Reviews: Books & Film
Comment 1

The Eichmann Show (2015)

The Eichmann Show is a BBC production currently airing on Netflix. It’s 1961 and Israeli agents have captured Adolf Eichmann, one of the organizers of the Holocaust, while in hiding in Argentina. Eichmann is brought back for trial in Jerusalem. The Eichmann Show, however, does not center on the trial or on Eichmann himself, rather the film dramatizes the action on the other side of the camera, the quest of the American director Leo Hurwitz to capture Eichmann’s humanity.

Hurwitz believes that doing so will show the world that fascism and genocide are not a uniquely NAZI phenomenon, it’s part of the human condition. The great evil in the world, Hurwitz believes, is not the domain of monsters, of devils and of demons. Under the right circumstances, we are all capable of monstrosities, and Hurwitz can capture Eichmann’s humanity, even just one authentic moment of real human emotion, then Hurwitz believes that he will have done something profound.  

Hurwitz brings an ideological agenda to his work of documentation, but he’s driven by more than that. As a blacklisted Hollywood director, Hurwitz has seen how right-wing hysteria can quickly spiral into forms of fascist paranoia. Hurwitz was on the wrong side of McCarthyism.

Television Eichmann trial in Jerusalem - Holocaust TV - NAZI Germany

It’s a fascinating exploration. I’ve been researching Hannah Arendt’s idea of the “banality of evil.” Arendt went to the Jerusalem trial in 1961, on behalf of The New Yorker, and her articles raised a firestorm of controversy. Among other things, Arendt saw Eichmann not as a beast but as a bureaucrat, someone who was good at the banal task of organizing the transport of Jews to concentration camps.

Like Hurwitz, Arendt agreed with the fact that Eichmann was human, but while Hurwitz was obsessed with finding a moment of true human emotion, Arendt found the banality of Eichmann more intriguing.

The Eichmann Show is a film about the Holocaust and the human condition, but it’s also a film about film, and in a greater sense, it’s a film about writing itself, of the process of documentation. Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem was the first global television documentary, hence there is an underlying theme running through the film: the role that the film maker as writer plays in the unfolding drama of historical documentation. Historical documentation, it turns out is as subjective and impermanent as history itself.

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Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy; I pass the winters in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. I'm working on a memoir-based nonfiction book on the American Dream. I blog, quite frequently, and I also have a novel in process, set in Alaska.

1 Comment

  1. This sounds intriguing. I’ve written before about the notorious Milgram experiment of 1963, in which most of the subjects administered (what they believed were) electric shocks at fatal levels to a confederate in the next room under the assurance of the lab-coated experimenter that it was okay to do so.

    I just read a short fiction by the strange Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai in which a noted film director sends the narrator a cassette film of a 60s murder trial. The film, of poor quality with lots of technical glitches, presents the accused as an elegant self-controlled victim, unjustly set up in a show trial by a gang of primitive murderous thugs controlling the justice system. Only later in the film does it become clear that the accused actually is guilty of the crime. The narrator sends a letter to the director who sent him the cassette:

    Gyuri, I think the recorded sound and image should be left as is. As a matter of fact this is not what needs to be worked on, because precisely this constitutes your material, just as it stands. Keep the original noise and words spoken on the soundtrack, and possibly use subtitles to convey the conversation between director, cameraman, and lighting operator. Professional commentary on the rotten equipment, about who is to do what, and with whom, and when, who should plug in what, or as the case may be, refrain from plugging in, or unplugging, and what now, who should hold the cables and where, and how, or who shouldn’t, and just where exactly. The subtitles should deal exclusively with technical problems regarding the shoot. TECHNICAL PROBLEMS. My suggestion for a title.

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