February 19, 2003

Arendt's editor, Eichmann's colleague It's

Arendt's editor, Eichmann's colleague

It's well-known that the "de-nazification" program in post-war Germany was neither thorough (with regard to the regime's bureaucrat-perpetrators) nor effective (with regard to the hearts and minds of many "ordinary Germans" in the first years of the Federal Republic.)

Shlomo Avineri, in this week's New Republic ("A Banal Story," unfortunately not available on line) notes a recent book on the subject and focuses on an arresting detail: Hannah Arendt's editor at the German publishing house Piper was one Hans Rossner, who had been an SS member and a functionary in the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Main Office of Reich Security) along with Adolf Eichmann.

Did Rossner's presumably less-than-thoroughly-reconstructed ideological frame of mind play a role in his editorial directives? Avineri adduces several examples that might indicate as much. At any rate, many of them are suffused with a kind of grim irony (scotching a dedication to Rosa Luxembourg, attempting to expunge or tamper with the word Jew when it occurred in titles, etc.) The German edition of Eichmann in Jerusalem is obviously the most intriguing and grimly ironic case, and it appears that, as editor, Rossner did indeed attempt, and occasionally prevailed, in altering or "softening" some of the book's language, and in one case managed to omit the name of a prominent former Nazi entirely. Or how about this:

Five weeks after Arendt's death... Rossner, who was by then editor-in-chief of Piper, sent a memorandum to the production department of the publishing house instructing them not to prepare a new edition of the Eichmann volume. He was over-ruled by the publisher himself, who insisted that the book remain in print.

Avineri adds:
All of us who have contacts-- human, scholarly, commercial, political-- with Germany are very familiar with the deep feeling of unease that descends upon us when we meet a German of a certain age, of "that" generation. Sometimes the German individual in question even volunteers the answers to our queries before we ask them-- what did he know? Was he a member of the Nazi Party? Sometimes the answers are true; sometimes they are false. Sometimes they are deeply moving.

Did Arendt ask such questions? Were they, and if so how were they, answered? Fascinating questions, and a striking example of how the reverberations of the sins and denial of a distant generation can be felt, even if sometimes only ever so slightly, today.

UPDATE: Here's that link, thanks to AtlanticBlog.

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 19, 2003 09:32 AM | TrackBack