Southern Illinois University School of Law–Legal Globalization & Comparative Law 2014

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Dachau Concentration Camp

When delving into the subject of the Holocaust, the most poignant question that comes to mind immediately is: how could this have happened?  Indeed, many experiments have been performed in order to learn how people can commit such horrors to other human beings.  Just to name a few of those experiments: The third wave -In spring 1967, in Palo Alto, California, history teacher Ron Jones conducted an experiment with his class of 15-year-olds to sample the experience of the attraction and rise ofthe Nazis in Germany before World War II; Aclass divided, Blue-eyedBrown-eyed – An American teacher developed the blue eyes/brown eyes exercise for her all-white third grade class in Riceville, Iowa, after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

I understand that no society is safe from discrimination.  However, I did not understand how people, on a personal level, could see the suffering and slow death of other human beings and look the other way until now. Yet as I write the set lines, I struggle with my own emotions because now I feel that I do understand; I know how others could see the suffering of other human beings: they believed blindly in the system. 

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In our course, we learned about the legal aspects of the Nazi action and what was the basis in the Nuremberg trials.  We talked about the difficulties in convicting persons when there is no law forbidding his or her actions.

However, I am not simply concerned with conviction, but also with prevention, and the key to prevention lies in understanding why something happened, and in the case of Nazi Germany, I believe this is why to be a blind belief without questions of criticism. So what do we do with the knowledge that a system needs to be created for order combined with the knowledge that there are important times to work outside, disobey, or even fight against such systems?

Since I began my legal studies I have struggled with, sometimes even been tormented by, questions of justice; the question of our boundaries as legal practitioners and public servants. The question of the System vs. Justice. Who trumps whom, and which should be our guiding torch.  I have no exact answer myself, only a deep and profound wish to discover truth, to uphold not simply the law, but what is right, what is just as well.

After the Nuremberg trials, the convicted German judge said, in partial defense, that he did not know that his actions would lead to the murder of millions of Jews.  The American judge answered him with: “the moment you sentenced one person you knew to be innocent,you knew.” I believe this statement should be on the wall in every lawyer’s office.

We created the ICC (International Criminal Court) in order to try those who are responsible for war crimes, and in order to signal that never again shall the Holocaust or crimes like it occur without fight. That said, we are lacking the education that can prevent such crimes against humanity from happening. When I asked Judge Dauster, from the Palace of Justice in Germany, what will prevent another Holocaust as in Nazi Germany, the judge answered: the people.

Essentially the people will no longer allow themselves to be led blindly, without question, the way they were in Nazi Germany.

I agree with Judge Dauster; we must be the type of people that can never commit another Holocaust. As lawyers we must constantly use our judgment, trust our judgment, challenge the system constantly, and remember that people are more important than the system.  The system was created to serve us people and not the other way around. We lawyers are the safety mechanism Judge Dauster called the people and the trust for the future of humanity is in our hands. May we never forget and fail that trust.

~RS

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