Human Rights, Poland 2011

During winter break 2011, SMU students and professors and Dallas community members are traveling to Poland with SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program. The group will visit Holocaust sites to pay tribute and bear witness to those who perished and survived.

Included in the group are six professors traveling on behalf of the Boone Family Foundation’s Texas Project for Human Rights Education grant. They are: SMU’s Perkins School of Theology Professor Sze-kar Wan, Dedman College Psychology Professor George W. Holden and Cox School of Business Assistant Professor Robert W. Rasberry, along with TCU Associate Professor of Social Work Harriet L. Cohen, South Texas College of Law Associate Professor Katerina Lewinbuk and University of North Texas Assistant Professor of Political Science Jacqueline H.R. DeMeritt. Also with the group is Alice Murray, president and CEO of the Dallas Holocaust Museum, so stay tuned in.

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Why did people participate?

An update from Sze-kar Wan, professor of New Testament at Perkins School of Theology:

An enduring question about the Holocaust is why so many people became willing executioners for Hitler. Not just Nazis, but also professional soldiers and career officers who otherwise shared no ideological affinities with the Nazis, civilian police, even ordinary civilians all had a hand in the Holocaust. On 10 July 1941, in the small village of Jedwabne, under the full eyes of their German conquerors, ordinary Poles turned on their Jewish neighbors and killed 340 of them. They drove a group of men, women and children into a barn that they then set ablaze, burning alive those inside and bludgeoning and shooting those attempting to escape. What accounts for such unspeakable savagery?

Once a rabbi, speaking on how we might prevent another Holocaust from happening, said, “Beware of small beginning.” The “small beginning” that made the Holocaust possible, as my visit to the Topography of Terrors in Berlin makes abundantly clear, is the way in which people passively accept the way things are. The willingness to accept a loss of personal liberty in exchange for economic gains led to the election of Hitler, which led to an acceptance of the racist view that fellow-citizens were subhuman. From there it was but an inexorable slide to granting the state the right to kill and maim its “undesirable” citizens and to taking a personal part in killing and maiming. The memorial at Treblinka proclaims in six different languages, “Never again.” That message seems more urgent than ever today.

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