoanalysis too far. There is no connection between Eichmann in Jerusalem and Heidegger. I would like to propose a kinder explanation for her willingness to help Heidegger. On some level helping Heidegger expressed power and reversal of roles of master and slave. He left her, chose a new world, new religion, betrayed his former friends and teachers. And then his world and his life were destroyed. His choice proved to be wrong. Now, the once all powerful Heidegger, and his wife which was even more ardent Nazi than he, both apply for help from the Jewess, the lover. And she, with her huge ego, agrees to help. Could there be a more satisfactory revenge? Roazen article is titled 'Soft-Hearted Hannah.' He may be mistaken.

Aharon Meytahl

Search for a (single) word:

http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/Holocaust/arendt-heidegger-more.html - - - Last modified: Friday, 06-Aug-2004 09:19:15 EDT