| October 14,
|4 December 1975(1975-12-04) (aged 69)
New York City, United States
Does Hannah Rae Dead or Alive?
As per our current Database, Hannah Rae died on 4 December 1975(1975-12-04) (aged 69)
New York City, United States.
Hannah Arendt was born Johanna Cohn Arendt in 1906 into a comfortable educated secular family of German Jews in Linden, Prussia (now a part of Hanover), in Wilhelmine Germany. Her family were merchants of Russian extraction from Königsberg, the East Prussian capital. Arendt’s grandparents were members of the Reform Jewish community there. Hannah’s paternal grandfather, Max Arendt [de] (1843–1913), was a prominent businessman, local politician, one of the leaders of the Königsberg Jewish community and a member of the Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens (Central Organization for German Citizens of the Jewish Faith). Like other members of the Centralverein he primarily saw himself as a German and disapproved of the activities of Zionists, such as the young Kurt Blumenfeld (1884–1963), who was a frequent visitor to their home and would later become one of Hannah’s mentors. Of Max Arendt’s children, Paul Arendt (1873–1913) was an engineer and Henriette Arendt (1874–1922) was a policewoman who became a social worker.
In the first four years of their marriage, the Arendts lived in Berlin, where they were supporters of the socialist journal Sozialistische Monatshefte. At the time of Hannah’s birth, Paul Arendt was employed by an electrical engineering firm in Linden, and they lived in a frame house on the market square (Marktplatz). The Arendt family moved back to Königsberg in 1909, because of Paul’s deteriorating health. Hannah’s father suffered from a prolonged illness with syphilis and had to be institutionalized in the Königsberg psychiatric hospital in 1911. For years later, Hannah had to have annual WR tests for congenital syphilis. He died on 30 October 1913, when Hannah was seven, leaving her mother to raise her. They lived at Hannah’s grandfather’s house at Tiergartenstrasse 6, a leafy residential street adjacent to the Königsberg Tiergarten, in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Hufen. Although Hannah’s parents were non-religious, they were happy to allow Max Arendt to take Hannah to the Reform synagogue. She also received religious instruction from the rabbi, Hermann Vogelstein, who would come to her school for that purpose. At the time the young Hannah confided that she wished to marry him when she grew up. Her family moved in circles that included many intellectuals and professionals. It was a social circle of high standards and ideals. As she recalled it:
Arendt attended kindergarten from 1910 where her precocity impressed her teachers and enrolled in the Szittnich School, Königsberg (Hufen-Oberlyzeum), on Bahnstrasse in August 1913, but her studies there were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I, forcing the family to temporarily flee to Berlin on 23 August 1914, in the face of the advancing Russian army. There they stayed with her mother’s younger sister, Margarethe Fürst (1884–1942), and her three children, while Hannah attended a girl’s Lyzeum school in Berlin-Charlottenburg. After ten weeks, when Königsberg appeared to be no longer threatened, the Arendts were able to return, where they spent the remaining war years at her grandfather’s house. Arendt’s precocity continued, learning ancient Greek as a child, writing poetry in her teenage years, and starting both a philosophy club and Greek Graecae at her school. She was fiercely independent in her schooling and a voracious reader, absorbing French and German literature and poetry (committing large amounts to heart) and philosophy. By the age of 16, she had read Kierkegaard, Jaspers’ Psychologie der Weltanschauungen and Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason). Kant, whose home town was also Königsberg, was an important influence on her thinking, and it was Kant who had written about Königsberg that “such a town is the right place for gaining knowledge concerning men and the world even without travelling”.
In the last two years of the First World War, Hannah’s mother organized social democratic discussion groups and became a follower of Rosa Luxemburg (1871–1919) as socialist uprisings broke out across Germany. Luxemburg’s writings would later influence Hannah’s political thinking. In 1920, Martha Cohn married Martin Beerwald (1869–1941), an ironmonger and widower of four years, and they moved to his home, two blocks away, at Busoldstrasse 6, providing Hannah with improved social and financial security. Hannah was 14 at the time and acquired two older stepsisters, Clara (1901–1932) and Eva (1902–1988).
Arendt’s education at the Luise-Schule ended in 1922 when she was expelled at the age of 15 for leading a boycott of a teacher who insulted her. Instead, her mother arranged for her to go to Berlin to be with social democrat family friends. In Berlin she lived in a student residence and audited courses of her choosing at the University of Berlin (1922–1923), including classics and Christian theology under Romano Guardini. This enabled her to successfully sit the entrance examination (Abitur) for the University of Marburg, where Ernst Grumach had studied under Martin Heidegger, who had been appointed a professor there in 1922. For the examination, her mother engaged a private tutor, while her Aunt Frieda Arendt, a teacher, also helped her, and Frieda’s husband Ernst Aron provided financial assistance for her to attend university.
