ORDINARY PEOPLE AND EXTRAORDINARY EVIL by Fred Emil Katz

ORDINARY PEOPLE AND EXTRAORDINARY EVIL

A Report on the Beguilings of Evil

KIRKUS REVIEW

In the first volume of a trilogy on the manifestations of evil in humanity, Katz persuasively asserts that most horrific acts of mass murder are carried out by ordinary people under a bureaucratic government or cultural environment that condones–-even demands–-such actions.

Hannah Arendt's 1964 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil offers the premise that Eichmann was not a monster, but rather a career-oriented bureaucrat who simply carried out the evil directives of the Nazi party in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Katz builds on her work by dissecting the behavior and circumstances that lead ordinary citizens to zealously follow authority in the pursuit of evil. Examining such cases as Rudolf Hoess, who supervised the operations of the gas chambers and crematoriums at Auschwitz, and Johann Paul Kremer, a commandant and SS physician who specialized in the effects of starvation on humans, the author emphasizes that authoritarian regimes, military ethos and even corporate cultures generate belief systems that often supersede an individual's cultural and moral values. The foundation of the belief system of such men was the idea that they were contributing to the greater glory of Nazi Germany by "purifying" their Aryan race; both men were careerists who abided by the prevailing anti-Semitic ideology. As another cultural example, Katz explores the Vietnam experience through the lens of the My Lai massacre that killed 500 innocent citizens, noting the similar belief system of William Calley and his platoon that demanded a high "body count."

A worthy contribution to Holocaust literature: superb, dispassionate analysis of the roots of evil, perpetrated most often in lockstep with the culture that encourages and reinforces it.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-7914-1442-6
Program: Kirkus Indie
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