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Ethics and the lessons of Auschwitz

Courtesy photo.

The atrocities of the Holocaust provided Benny Meshoulam, L’11, with perspective on contemporary ethical issues when he participated last summer in the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE), a two-week program in New York, Berlin and Poland for law and medical school students.

Nationwide, 30 students were selected to examine contemporary ethical issues in their chosen professions through the historical lens of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. The law fellows explored such topics as the rule of law versus lawlessness and the role of the lawyer in a bureaucratic state, and discussed contemporary case studies such as the “Torture Memos,” documents drafted in 2002 outlining U.S. policy related to the war on terror.

“It was fascinating to learn about the central role that lawyers played in implementing the Holocaust and Hitler’s agenda,” said Meshoulam. “In order to carry out such a massive and well-organized undertaking, professionals from many fields had to be involved. But the number of senior officials within the Nazi party who were attorneys was striking.”

Fellows, selected annually by FASPE, are funded under the auspices of the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. The program’s goal is to provide tomorrow’s professional leaders with opportunities to increase their awareness and preparedness for the ethical issues they will confront throughout their careers.

“FASPE raises the question of what roles the professionals played in the Holocaust and what can be derived from them for future professional leaders,” said FASPE founder C. David Goldman.

“My mother’s parents were both Polish,” said Meshoulam. “They were fortunate to have left before the war, but most of my grandmother’s relatives perished in the Holocaust. This program re-emphasized to me the tremendous power that lawyers wield. It also made me realize how important it is for lawyers to continually ask questions, not only about legal doctrine, but about the values and assumptions that are at the root of that doctrine.”

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