Have you heard of Hannah Arendt? If not, I’m sure you have heard of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi who was brought to justice in 1961. Arendt reported on the trial in Jerusalem for New York Magazine which she later turned into a book. She coined the term the “banality of evil” which is an evil without thinking, an evil done because orders were followed. She suggested that Eichmann was a “mindless bureaucrat”. While she agreed with the verdict Eichmann received, she criticized the way the trial was conducted. She was a controversial figure in the trial due to her stance that some Jewish leaders contributed to the Holocaust;”mindless compliancy”. These remarks, especially ones of this nature, made by a prominent Jew evoked much criticism and threatened all she had worked so hard for. As you will see, she was not a woman who shied away from expressing her beliefs or caring what people thought if she believed it was for the greater good.

Hannah Arendt wrote the Origins of Totalitarianism and The Human Condition, she was the first to write about the Third Reich in the context of Western Civilization. This film manages to show the strong character of Arendt even though it only covers a small yet prominent portion of her life.  The director, Margarethe von Trotta has a habit of making films about strong women. There is a story to be told and a lesson to be learned regarding the nature of evil and the responsibility we have as a society to each other.

Arendt is even more intriguing because she studied under the famous philosopher Martin Heidegger who she had an intimate relationship with. It ended abruptly when the Nazis came to power and Heidegger supported them, a flashback we see in the film. It was then that she left Germany to go to France and then to the United States. The film uses the real footage from the trial which is worth a watch on its own. It’s astounding to see the juxtaposition of the banality that Arendt speaks of against the horrors that are on trial.

The acting in this film is superb and opens up a whole host of questions and reflections about authority and society and how evils of this magnitude can happen. There is a bit of humor in this film as Arendt is sassy and sharp and her wit is showcased during her time at the trial. You can tell she is a woman who has been through a lot and of course has had humor, as well as her smarts, to get her through it. I would definitely want her in my corner. Even if you don’t have a penchant for history or philosophy, this film will take you on a journey through that world, that time and with a deeper understanding of Hannah Arendt.

For this film, I decided to go with Potato Pancakes or Latkes-they are easy to make and are comfortably filling. The history of the latke is an interesting one. Traditionally made for Hanukkah and fried in oil to commemorate the miracle of the oil lasting eight days. Potatoes were an easy commodity to get, though olive oil wasn’t. Likely, they were fried using schmaltz, Yiddish for the lard of a duck or chicken for light frying.

3-4 large Potatoes (or 1 lb)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 Eggs, beaten
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 cup flour
1/2 cup Olive Oil
Crème Fraiche (or Sour Cream)

Potato Pancake

Begin by peeling the potatoes and grating them (coarsely) and transfer them to a bowl. Once finished, take the grated potatoes and lay them out on a paper towel. I recommend, doubling them up as the water from the potato will soak through. Chop your onion and add it to the mix as well. Then roll up the potato and onion in the paper towel and wring out any excess water. Place the onion and potato into a bowl and add the egg, baking powder, flour, salt and pepper. Mix.

Heat a bit of Canola oil into a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Spoon the mixture onto the skillet with a tablespoon. You can then spread it out a bit with a fork. Keep an eye on the heat, reduce it a bit more if you see the skillet smoking. Cook until both sides are a golden brown. Add a dash more of salt to taste. You can keep these warm in the oven until ready to serve, though they are best served right away.

You can add sour cream or applesauce (traditionally) but I opted for crème fraiche in this case and topped with chives! For a Swedish twist, have them with lingonberry jam.