Lessons From Nuremberg

Their faces stare out in black and white: the defendants of Nuremberg. Today, the rain-spattered images hang outdoors at the Topography of Terror Exhibition and Documentation Center in Berlin.

Sixty years ago, the men behind these pallid masks were tried for crimes against humanity. Many were executed. Some committed suicide in their cells.

The Nuremberg Trials, which opened with the reading of charges against 24 defendants in Berlin on Oct. 18, 1945, and reconvened in Nuremberg on Nov. 20, confronted Germans with the reality of what had been done in their name. It was the beginning of a process of reckoning and repentance that continues to this day.

How do the stories of those men, and the judges who tried them, resonate for Germans now?

The anniversary of the Trials, coming as Germany inaugurates Angela Merkel as its first chancellor born after World War II, has spawned a flood of articles in newspapers and magazines, with interviews, timelines and considerations of the meaning of international courts today.

“At Nuremberg it came out that they planned to kill all the Jews once they took over,” said Ernest Michel, 82, a Holocaust survivor who covered the Trials for a newly reconstituted German press agency and went on to become a pre-eminent Jewish activist with the UJA-Federation of New York. (See sidebar for more on Michel’s experience.)

“It was the most memorable, satisfying day of my life when I was in Nuremberg,” Michel said, “sitting there as a survivor and watching the last German high leaders being brought to justice.”

The public did not always accept the results of the Trials, seeing them as “victors’ justice.” But Nuremberg nevertheless marked “the end of the period of terror and the beginning of a new democracy,” said historian Claudia Steur, curator of the exhibit at the Topography of Terror documentation center.

“The International Court [in the Hague] was born out of the Nuremberg Trials,” she said. “It was the first great trial on German soil against National Socialism, and the first carried out by the four occupying powers. It also was the first time in history” that such a trial was conducted against a state.

Nuremberg also marked “the first time they used the word genocide,” coined in 1944, said Eckard Dietzfelbinger, historian at the Documentation Center of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg.

“Since the Nuremberg Trials, governments or leaders know that their deeds could also be considered in a courtroom,” said Rabbi Andreas Nachama, historian and director of the Topography of Terror center.

Today’s politicians understand these messages, said Michael Wolffsohn, a historian at the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich — but the general public barely pays any attention.

Despite the media coverage of the Nuremberg anniversary, “Nobody really cares, frankly speaking,” Wolffsohn said. “[Germans] have practiced democracy successfully. The problem is not overcoming the past of National Socialism,” but facing “the challenges of the present.”

Juliane Wetzel, who is on the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said many young Germans turn away from the subject of the Holocaust.

Particularly this year, with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and of the German surrender, “youngsters say they don’t want hear any more about it,” said Wetzel, who helped create a task force subcommittee on “resistance against Holocaust education.”

The Nuremberg Trials were one of the first lessons for many Germans: In daily news dispatches, they read about atrocities committed on a vast scale. It would take many decades and many more trials before the general German public would understand that not only the top Nazis were guilty.

“The Nuremberg Trials really were instrumental in setting precedents,” said Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “But it was clear that the Nuremberg Trials can only relate to the very, very tip of the iceberg of the criminality of Nazi Germany and those who assisted Nazi Germany.”

Zuroff estimates there were 90,000 indictments in West Germany after 1949, and 7,000 people were convicted. East Germany also conducted war crimes trials.

All in all, “a very small percentage of those who participated in the crimes of the Holocaust were indicted,” Zuroff said, because once the allies were no longer in charge of postwar German courts, the will to prosecute was weak.

After the first trial, there was pressure from the U.S. State Department to ease up, said Lawrence Raful, dean of the Touro Law School in New York, which held a conference in Nuremberg’s courtroom last summer.

The U.S. administration’s message was, “We have punished the Germans, and the Cold War has started. We need to win the hearts and minds of the German people, because as bad as the Nazis were, the Communists are worse,” Raful said.

That was a tough message for Holocaust survivors, like his parents, to accept, Raful said.

Meanwhile, the voices of the Trials’ judges and lawyers, and even some of the defendants declaring themselves not guilty, can be heard in Berlin from small loudspeakers at the outdoor photographic exhibit at the Topography of Terror.

“One can hear the original sound,” said curator Steur, who recently accompanied Ernest Michel on a visit to the exhibit. “I have seen parents or grandparents with their children, standing in front of the map of the zones of Allied occupation [of Germany].”

