Born of secular Jewish parents in Hanover and raised in Königsberg (the hometown of her admired precursor Immanuel Kant, now called Kaliningrad) and Berlin, Arendt studied philosophy with Martin Heidegger at Marburg. She appears to have had a short romantic relationship with Heidegger, an entanglement that has occasioned much criticism. After breaking off the relationship, Arendt moved to Heidelberg to write a dissertation on the concept of love in the thought of St. Augustine, under the direction of the existentialist philosopher-psychologist Karl Jaspers.
The dissertation was published in 1929, but Arendt was prevented from habilitating (writing a second dissertation that would earn her permission to teach in German universities) in 1933 because she was a Jew, and thereupon fled Germany for Paris, where she met and befriended the literary critic and Marxian mystic Walter Benjamin. While in France, Arendt worked to support and aid Jewish refugees. However, with the German invasion and occupation of France during World War II, and the deportation of Jews to the Nazi death camps, Hannah Arendt had to flee from France. With the assistance of the American journalist Varian Fry in Marseille, she escaped the Nazi regime and went to the United States.
Arendt's work deals with subjects of politics, authority, and totalitarianism. In her reporting of the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker, which evolved into the book Eichmann in Jerusalem, she raised the question whether evil is radical or simply a function of banality - of the failure of good people to take risks. She also wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism, which attempted to trace the roots of communism and fascism and their link to anti-semitism. This book was controversial because it compared two subjects that many scholars believed were, by definition, opposites.
On her death in 1975, Hannah Arendt was buried at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.