This morning I begin a ten-day stint as a faculty member for the 2011 Law Program of the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the study of Professional Ethics (“FASPE”). The program, sponsored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, takes law student fellows to Berlin, Auschwitz, and Krakow to examine the roles played by lawyers and judges in the Holocaust. The focus is not solely historical. Rather, the program encourages fellows to think about their own developing professional identities and ethical commitments by reference to the collaborations of (and, I suppose, resistances by) German lawyers and judges between 1933 and 1945.
My main role is comparative. What I will contribute is an account of the roles played by lawyers and judges in the removal and incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans in the United States at around the same time as the Nazis were hatching and implementing the “Final Solution.”
I've got more than a passing interest in the Holocaust story itself, though. My dad was born in Germany in 1931, two years before Hitler came to power. My grandfather, a teacher of languages, was stripped of his civil service position by the Nuremberg laws in 1935 and was incarcerated at Buchenwald in November 1938 as part of the so-called Kristallnacht pogrom. While he and my grandmother and dad and aunt were able to leave Germany at the end of December 1938, his brother Leopold (about whom I have written before, here and elsewhere) was not able to get out. German law permitted the “aryanization” of his and his wife's dry goods store late in 1938. In April 1942 they were deported to Poland, where they were murdered.
As the program gets underway, I'm aware of a couple of challenges (and I'm sure that many more will crop up along the way).
For one, I am, as a general matter, drawn more to narrative than to theory. I didn't plan the curriculum (apart from the small section that's directly about Japanese American internment), but I suspect that it will offer participants theoretical frameworks within which to consider the roles lawyers played in the Holocaust. I am curious to see how these will sit with me: will I resist or benefit from efforts at theoretical framing?
For another, I come into the program (ironically) a bit skeptical about whether the Holocaust will offer lessons about ethics and professionalism that will be useful to American lawyers and law students. At the end of the day, will there be more to say than “don't facilitate genocide?” Is the Holocaust, in its mind-boggling extremity, really a source of moral lessons that can be generalized? (This question is reminiscent of one that a recent New York Times review asks about the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.) Might I, as the expert on “mere” racial incarceration (as distinguished from racial murder), end up having more to offer the group than our experts on the Holocaust? Or, because the moral implications of collaborating with a system of “milder” racial oppression are more ambiguous, might I instead end up having less to offer the group?
I have lots of questions right now, and no answers.
Today's schedule has us discussing obedience to authority in the morning. We'll look at the famed Milgram experiment and discuss Freud's “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death.” After a lunch break, we'll turn our attention to disobedience to authority, considering Plato's “Apology of Socrates” and “Crito” as well as the case of Daniel Ellsberg. We tour the core exhibit of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in the late afternoon, and in the evening we'll talk about how one witnesses and assesses the testimony of Holocaust survivors.
I'll end this post with a photo. It's the view out my hotel window: Ground Zero. I suppose that looking out on a mass grave – a place where a conflagration left a gaping hole – is an apt starting point for a trip that will take me, in less than a week's time, to Auschwitz-Birkenau.