For some, it’s the start of a long-overdue conversation.

“We’re proud that we had the Trials,” Steur said. But “when you know how many of the old Nazis in the German Democratic Republic went back to their old positions — doctors, judges and police — it’s sad.”


Opinions Conflict on Ending Life Support

The Florida case of a woman on life support for 13 years has put issues of how we die and when and how doctors and others should intervene on the front page. Whatever the courts say about that case, however, will only apply to federal and Florida law.

What would Jewish law say about such a case? That question is important because the issues raised in that case confront Jews often as they care for their parents, spouse and other loved ones and as they contemplate their own dying process.

The basic Jewish principle about these matters is clear: We are, on the one hand, not allowed to hasten the dying process, but on the other, we are not supposed to prolong it either.

Until just a few decades ago, it was easy to adhere to that prescription, because there was little, if anything, that doctors or anyone else could do to prolong or reverse the dying process. Now, however, we are faced with the old Kantian problem: specifically, as Kant pointed out, as soon as one can do something, then one has to ask whether one should.

Our ancestors, of course, could never have contemplated these new powers that we have. As a result, we cannot just look up the answer as if we were looking up a recipe in a cookbook. We, instead, must use judgment in applying Jewish laws, principles and sensibilities to the new situation.

When we examine the tradition, we find that there is a strong imperative to save life and health when we can, but there is also a clear recognition that we are not immortal, that Adam and Eve could not eat from the Tree of Life and that, in the words of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), "There is a time to be born and a time to die."

Medieval Jewish sources also announce that we must do what is in the best interests of the patient, and while they assumed that that always meant trying to save the patient’s life, in our own day, when that can mean years in a coma supported by machines, that is not always as clear.

Most Jewish authorities from all movements would agree that we may and, in some cases, should remove machines or medications that are not curing the patient, whether dying or earlier in life, for every medical intervention has side effects and both emotional and financial costs.

Rabbis differ, however, regarding artificial nutrition and hydration. Some — for example, Conservative Rabbi Avram Reisner and Orthodox Rabbi Moshe Tendler — understand them to be the equivalent of food and liquids, for they function to nourish the patient. These rabbis assert that if a person cannot eat normally, we need not insert feeding tubes but may rather let nature take its course. If we do insert feeding tubes, however, we may not remove them.

I, however, maintain, as I did in a ruling approved by the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, that artificial nutrition and hydration should be classified as medicine. That is because it does not come into the body in the usual way food does and thus lacks all the qualities associated with food, such as taste and varying temperatures and textures. Furthermore, one of the natural features of the dying process is that the person stops eating, and so by using tubes, we are effectively force-feeding a patient and thus prolonging the dying process.

Thus when Jews face these issues, they should think carefully about whether they should permit feeding tubes to be inserted into their loved one in the first place. If they do and the patient does not recover, they may, in my view, take the tubes out and let the person die a natural death, making sure that comfort care is administered.

In such cases, it is not the person removing the feeding tubes or the one who authorizes that who is killing the person; the underlying disease is. And they should do this as soon as it becomes clear that nothing can be done to bring the person back to independent functioning — long before the 13 years that it has taken the Florida courts to resolve this issue.

That is not only the wisest way to spend our limited health care dollars; it is also the most humane and theologically correct way to acknowledge that God has made us mortal.

Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, rector and distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of Judaism, is the author of "Matters of Life and Death: A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics" (Jewish Publication Society, 1998).

Professional-Lay Relations Need Examining

When people query me as to who our clients are, if the person is Jewish, I often answer, “Half our clients are Jewish organizations. And the other half are people who treat us really nicely.”

Almost always people laugh at the response. Once, however, at a Jewish event in San Francisco, someone told me I was anti-Semitic. My answer to her? “Being realistic about our organizational issues doesn’t make me an anti-Semite.”

Jewish organizations have many issues. But after having worked with more than 100 of them, in the United States, Israel and around the world, I have come to the conclusion that among the top priority issues is how we interact with one another. In the process of pursuing tikun olam (repairing the world), I have seen more Jewish organizations destroy the Jewish spirit of the individuals involved. While they are busy saving the people “out there” they are chopping up the ones close to them.

