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Education Matters: Still carrying the victims' scars

August 04, 2011|By Dan Kimber

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

One of the more interesting discussions I had with my classes following our study of World War II was the question of what to do with former Nazis hunted down and captured decades after their crimes were committed.

Here is the scenario, taken from actual cases, I presented to the students. This always led to some interesting values clarification. It is based on actual stories that have been played out many times in different parts of the world.

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The Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center traces down a man living in Norwalk, Calif. who they claim sent thousands of Jews to their death when he served as a judge during the second world war. Like many Germans serving under the Third Reich, he fled to North or South America toward the end of the war when an Allied victory seemed imminent.

The man changed his name, got married, had children/grandchildren, was a good neighbor, a solid citizen and a pillar in the community in which he lived. When confronted with his past, he was 88 years old. He had, for all intents and purposes, created a new life for himself and severed all ties with his old life.

And now the questions for my students to ponder: Does the second half of this man’s life in any way absolve him from the stain of his earlier life, or should his crimes against humanity follow him to his grave?

What is to be gained by bringing such a man to judgment after the passage of so many years? Is it justice, revenge or some sense of closure that is served? Are there some crimes so despicable, some people so lacking in human decency, that there is no possibility of redemption in this lifetime?

Most answered the last question with a resounding, “Yes!” And, as you might imagine, it was nearly unanimous among my Armenian students. Even though the perpetrators of the genocide that wiped out half of their ancestors nearly a century ago are all dead, their crimes will never be erased from the minds of their victims’ descendants.

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