After a year at Marburg, Arendt spent a semester at Freiburg, attending the lectures of Husserl. In 1926 she moved to the University of Heidelberg, where in 1929, she completed her dissertation under the other leading figure of the then new and revolutionary Existenzphilosophie, Karl Jaspers (1883–1969), a friend of Heidegger’s. Her thesis was entitled Der Liebesbegriff bei Augustin: Versuch einer philosophischen Interpretation (“On the concept of love in the thought of Saint Augustine: Attempt at a philosophical interpretation”). She remained a lifelong friend of Jaspers and his wife, Gertrud Mayer (1879–1974), developing a deep intellectual relationship with him. At Heidelberg, her circle of friends included Hans Jonas, who had also moved from Marburg to study Augustine, working on his Augustin und das paulinische Freiheitsproblem. Ein philosophischer Beitrag zur Genesis der christlich-abendländischen Freiheitsidee (1930), and also a group of three young philosophers: Karl Frankenstein, Erich Neumann and Erwin Loewenson. Other friends and students of Jaspers were the linguists Benno von Wiese and Hugo Friedrich (seen with Hannah, here), with whom she attended lectures by Friedrich Gundolf at Jaspers’ suggestion and who kindled in her an interest in German Romanticism. She also became reacquainted with Kurt Blumenfeld, at a lecture, who introduced her to Jewish politics. At Heidelberg, she lived in the old town (Altstadt) near the castle, at Schlossberg 16. The house was demolished in the 1960s, but the one remaining wall bears a plaque commemorating her time there (see image).
Heidegger had broken away from the intellectual movement started by Edmund Husserl, whose assistant he had been at University of Freiburg before coming to Marburg. This was a period when Heidegger was preparing his lectures on Kant, which he would develop in the second part of his Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) in 1927 and Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik (1929). Although Heidegger had dedicated the first edition of Being and Time to Edmund Husserl, Husserl gave the book a poor review, and in the second edition Heidegger removed that dedication.
In 1929, Arendt met Günther Stern again, this time in Berlin at a New Year’s masked ball, and began a relationship with him. Within a month she had moved in with him in a one-room studio, shared with a dancing school in Berlin-Halensee. Then they moved to Merkurstrasse 3, Nowawes, in Potsdam and were married there on 26 September. They had much in common and the marriage was welcomed by both sets of parents. In the summer, Hannah Arendt successfully applied to the Notgemeinschaft der Deutschen Wissenschaft for a grant to support her Habilitation, which was supported by Heidegger and Jaspers among others, and in the meantime, with Günther’s help was working on revisions to get her dissertation published.
Arendt’s doctoral thesis, Der Liebesbegriff bei Augustin. Versuch einer philosophischen Interpretation (Love and Saint Augustine), was published in 1929 and attracted critical interest, although an English translation did not appear until 1996. In this work, she combines approaches of both Heidegger and Jaspers. Arendt’s interpretation of love in the work of Augustine deals with three concepts, love as craving or desire (Amor qua appetitus), love in the relationship between man (creatura) and creator (Creator – Creatura), and neighborly love (Dilectio proximi). Love as craving anticipates the future, while love for the Creator deals with the remembered past. Of the three, dilectio proximi or caritas is perceived as the most fundamental, to which the first two are oriented, which she treats under vita socialis (social life). The second of the Great Commandments (or Golden Rule) “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” uniting and transcending the former. Augustine’s influence (and Jaspers’ views on his work) persisted in Arendt’s writings for the rest of her life.
In Berlin, where the couple initially lived in the predominantly Jewish area of Bayerisches Viertel (Bavarian Quarter or “Jewish Switzerland”) in Schöneberg, Stern obtained a position as a staff-writer for the cultural supplement of the Berliner Börsen-Courier, edited by Herbert Ihering, with the help of Bertold Brecht. There he started writing using the nom-de-plume of Günther Anders, i.e. “Günther Other”. Arendt assisted Günther with his work, but the shadow of Heidegger hung over their relationship. While Günther was working on his Habilitationsschrift, Arendt had abandoned the original subject of German Romanticism for her thesis in 1930, and turned instead to Rahel Varnhagen and the question of assimilation. Anne Mendelssohn had accidentally acquired a copy of Varhagen’s correspondence and excitedly introduced her to Arendt, donating her collection to her. A little later, Arendt’s own work on romanticism led her to a study of Jewish salons and eventually to those of Varnhagen. In Rahel, she found qualities she felt reflected her own, particularly those of sensibility and vulnerability. Rahel, like Hannah, found her destiny in her Jewishness. Hannah Arendt would come to call Rahel Varnhagen’s discovery of living with her destiny as being a “conscious pariah”. This was a personal trait that Arendt had recognized in herself, although she did not embrace the term until later.
Arendt also published an article on Augustine (354–430) in the Frankfurter Zeitung to mark the 1500th anniversary of his death. She saw this article as forming a bridge between her treatment of Augustine in her dissertation and her subsequent work on Romanticism. When it became evident Stern would not succeed in obtaining an appointment, the Sterns returned to Berlin in 1931.
