At first it had seemed like an ordinary day in that Jerusalem court in mid-1961, during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the logistical mastermind of the Jewish deportations in the Holocaust. Hannah Arendt, the German-Jewish philosopher attending the trial as a journalist, wrote later of “endless sessions” of witness testimony.

Much of it, she hinted sourly, was not especially relevant. But the witness Arendt heard that day, a former Jewish partisan, was a standout. In passing and to an astonished courtroom, he mentioned a German soldier, Anton Schmid, who — before his arrest and execution — had dedicated himself to assisting the Jewish Underground in Eastern Europe.

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