A great piece in The Nation about the intellectual connections between Raul Hilberg and Hannah Arendt. Arendt is a frequent topic on this blog and elsewhere, but Hilberg is a writer whose reputation has become somewhat obscured in recent years. This is puzzling considering that his book The Destruction of the European Jews was one of the first on the topic to appear in the West (and indeed went a great distance in shaping the Nazi crimes as The Holocaust in the modern consciousness.) The book was originally a dissertation that Hilberg prepared at Columbia under the supervision of Franz Neumann – he of the Frankfurt School and Behemoth fame, as well as the person who famously told Hilberg about his dissertation topic: “It’s your funeral.”
Meanwhile, Arendt’s own work on the subject, Eichmann in Jerusalem, appeared in 1963, two years after Hilberg’s book. It caused an international furor that doesn’t need to be recounted here. What’s interesting is that apparently Arendt’s indebtedness to Hilberg on this subject was much greater than she originally let on. Hilberg himself remained bitter at the fact that she did not give due credit to his research in Eichmann (perhaps further solidifying Arendt’s reputation as a less than meticulous scholar.) Hilberg himself, meanwhile, kept meticulous records of all the places where he thought Arendt borrowed from his work without proper citation, which amounted to some eighty transgressions in total. In the ironic end, neither ultimately came away satisfied with their work: Hilberg died with a constant sense of being underappreciated, while Arendt bristled at the rough reception her book received among the Jewish diaspora and stopped writing on the topic for the rest of her life.