The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth

Written by Ken Krimstein
Review by Kristen Hannum

I’d never read a graphic biography, not even Persepolis, and so The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt intrigued me. Count me won over to the form.

The spare, quirky illustrations perfectly fit Krimstein’s story of Jewish philosopher Arendt’s three escapes — from the Nazis in Berlin, from the Nazis in France, and then from her obsession with Martin Heidegger, her mentor when she was a philosophy student in Berlin. He was also her lover and a Nazi sympathizer.

Arendt (1906-1975) spent her career working to understand what had happened to the seemingly enlightened Germany of her childhood. One page shows a middle-aged Arendt surrounded by dark clouds, with sentences of her thoughts surrounding her, including: “Before totalitarian leaders can fit reality to their lies, their message is an unrelenting contempt for facts.” Another: “They live by the belief that fact depends entirely on the power of the man who makes it up.”

This is no hagiography. Arendt was a brilliant, iconoclastic thinker, and yet her fixation on Heidegger doesn’t show her to be strong or wise, but rather human.  Part of the story is the outraged reaction to her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963).

The Three Escapes is a great addition to any library, a springboard to Arendt’s own writing but also enjoyable and instructive on its own.