Words & Deeds

'Hannah Arendt' & 'A Hijacking'

The German-Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) lived a life emblematic of her era, a casualty of Hitler’s rise to power who emigrated to the United States and became a prominent New York intellectual. But singular aspects of her curriculum vitae lent her a special gloss of fame—first as the student and lover of the philosopher Martin Heidegger, and second as the writer of a five-part New Yorker report on the 1961 Israeli trial of Adolf Eichmann. Those articles and her subsequent book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, ignited an incendiary controversy among Jewish intellectuals and other observers who accused -Arendt of downplaying Eichmann’s crimes while showing insufficient sympathy for his victims. Residual echoes of that argument make her an object of enduring interest, as does the landmark concept she contributed to the world’s moral lexicon: “the banality of evil.”

It’s difficult to imagine a director better equipped to handle such a life than Margaretha von Trotta. Born in Berlin during World War II, von Trotta has repeatedly focused her work on the political and intellectual efforts of women in a world dominated by men, including Rosenstrasse (2003), which chronicled the wartime struggle of German women married to Jewish husbands. Hannah Arendt is the final installment of the director’s trilogy of feminist historical biopics—all with Barbara Sukowa in the lead roles—beginning with ...

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About the Author

Rand Richards Cooper is Commonweal's contributing editor.