Theaters of Justice: Judging, Staging, and Working through in Arendt, Brecht, and Delbo

By Yasco Horsman | Go to book overview

2
Founding a Nation, Healing a Wound
ON CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

In Chapter I, we noted that Arendt, in the postscript to Eichmann in Jerusalem, suggests that the dynamics of the controversy over her book could be clarified by comparing it to the storm that raged over the publication of Rolf Hochhuth’s play Der Stellvertreter. The intensity of the public fury that greeted both texts, in which both authors were said to have put forth all sorts of claims that they had clearly never made, suggested to her that the Nazi years constituted, indeed, a past that had not been “mastered.” This past continued to evoke a range of uncontrolled defense mechanisms whose main function was to provide excuses to disavow the responsibility to judge. As we saw, Arendt maintained that learning from the past—and working through the grip it has over us—starts by adopting a judgmental stance.

Instructive as the comparison between the receptions of Der Stellvertreter and Eichmann in Jerusalem may be, they differ sharply as cases of collective refusals to face the past. As theatrical events, the Eichmann trial and Der Stellvertreter were staged in front of audiences whose subjective positions vis-à-vis the Nazi years were profoundly different. Der Stellvertreter was first performed in West Germany, the country of the perpetrators, whereas the Eichmann trial took place in Israel, the country of the victims. Both countries had different sets of issues to work through and hence variant types of resistance to overcome in their relation to the past.1 Most obviously, Germany needed to come to terms with its guilt, whereas the Jews, having established a sovereign nation-state as their homeland, had to cope with the trauma of massive loss and displacement.2

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