Back in Berlin, Arendt found herself becoming more involved in politics and started studying political theory, and reading Marx and Trotsky, while developing contacts at the Deutsche Hochschule für Politik. Despite the political leanings of her mother and husband she never saw herself as a political leftist, justifying her activism as being through her Jewishness. Her increasing interest in Jewish politics and her examination of assimilation in her study of Varnhagen led her to publish her first article on Judaism, Aufklärung und Judenfrage (“The Enlightenment and the Jewish Question”, 1932). Blumenfeld had introduced her to the “Jewish question”, which would be his lifelong concern. Meanwhile, her views on German Romanticism were evolving. She wrote a review of Hans Weil’s Die Entstehung des deutschen Bildungsprinzips (The Origin of German Educational Principle, 1930), which dealt with the emergence of Bildungselite (educational elite) in the time of Rahel Varnhagen. At the same time she began to be occupied by Max Weber’s description of the status of Jewish people within a state as pariavolk (pariah people) in his Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (1922), while borrowing Bernard Lazare’s term paria conscient (conscious pariah) with which she identified. In both these articles she advanced the views of Johann Herder. Another interest of hers at the time was the status of women, resulting in her 1932 review of Alice Rühle-Gerstel’s book Das Frauenproblem in der Gegenwart. Eine psychologische Bilanz (Contemporary Women’s Issues: A psychological balance sheet). Although not a supporter of the women’s movement, the review was sympathetic. At least in terms of the status of women at that time, she was skeptical of the movement’s ability to achieve political change. She was also critical of the movement, because it was a women’s movement, rather than contributing with men to a political movement, abstract rather than striving for concrete goals. In this manner she echoed Rosa Luxemburg. Like Luxemburg, she would later criticize Jewish movements for the same reason. Arendt consistently prioritized political over social questions.
By 1932, faced with a deteriorating political situation, Arendt was deeply troubled by reports that Heidegger was speaking at National Socialist meetings. She wrote, asking him to deny that he was attracted to National Socialism. Heidegger replied that he did not seek to deny the rumors (which were true), and merely assured her that his feelings for her were unchanged. As a Jew in Nazi Germany, Arendt was prevented from making a living and discriminated against and confided to Anne Mendelssohn that emigration was probably inevitable. Jaspers had tried to persuade her to consider herself as a German first, a position she distanced herself from, pointing out that she was a Jew and that “Für mich ist Deutschland die Muttersprache, die Philosophie und die Dichtung” (For me, Germany is the mother tongue, philosophy and poetry), rather than her identity. This position puzzled Jaspers, replying “It is strange to me that as a Jew you want to be different from the Germans”.
Arendt had already positioned herself as a critic of the rising Nazi Party in 1932 by publishing “Adam-Müller-Renaissance?” a critique of the appropriation of the life of Adam Müller to support right wing ideology. The beginnings of anti-Jewish laws and boycott came in the spring of 1933. Confronted with systemic antisemitism, Arendt adopted the motiv “If one is attacked as a Jew one must defend oneself as a Jew. Not as a German, not as a world citizen, not as an upholder of the Rights of Man.” This was Arendt’s introduction of the concept of Jew as Pariah that would occupy her for the rest of her life in her Jewish writings. She took a public position by publishing part of her largely completed biography of Rahel Varnhagen as “Originale Assimilation: Ein Nachwort zu Rahel Varnhagen 100 Todestag” (“Original Assimilation: An Epilogue to the One Hundredth Anniversary of Rahel Varnhagen’s Death”) in the Kölnische Zeitung on 7 March 1933 and a little later also in Jüdische Rundschau. In the article she argues that the age of assimilation that began with Varnhagen’s generation had come to an end with an official state policy of antisemitism. She opened with the declaration:
Her encounter with Heidegger represented a dramatic departure from the past. He was handsome, a genius, romantic and taught that thinking and “aliveness” were but one. The 17-year-old Arendt then began a long romantic relationship with the 35-year-old Heidegger, who was married with two young sons. Arendt later faced criticism for this because of Heidegger’s support for the Nazi Party after being elected rector at the University of Freiburg in 1933. Nevertheless, he remained one of the most profound influences on her thinking, and he would later relate that she had been the inspiration for his work on passionate thinking in those days. They agreed to keep the details of the relationship a secret, preserving their letters but keeping them unavailable. The relationship was not known until Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s biography of Arendt appeared in 1982, by which time Arendt and Heidegger had both died, though Heidegger’s wife, Elfride (1893–1992), was still alive. Nevertheless, the affair was not well known until 1995, when Elzbieta Ettinger gained access to the sealed correspondence and published a controversial account that was used by Arendt’s detractors to cast doubt on her integrity. That account, which caused a scandal, was subsequently refuted.
