The study of Holocaust and Genocide Studies should be important to our culture, as we can all afford a basic lesson in morality. The Holocaust is likely the most well documented atrocity we have encountered as a human race. When we study the Holocaust, we gain empathetic insight into human behavior (Why). In 1933, when Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, he took advantage of the political unrest resulting from WWI to gain an electoral foothold against the Weimar Republic, Germany’s pre-war parliamentary government. This appointment enabled Hitler to use his party’s propaganda to deliberately annihilate the entire Jewish population of Europe (United).
As a person who has worked in the legal field for almost two decades, it is clear to me that the legal system failed the Jewish population. Obviously, we know the significant perpetrators of the crimes, but those persons involved in the legal profession and actions of judges in particular, were critical, and their actions resulted in dire consequences. Judges in Germany, in spite of their fundamental legal principles, rejected the legitimacy of the Weimar Republic, because it was brought about during a revolution, which they considered a violation of the law. These Judges would often impose harsh sentences against left-wing defendants and show leniency towards those of the right-wing. A “crisis of trust” erupted in the mid-20s, which saw citizens demand the removal of reactionary judges from the bench. However, when Hitler rose to power, he promised to restore judges’ authority and unbeknownst to the judges, curtail their independence and indoctrinate them in the ideological goals of the Nazi party (United). This is why it is imperative that current members of the legal profession study Holocaust and Genocide Studies, so they have a more thorough understanding of how power can be abused and what their roles and responsibilities should be when faced with human rights violations. Had the judges in Germany not suffered from personal and ethical dilemmas, they could have challenged Hitler’s authority and the legitimacy of hundreds of laws that restricted civil rights. Instead, they turned Germany from a democracy to a dictatorship.
Although the Holocaust was a large and tragic event, resulting in an enormous loss of life, we cannot minimize the many genocides that have occurred throughout the World. In 1994, a hundred day slaughter of Tutsi erupted during the Rwandan Civil War. The attack was planned and orchestrated by those in power, relaying specific instructions and lists of names across radio broadcasting. Unfortunately, the United States acted like a genocide denialist. By avoiding the mere mention of the word genocide, the United States avoided its obligation to intervene. If they didn’t acknowledge the severity of the events happening in Rwanda, their conscience was clean (Erskine). Even as recently as 2010, an American law professor, was arrested on charges of genocide denial in Rwanda. Unfortunately, Peter Erlinder was afforded immunity under United Nations law and released back to the United States. Mr. Erlinder did not understand the severity of his false rhetoric in a vulnerable country such as Rwanda. What concerns me is the influence of people like Mr. Erlinder, who hold titles such as law professor, spouting these inaccuracies to impressionable audiences, and thus, continuing to create a future where it is acceptable to deny factual information.
The importance of teaching and learning about Holocaust and Genocide studies is imperative, especially in our current state of affairs, where people shout “fake news” daily. We need more people in influential roles, specifically attorneys and judges, to speak up and not idly sit by and allow such events to take place.
Erskine, Toni. “Why It’s Important That the World Still Reflects on Rwanda’s Genocide.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 19 Sept. 2018, theconversation.com/why-its-important-that-the-world-still-reflects-on-rwandas-genocide-75751
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Law, Justice, and the Holocaust.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/law-justice-and-the-holocaust. Accessed on September 19, 2018.
“Why Teach the Holocaust?” Genocide in Cambodia, www.hmh.org/ed_why_teach.shtml
Angie St. John is currently a junior, attending ODU part time. She is majoring in English with a concentration in Professional Writing. Angie has a strong passion for human rights and hopes to contribute towards meaningful discussions this semester. Her full time gig is working for Anthem as a Legal Specialist, but in her spare time, you can find her raising good humans (12 year old fraternal twins to be exact). When Angie gets a break from parenting, you can find her singing karaoke or watching some sort of sporting event, depending upon the season.