And Hannah Laughed: The Role of Irony in Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date




Publication Title

In G. N. Finder and E. Lederhendler (Eds.), A club of their own: Jewish humorists and the contemporary world (Vol. 29, pp. 132-140): Oxford University Press.




This chapter analyzes Hannah Arendt’s use of irony and humor in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), a compilation of her serialized account of the Adolf Eichmann trial published in The New Yorker in 1962. Eichmann, the former head of the Gestapo’s section for Jewish affairs, was tried in Jerusalem for being a key perpetrator in the murder of six million Jews. Arendt’s critics viewed the humorous aspects and intonations of her report as lacking in the propriety and gravity expected from material dealing with the Holocaust. However, they failed to realize that Arendt’s irony and humor were part of her political rhetoric, which was intentionally provocative and had serious goals in mind. Her tendentious jokes about Eichmann are anything but innocent entertainment; they sought to reveal Eichmann as the personification of the “banality of evil,” which, while deviating from the traditional understanding of evil as having demonic depth, is nonetheless equally dangerous. The many anecdotes she provides about Eichmann’s inconsistent and even absurd utterances during his trial acquaint readers with his character and way of thinking, and thus constitute the groundwork for judging his degree of culpability for the crimes for which he was accused and ultimately convicted.


This is a chapter in a book available through subscription: doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190646127.003.0009

Original Publication Citation

Steitz, K. (2016). And Hannah Laughed: The Role of Irony in Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem. In G. N. Finder & E. Lederhendler (Eds.), A Club of Their Own: Jewish Humorists and the Contemporary World (Vol. 29, pp. 132-140): Oxford University Press.