By 1933, life for the Jewish population in Germany was becoming precarious. Adolf Hitler became Reichskanzler (Chancellor) in January, and the Reichstag was burned down (Reichstagsbrand) the following month. This led to the suspension of civil liberties, with attacks on the left, and, in particular, members of the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (German Communist Party: KPD). Stern, who had communist associations, fled to Paris, but Arendt stayed on to become an activist. Knowing her time was limited, she used the apartment at Opitzstrasse 6 in Berlin-Steglitz that she had occupied with Stern since 1932 as an underground railway way-station for fugitives. Her rescue operation there is now recognized with a plaque on the wall (see image).
Arendt was now an émigré, an exile, stateless, without papers, and had turned her back on the Germany and Germans of the Nazizeit. Her legal status was precarious and she was coping with a foreign language and culture, all of which took its toll on her mentally and physically. In 1934 she started working for the Zionist-funded outreach program Agriculture et Artisanat, giving lectures, and organizing clothing, documents, medications and education for Jewish youth seeking to emigrate to the British Mandate of Palestine (now Israel), mainly as agricultural workers. Initially she was employed as a secretary, and then office manager. To improve her skills she studied French, Hebrew and Yiddish. In this way she was able to support herself and her husband. When the organization closed in 1935, her work for Blumenfeld and the Zionists in Germany brought her into contact with the wealthy philanthropist Baroness Germaine Alice de Rothschild (born Halphen, 1884–1975), wife of Édouard Alphonse James de Rothschild, becoming her assistant. In this position she oversaw the baroness’ contributions to Jewish charities through the Paris Consistoire, although she had little time for the family as a whole. The Rothschilds had headed the central Consistoire for a century but stood for everything Arendt did not, opposing immigration and any connection with German Jewry.
Later in 1935, Arendt joined Youth Aliyah (Youth immigration), an organization similar to Agriculture et Artisanat that was founded in Berlin on the day Hitler seized power. It was affiliated with Hadassah organization which later saved many from the nearing Holocaust. and there Arendt eventually became Secretary-General (1935–1939). Her work with Youth Aliyah also involved finding food, clothing, social workers and lawyers, but above all, fund raising. She made her first visit to British Mandate of Palestine (now Israel) in 1935, accompanying one of these groups and meeting with her cousin Ernst Fürst there. With the Nazi annexation of Austria and invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938, Paris was flooded with refugees, and she became the special agent for the rescue of the children from those countries. In 1938, Arendt completed her biography of Rahel Varnhagen, although this was not published until 1957. In April 1939, following the devastating Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938, Martha Beerwald realized her daughter would not return and made the decision to leave her husband and join Arendt in Paris. One stepdaughter had died and the other had moved to England, Martin Beerwald would not leave and she no longer had any close ties to Königsberg.
In 1936, Arendt met the self-educated Berlin poet and Marxist philosopher Heinrich Blücher (1899–1970) in Paris. Blücher had been a Spartacist and then a founding member of the KPD, but had been expelled due to his work in the Versöhnler (Conciliator faction). Although Arendt had rejoined Stern in 1933, their marriage existed in name only, with them having separated in Berlin. She fulfilled her social obligations and used the name Hannah Stern, but the relationship effectively ended when Stern, perhaps recognizing the danger better than she, emigrated to America with his parents in 1936. In 1937, Arendt was stripped of her German citizenship and she and Stern divorced. She had begun seeing more of Blücher, and eventually they began living together. It was Blücher’s long political activism that began to move Arendt’s thinking towards political action. Arendt and Blücher married on 16 January 1940, shortly after their divorces were finalized.
Arendt’s Habilitationsschrift on Rahel Varnhagen was completed while she was living in exile in Paris in 1938, but not published till 1957, in the United Kingdom by East and West Library, part of the Leo Baeck Institute. This biography of a 19th century Jewish socialite, formed an important step in her analysis of Jewish history and the subjects of assimilation and emancipation, and introduced her treatment of the Jewish diaspora as either pariah or parvenu. In addition it represents an early version of her concept of history. The book is dedicated to Anne Mendelssohn, who first drew her attention to Varnhagen. Arendt’s relation to Varnhagen permeates her subsequent work. Her account of Varnhagen’s life was perceived during a time of the destruction of German-Jewish culture. It partially reflects Arendt’s own view of herself as a German-Jewish woman driven out of her own culture into a stateless existence, leading to the description “biography as autobiography”.
On 5 May 1940, in anticipation of the German invasion of France and the Low Countries that month, the Gouverneur général of Paris issued a proclamation ordering all “enemy aliens” between 17 and 55 who had come from Germany (predominantly Jews) to report separately for internment. The women were gathered together in the Vélodrome d’Hiver on 15 May, so Hannah Arendt’s mother, being over 55, was allowed to stay in Paris. Arendt described the process of making refugees as “the new type of human being created by contemporary history … put into concentration camps by their foes and into internment camps by their friends”. The men, including Blücher, were sent to Camp Vernet in southern France, close to the Spanish border. Arendt and the other women were sent to Camp Gurs, to the west of Gurs, a week later. The camp had originally been set up to accommodate refugees from Spain. On 22 June, France capitulated and signed the Compiègne armistice, dividing the country. Gurs was in the southern Vichy controlled section. Arendt describes how, “in the resulting chaos we succeeded in getting hold of liberation papers with which we were able to leave the camp”, which she did with about 200 of the 7,000 women held there, about four weeks later. There was no Résistance then, but she managed to walk and hitchhike north to Montauban, near Toulouse where she knew she would find help.