This is no secret. Any of us who has been involved in organized Jewish life has witnessed this reality, if not personally been subjected to it. Yet, it is like the elephant in the living room that sits heavily in the midst of everything, and everyone wants to tiptoe around it, ignoring its presence. No one wants to publicly speak of the obvious.

I do.

And it is time the rest of us do, too. We must put the issue of inter-personal relations within organized Jewish life on the public agenda. I realized this on Yom Kippur. At one point in the service, our astute young rabbi opened up a public discussion from the bimah about business ethics in view of Enron, Tyco and Global Crossing. After a few minutes of discussion, I raised my hand and said, “We have an issue of business ethics in the Jewish organizational business — the ethics of how we treat one another.” For the rest of the day, people, many of them prominent in the community, continued to approach me, commenting on how correct I was, or asking me to explain further what I believed the issues were. I realized there is a great collective need in our community to explore this matter.

With all the exposure I have had to this issue and all the trans-continental and international airline seats I have occupied after meeting with my clients, I have given this a great deal of thought and weary reflection.

Where does it begin? At the core of Jewish organizational structure is a very particular professional-lay relationship. Notice I have turned its common parlance around and have not called it the “lay-professional relationship.” Describing it as the lay-professional relationship basically states the problem.

In Jewish institutions, as opposed to my non-Jewish clients, the lay people have a lot more hands-on day-to-day involvement with the organization. In many cases this is extraordinary and bespeaks a very heartfelt level of commitment. We would not be the community we are today without this level of lay involvement. Yet, it is not without its problems. And we cannot be afraid or intimidated to approach those problems.

Lay-professional means the lay people are primary. Primary over those who devote their studies, professions and career goals to Jewish life. It says that who gives the money or sits on a committee is more important than who builds a lifetime of service, giving 18 professional hours a day, weekends and holidays (yes, even Jewish ones) servicing what that money actually does.

People will say I am splitting hairs, that it is an equal relationship. But in most cases, we know this is simply not true. The question this begs is: Who really holds control?

When we work with a Jewish organization, there are four words that we most often hear from the professionals throughout the working relationship, as we approach the decision-making process. “But the lay people….” It is a constant mantra. The professionals shake with fear and uncertainty when they say these words. I have come to realize that these four words stifle their creativity, their leadership, their thinking, their self-confidence and their professionalism. I cannot count how many meetings I have sat in where the professionals, who possess the most knowledge, sit silently while their lay counterparts “run” the meeting. This fear and absence of control by the professionals inhibits the Jewish enterprise from being all it can be. There must be important decisions which professionals are allowed to guide, and in some cases are left alone to make.

This issue rarely arises in non-Jewish organizations.

These thoughts are in no way to discount the importance of lay people in Jewish organizational life. It is a partnership. Lay people fund the existence of this enterprise. Good lay people understand the issues, are committed, knowledgeable and integral to the vision, flourishing and survival of the enterprise. However, like in any partnership, roles must be clearly defined. If one partner is shorn of his or her decision-making responsibilities, particularly when he or she understands the issue or situation at hand better than anyone in the room, the partnership is not healthy.

In a changing world, where the Jewish enterprise is threatened on many levels, it is time that the partnership be examined, restructured and publicly addressed. There needs to be respect for the professional’s professionalism, insight, knowledge and vision. The schools training the professionals must meet the challenge of professionals trained to actually lead, not just follow and serve.

From this partnership flows the nature and culture of Jewish organizations. If we begin tikun olam at this level, then we can begin to repair what else needs to be fixed.

Torah values of how we treat one another must be integrated into this restructuring process. There needs to be a code of conduct. Professionals need to be trained in this code as to how to treat fellow professionals, employees and lay counterparts. Lay people need to be trained in this code as to how to treat the professionals as well as each other, including those lay people who are not major funders. In some cases, we actually need to civilize and Judaize our organizational behavior.

We need to call for a conference to address the issue.

Papers must be published in both professional and general Jewish publications which begin to create a new organizational culture. We must open the discussion for robust and healthy debate. Respectfully.

We must create manuals and codes. We have to establish training sessions. How we treat one another is as important as how we save one another.

I am certain someone will ask why, if I find this relationship so distasteful, do I continue to pursue Jewish organizations as clients? I am them. And they are me. I am bound at the hip to the Jewish enterprise. From our perch as marketers, delving deeply into their souls and operations I see Jewish organizations as nothing short of extraordinary, paving the path for daily miracles. I am proud of these organizations and to be playing such an integral role.

