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DVD Review
The Specialist
by Marcy Dermansky

Guide Rating -  


A German worker in the upper echelons of the Nazi party, Adolf Eichmann was in charge of the expulsion of Jews, Slovenians, and Gypsies from the Reich between 1938 and 1941, and then of their deportation from Europe to the death camps. In 1960, he was captured by the Israeli secret service in Argentina. His subsequent trial in Jerusalem was one of the first public events recorded on video. Filmmakers Rony Brauman and Eyal Sivan have assembled excerpts of this footage to create a tightly edited and compelling documentary about a bureaucrat who has fulfilled his duties during a time of war. Eichmann steadfastly insists that his part in the Holocaust was neither active or evil: he was only following orders.

At the outset of the trial, the prosecutor calls Eichmann an inhuman beast, but the thin balding man in a black suit who is taking copious notes and nervously interlaces his fingers during the course of the trial doesn't seem to fit that description. Even during the tensest moments and facing direct accusations by the prosecution who wants to see him hanged, he refuses to show remorse or culpability for his actions.

The film is fascinating for Eichmann's resoluteness. By the nature of his answers, he proves himself to be the quintessential bureaucrat of Kafka's worst nightmare. Perhaps the most striking feature about Eichmann is just how ordinary he seems--not a monster, not a mad thinker, but an efficient man who sat behind a desk, processing forms. Based on Hannah Arendt's famous account of the trial, "The Specialist: Portrait of a Modern Criminal" offers profound insight into how the Holocaust was facilitated by bureaucracy and a subservient mindset that allowed people like Eichmann to claim ignorance and shuffle responsibility for atrocious crimes around like so many carbon-copy forms.

The DVD features a substantial hour-long interview with the filmmakers, an excerpt of the book "In Praise of Disobedience," and extensive language options, which come in handy since the trial itself is multilingual.

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