Fry and Bingham secured exit papers and American visas for thousands, and with help from Günther Stern, Arendt, her husband, and her mother managed to secure the requisite permits to travel by train in January 1941 through Spain to Lisbon, Portugal, where they rented a flat at Rua da Sociedade Farmacêutica, 6b. They eventually secured a passage to New York in May on the Companhia Colonial de Navegação’s S/S Guiné II. A few months later, Fry’s operations were shut down and the borders sealed.
Upon arriving in New York City on 22 May 1941 with very little, they received assistance from the Zionist Organization of America and the local German immigrant population, including Paul Tillich and neighbors from Königsburg. They rented rooms at 317 West 95th Street and Martha Arendt joined them there in June. There was an urgent need to acquire English, and it was decided that Hannah Arendt should spend two months with an American family in Winchester, Massachusetts, through Self-Help for Refugees, in July. She found the experience difficult but formulated her early appraisal of American life, Der Grundwiderspruch des Landes ist politische Freiheit bei gesellschaftlicher Knechtschaft (The fundamental contradiction of the country is political freedom coupled with social slavery).
On returning to New York, Arendt was anxious to resume writing and became active in the German-Jewish community, publishing her first article, “From the Dreyfus Affair to France Today” (in translation from her German) in July 1942. While she was working on this article, she was looking for employment and in November 1941 was hired by the New York German-language Jewish newspaper Aufbau and from 1941 to 1945, she wrote a political column for it, covering anti-semitism, refugees and the need for a Jewish army. She also contributed to the Menorah Journal, a Jewish-American magazine, and other German émigré publications.
Arendt’s theories on the political consequences of how nations deal with refugees has remained relevant and compelling. Arendt had observed first hand the displacement of large stateless and rightsless populations, treated not so much as people in need than as problems to solve, and in many cases, resist. She wrote about this in her 1943 essay “We refugees”. Another Arendtian theme that finds an echo in contemporary society is her observation, inspired by Rilke, of the despair of not being heard, the futility of tragedy that finds no listener that can bring comfort, assurance and intervention. An example of this being gun violence in America and the resulting political inaction.
Arendt’s first full-time salaried job came in 1944, when she became the director of research and Executive Director for the newly emerging Commission on European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, a project of the Conference on Jewish Relations. She was recruited “because of her great interest in the Commission’s activities, her previous experience as an administrator, and her connections with Germany”. There she compiled lists of Jewish cultural assets in Germany and Nazi occupied Europe, to aid in their recovery after the war. Together with her husband, she lived at 370 Riverside Drive in New York and at Kingston, New York, where Blücher taught at nearby Bard College for many years.
In July 1946, Arendt left her position at the Commission on European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction to become an editor at Schocken Books, which later published a number of her works. In 1948 she became engaged with the campaign of Judah Magnes for a two-state solution in Israel. She returned to the Commission in August 1949. In her capacity as executive secretary, she traveled to Europe, where she worked in Germany, Britain and France (December 1949 to March 1950) to negotiate the return of archival material from German institutions, an experience she found frustrating, but providing regular field reports. In January 1952, she became secretary to the Board, although the work of the organization was winding down and she was simultaneously pursuing her own intellectual activities, however she retained her position until her death. Arendt’s work on cultural restitution provided further material for her study of totalitarianism.
In 1948, she wrote a poem dedicated to the late Walter Benjamin, which began:
In the 1950s Arendt wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), The Human Condition (1958) and On Revolution (1963). Arendt began corresponding with the American author Mary McCarthy, six years her junior, in 1950 and they soon became lifelong friends. In 1950, Arendt also became a naturalized citizen of the United States. The same year, she started seeing Martin Heidegger again, and had what the American writer Adam Kirsch called a “quasi-romance”, lasting for two years, with the man who had previously been her mentor, teacher, and lover. During this time, Arendt defended him against critics who noted his enthusiastic membership in the Nazi Party. She portrayed Heidegger as a naïve man swept up by forces beyond his control, and pointed out that Heidegger’s philosophy had nothing to do with National Socialism. In 1961 she traveled to Jerusalem to report about Eichmann’s trial for the New Yorker. This report has been influential in forming her popular recognition, and raised much controversy (see below). Her work was recognized by many awards, including the Danish Sonning Prize in 1975 for Contributions to European Civilization.
Her philosophy-based friendships were male and European, while her later American friendships were more diverse, literary, and political. Although she became an American citizen in 1950, her cultural roots remained European, and her language remained her German “Muttersprache”. She surrounded herself with German-speaking émigrés, sometimes referred to as “The Tribe”. To her, wirkliche Menschen (real people) were “pariahs”, not in the sense of outcasts, but in the sense of outsiders, unassimilated, with the virtue of “social nonconformism … the sine qua non of intellectual achievement”, a sentiment she shared with Jaspers.