I just want to see us be all we can be.

Gary Wexler is an advertising executive and consultant to Jewish agencies.

Renewal and Restraint

Renewal and Restraint

By Edward Sanders

I went to Israel last month as someone who is a supporter of the peace process; as someone who believes in exchange of land for peace; as someone who is dedicated to peace with security for Israel; and as someone disturbed by the construction at Har Homa and the opening of the Hasmonean tunnel. Over the course of many years, I have supported Israel’s peace movement and have worked to promote a just peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

When Binyamin Netanyahu was elected by the Israeli people as their prime minister last May, I was disappointed. I did not think that he would, or could, effectively continue the peace process that was initiated by former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. I have been concerned about the proposed law of conversion, and now there is the additional problem of a politically wounded prime minister.

When I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office last month, I related to him all of my concerns. Subsequently, after seeing the situation on the ground and being among the people of Israel, I found that my long-standing emotional commitment to Israel was reinvigorated, and I once again clearly understood the centrality of Jerusalem.

For Israel and the Jewish people, there has never been a capital other than Jerusalem over the course of the last 3,000 years. Jerusalem is mentioned 657 times in the Hebrew Bible (though not once in the Koran) and has been, and continues to be, the focus of Jewish prayer and thought. Although Jerusalem is revered by other faiths, its centrality to Judaism and to the Jewish people is unique. Even to secular Jews, Jerusalem has a mystical power that unites the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora.

In contrast to all of Jerusalem’s previous rulers (the Jordanians, the British and the Turks, in this century), Israel has maintained unprecedented safeguards for religious freedom within the city. Since Israel reunited the city in 1967, hundreds of thousands of Moslems and Christians — many from countries that remain in a state of war with Israel — have come to Jerusalem to visit their holy places.

When the city was last under Arab rule, from 1948 to 1967, non-Moslem holy places and observances were, at best, restricted and, at worst, desecrated. Christian schools were forced to include Moslem teachings, and the Christian population dropped by nearly 60 percent. Jewish synagogues and cemeteries (that were not outright destroyed) were converted into latrines and chicken coops, and access was denied to the Western Wall and all other Jewish sites.

These are the memories that Israel has of the last time Jerusalem was divided. Israeli negotiators bring this painful chapter of the city’s history with them during every negotiating session with their Palestinian partners. Israel ensures the religious and cultural rights of any and all who want to visit the Holy City. However, the issue of sovereignty is not open for debate.

While Israel has made certain commitments to the Palestinians through the accords that it has signed, none of these commitments has even mentioned Jerusalem. Israel does not have, and never had, any intention of dividing or sharing its eternal capital. For this reason, the status of the city was consciously omitted from all signed agreements. Any building that will take place in the Har Homa neighborhood of East Jerusalem, or anywhere else in the city, does not violate the accords.

When I visited Jerusalem, I saw a vibrant, growing city, whose residents, both Jewish and Arab, need additional housing. Israel’s plan to build for Jews in Har Homa and for Arabs in 10 Arab neighborhoods should be taken at face value. There is no reason an international crisis needs to erupt every time a Jerusalemite requires a bigger apartment. And such construction is certainly no justification for the terrorism that occurred when a Palestinian suicide bomber murdered three young women and injured scores of others at a Tel Aviv outdoor cafe. Israel cannot be expected to negotiate under the gun.

It is absolutely clear that the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people want peace with security, and no one with whom I talked can conceive of a divided Jerusalem.

I pray that the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis comes to a just and peaceful resolution. But the division of Jerusalem is something that the overwhelming majority of Israelis will never accept. On this issue, there is unity. For peace to succeed, a creative solution will need to be implemented that satisfies Palestinian needs while the city remains under Israel’s sovereignty.

I also came home with the firm conviction, now reinforced by the political turmoil in Israel, that this is neither the time nor the occasion for the American friends of Israel to urge the Clinton administration to do any more than energetically play its historic role as an honest broker. Any other course of conduct can backfire and further harm the already fragile course of peace. This is no time to pile on.

Edward Sanders is a former president of the Jewish Federation Council for Greater Los Angeles and former senior adviser to President Carter on the Middle East.

All rights reserved by author.