Arendt always had a beste Freundin. In her teens she had formed a lifelong relationship with her Jugendfreundin, Anne Mendelssohn Weil (“Annchen”). On emigrating to America, Hilde Frankel, Paul Tillich’s secretary and mistress, filled that role until her death in 1950. After the war, Arendt was able to return to Germany and renew her relationship with Weil, who made several visits to New York, especially after Blücher’s death in 1970. Their last meeting was in Tegna, Switzerland in 1975, shortly before Arendt’s death. With Frankel’s death, Mary McCarthy became Arendt’s closest friend and confidante.
She shunned publicity, never expecting, as she explained to Karl Jaspers in 1951, to see herself as a “cover girl” on the newsstands. In Germany, there are tours available of sites associated with her life.
Embraced by feminists as a pioneer in a world dominated by men up to her time, Arendt did not call herself a feminist and would be very surprised to hear herself described as a feminist, remaining opposed to the social dimensions of Women’s Liberation, urging independence, but always keeping in mind Viva la petite différence! On becoming the first woman to be appointed a professor at Princeton in 1953, the media were much engaged in this exceptional achievement, but she never wanted to be seen as an exception, either as a woman (an “exception woman”) or a Jew, stating emphatically “I am not disturbed at all about being a woman professor, because I am quite used to being a woman”. In 1972, discussing women’s liberation, she observed “the real question to ask is, what will we lose if we win?”. She rather enjoyed what she saw as the privileges of being feminine as opposed to feminist, “Intensely feminine and therefore no feminist”, stated Hans Jonas. Arendt considered some professions and positions unsuitable for women, particularly those involving leadership, telling Günter Gaus “It just doesn’t look good when a woman gives orders”. Despite these views, and having been labelled “anti-feminist”, much space has been devoted to examining Arendt’s place in relation to feminism. In the last years of her life, Virginia Held noted that Arendt’s views evolved with the emergence of a new feminism in America in the 1970s to recognize the importance of the women’s movement.
It was not just Arendt’s analysis of the Eichmann trial that drew accusations of racism. In her 1958 essay in Dissent entitled Reflections on Little Rock she expressed opposition to desegregation following the 1957 Little Rock Integration Crisis in Arkansas. As she explains in the preface, for a long time the magazine was reluctant to print her contribution, so far did it appear to differ from the publication’s liberal values. Eventually it was printed alongside critical responses. Later the New Yorker would express similar hesitancy over the Eichmann papers. So vehement was the response, that Arendt felt obliged to defend herself in a sequel. The debate over this essay has continued since. William Simmons devotes a whole section of his 2011 text on human rights (Human Rights Law and the Marginalized Other) to a critique of Arendt’s position and in particular on Little Rock. While a number of critics feel she was fundamentally racist, many of those who have defended Arendt’s position have pointed out that her concerns were for the welfare of the children, a position she maintained throughout her life. She felt that the children were being subjected to trauma in order to serve a broader political strategy of forcible integration. While over time Arendt conceded some ground to her critics, namely that she argued as an outsider, she remained committed to her central critique that children should not be thrust into the front-lines of geopolitical conflict.
In 1960, on hearing of Adolf Eichmann’s capture and plans for his trial, Hannah Arendt contacted The New Yorker and offered to travel to Israel to cover it when it opened on 11 April 1961. Arendt was anxious to test her theories, developed in The Origins of Totalitarianism, and see how justice would be administered to the sort of man she had written about. Also she had witnessed “little of the Nazi regime directly” and this was an opportunity to witness an agent of totalitarianism first hand.
Heinrich Blücher had survived a cerebral aneurysm in 1961 and remained unwell after 1963, sustaining a series of heart attacks. On 31 October 1970 he died of a massive heart attack. A devastated Arendt had previously told Mary McCarthy, “Life without him would be unthinkable”. Arendt was also a heavy smoker and was frequently depicted with a cigarette in her hand. She sustained a near fatal heart attack while lecturing in Scotland in May 1974, and although she recovered, she remained in poor health afterwards, and continued to smoke. On the evening of 4 December 1975, shortly after her 69th birthday, she had a further heart attack in her apartment while entertaining friends, and was pronounced dead at the scene. Her ashes were buried alongside those of Blücher at Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York in May 1976.
In 1961, while covering the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt wrote a letter to Karl Jaspers that Adam Kirsch described as reflecting “pure racism” toward Sephardic Jews from the Middle East and Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe. She wrote:
Arendt taught at many institutions of higher learning from 1951 onwards, but, preserving her independence, consistently refused tenure-track positions. She served as a visiting scholar at the University of Notre Dame; University of California, Berkeley; Princeton University (where she was the first woman to be appointed a full professor in 1959); and Northwestern University. She also taught at the University of Chicago from 1963 to 1967, where she was a member of the Committee on Social Thought; The New School in Manhattan where she taught as a university professor from 1967; Yale University, where she was a fellow; and the Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University (1961–62, 1962–63). She was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1962 and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1964.
Arendt’s five-part series “Eichmann in Jerusalem” appeared in the New Yorker in February 1963 some nine months after Eichmann was hanged on 31 May 1962. By this time his trial was largely forgotten in the popular mind, superseded by intervening world events. However, no other account of either Eichmann or National Socialism has aroused so much controversy. Prior to its publication, Arendt was considered a brilliant humanistic original political thinker. However her mentor, Karl Jaspers, warned her about a possible adverse outcome, “The Eichmann trial will be no pleasure for you. I’m afraid it cannot go well”. On publication, three controversies immediately occupied public attention: the concept of Eichmann as banal, her criticism of the role of Israel and her description of the role played by the Jewish people themselves.
In an interview with Joachim Fest in 1964, Arendt was asked about Eichmann’s defense that he had made Kant’s principle of the duty of obedience his guiding principle all his life. Arendt replied that that was outrageous and that Eichmann was misusing Kant, by not considering the element of judgement required in assessing one’s own actions – “Kein Mensch hat bei Kant das Recht zu gehorchen” (No man has, according to Kant, the right to obey), she stated, paraphrasing Kant. The reference was to Kant’s Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloßen Vernunft (Religion within the Bounds of Bare Reason 1793) in which he states:
In 1974, Arendt was instrumental in the creation of Structured Liberal Education (SLE) at Stanford University. She wrote a letter to the president of Stanford to persuade the university to enact Mark Mancall’s vision of a residentially based humanities program. At the time of her death, she was University Professor of Political Philosophy at the New School.
Arendt’s teachings on obedience have also been linked to the controversial psychology experiments by Stanley Milgram, that implied that ordinary people can easily be induced to commit atrocities. Milgram himself drew attention to this in 1974, stating that he was testing the theory that Eichmann like others would merely follow orders, but unlike Milgram she argued that actions involve responsibility.
When Hannah Arendt died in 1975, she left a major work incomplete, which was later published in 1978 as The Life of the Mind. Since then a number of her minor works have been collected and published, mainly under the editorship of Jerome Kohn. In 1994 “Essays in Understanding” appeared as the first of a series covering the period 1930–1954, but attracted little attention. A new version of Origins of Totalitarianism appeared in 2004 followed by The Promise of Politics in 2005. The renewed interest in Arendtiana following these publications led to a second series of essays, Thinking Without a Banister: Essays in Understanding, 1953–1975, published in 2018. Other collections have dealt with her Jewish identity, including The Jew as Pariah (1978) and The Jewish Writings (2007), moral philosophy including Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (1982) and Responsibility and Judgment (2003), together with her literary works as Reflections on Literature and Culture (2007).
The study of the life and work of Hannah Arendt, and of her political and philosophical theory is described as Arendtian. In her will she established the Hannah Arendt Bluecher Literary Trust as the custodian of her writings and photographs. Her personal library was deposited at Bard College at the Stevenson Library in 1976, and includes approximately 4,000 books, ephemera, and pamphlets from Arendt’s last apartment as well as her desk (in McCarthy House). The college has begun archiving some of the collection digitally, which is available at The Hannah Arendt Collection. Most of her papers were deposited at the Library of Congress and her correspondence with her German friends and mentors, such as Heidegger, Blumenfeld and Jaspers, at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach. The Library of Congress listed more than 50 books written about her in 1998, and that number has continued to grow, as have the number of scholarly articles, estimated as 1000 at that time.
Her life and work is recognized by the institutions most closely associated with her teaching, by the creation of Hannah Arendt Centers at both Bard (Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities) and The New School, both in New York State. In Germany, her contributions to understanding authoritarianism is recognised by the Hannah-Arendt-Institut für Totalitarismusforschung (Hannah Arendt Institute for the Research on Totalitarianism) in Dresden. There are Hannah Arendt Associations (Hannah Arendt Verein) such as the Hannah Arendt Verein für politisches Denken in Bremen that awards the annual Hannah-Arendt-Preis für politisches Denken (Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thinking) established in 1995. In Oldenburg, the Hannah Arendt Center at Carl von Ossietzky University was established in 1999, and holds a large collection of her work (Hannah Arendt Archiv), and administers the internet portal HannahArendt.net (A Journal for Political Thinking) as well as a monograph series, the Hannah Arendt-Studien. In Italy, the Hannah Arendt Center for Political Studies is situated at the University of Verona for Arendtian studies.
Hannah Arendt is considered one of the most influential political philosophers of the 20th century. In 1998 Walter Laqueur stated “No twentieth-century philosopher and political thinker has at the present time as wide an echo”, as philosopher, historian, sociologist and also journalist. Arendt’s legacy has been described as a cult. In a 2016 review of a documentary about Arendt, the journalist A. O. Scott describes Hannah Arendts as “of unmatched range and rigor” as a thinker, although she is primarily known for the article Eichmann in Jerusalem that she wrote for The New Yorker, and in particular for the one phrase “the banality of evil”.
Several authors have written biographies that focus on the relationship between Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger. In 1999, the French feminist philosopher Catherine Clément wrote a novel, Martin and Hannah, speculating on the triangular relationship between Heidegger and the two women in his life, Arendt and Heidegger’s wife Elfriede Petri. In addition to the relationships, the novel is a serious exploration of philosophical ideas, that centers on Arendt’s last meeting with Heidegger in Freiburg in 1975. The scene is based on Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s description in Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (1982), but reaches back to their childhoods, and Heidegger’s role in encouraging the relationship between the two women. The novel explores Heidegger’s embrace of Nazism as a proxy for that of Germany and, as in Arendt’s treatment of Eichmann, the difficult relationship between collective guilt and personal responsibility. Clément also brings Hannah’s other mentor and confidante, Karl Jaspers, into the matrix of relationships.
After Hannah Arendt’s death a number of her essays and notes have continued to be edited and published posthumously by friends and colleagues, including those that give some insight into the unfinished third part of The Life of the Mind. The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age (1978), is a collection of 15 essays and letters from the period 1943–1966 on the situation of Jews in modern times, to try and throw some light on her views on the Jewish world, following the backlash to Eichmann, but proved to be equally polarizing. A further collection of her writings on being Jewish was published as The Jewish Writings (2007). Other work includes the collection of forty, largely fugitive, essays, addresses, and reviews entitled Essays in Understanding 1930–1954: Formation, Exile, and Totalitarianism (1994), that presaged her monumental The Origins of Totalitarianism, in particular On the Nature of Totalitarianism (1953) and The Concern with Politics in Contemporary European Philosophical Thought (1954). The remaining essays were published as Thinking Without a Banister: Essays in Understanding, 1953-1975 (2018). Her notebooks which form a series of memoirs, were published as Denktagebuch in 2002.
Arendt’s life remains part of current culture and thought. In 2012 the German film, Hannah Arendt, directed by Margarethe von Trotta was released. The film, with Barbara Sukowa in the title role, depicted the controversy over Arendt’s coverage of the Eichmann trial and subsequent book, in which she was widely misunderstood as defending Eichmann and blaming Jewish leaders for the Holocaust.
While much has been made of Arendt’s treatment of Eichmann, Ada Ushpiz, in her 2015 documentary Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt, placed it in a much broader context of the use of rationality to explain seemingly irrational historical events.
In 2015, the filmmaker Ada Ushpiz produced a documentary on Hannah Arendt, Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt. The New York Times designated it a New York Times critics pick. Of the many photographic portraits of Arendt, that taken in 1944 by Fred Stein (see image), whose work she greatly admired, has become iconic, and has been described as better known than the photographer himself, having appeared on a German postage stamp.(see image) Among organizations that have recognized Arendt’s contributions to civilization and human rights, is the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
The phrase Niemand hat das Recht zu gehorchen has become one of her iconic images, appearing on the wall of the house in which she was born (see Commemorations), among other places. A fascist bas-relief on the Palazzo degli Uffici Finanziari (1942), in the Piazza del Tribunale, Bolzano, Italy celebrating Mussolini, read Credere, Obbedire, Combattere (Believe, Obey, Combat). In 2017 it was altered to read Hannah Arendt’s original words on obedience in the three official languages of the region.
In 2017 a journal, Arendt Studies, was launched to publish articles related to the study of the life, work, and legacy of Hannah Arendt. Many places associated with her, have memorabilia of her on display, such as her student card at the University of Heidelberg (see image). 2006, the anniversary of her birth, saw commemorations of her work in conferences and celebrations around the world.
Arendt Studies is a peer-reviewed academic journal that examines the life, work, and legacy of Hannah Arendt. Established in 2017, it publishes research articles and translations, including the first English translation of Hannah Arendt’s “Nation-State and Democracy”(1963) Notable contributors include Andrew Benjamin, Peg Birmingham, Adriana Cavarero, Robert P. Crease, and Celso Lafer. Articles published in this journal are covered in the international Hannah Arendt Bibliographie. Arendt Studies is also included in JSTOR. The journal is edited by James Barry at Indiana University and published by the Philosophy Documentation Center.
In Search of the Last Agora, an illustrated documentary film by Lebanese director Rayyan Dabbous about Hannah Arendt’s 1958 work The Human Condition, was released in 2018 to mark the book’s 50th anniversary. Screened at Bard College, the experimental film is described as finding “new meaning in the political theorist’s conceptions of politics, technology and society in the 1950s”, particularly in her prediction of abuses of phenomena unknown in Arendt’s time, including social media, intense globalization, and obsessive celebrity culture.
Currently, Hannah Rae is 114 years, 9 months and 12 days old. Hannah Rae will celebrate 115th birthday on a Thursday 14th of October 2021.
Find out about Hannah Rae birthday activities in timeline view here.