The Holocaust Goes to Court

A View from the Canadian Courtroom
  • Ruth Bettina Birn
Chapter

Abstract

The 20th-century event with the greatest moral impact is the Holocaust. It changed and continues to influence western moral thinking in many significant ways: immediately after the war, there were changes to international criminal law to prosecute the Nazi leadership for their role in the Holocaust; laws and policies were developed to ban racism, the evil tool used by the Nazi government; the international community became more conscious of its responsibilities to humankind following the failure to prevent the Holocaust. On the individual level, the Holocaust caused individuals to develop their own moral standards, to question blind acceptance of authority, to search for truth, even if it hurt.

Keywords

Burning Europe Chlorinate Explosive Lime 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    After the war, very rough estimates had 50,000 survivors, maybe as high as 100,000. Recent growing popular interest in the Holocaust has seen a broadening of meaning of ‘survivor’ to include people who were not liberated from the camps. Thus, an Israeli committee recently estimated roughly 900,000 living survivors in 1997 — several times more than after the war. In 1999, ‘millions of other Holocaust survivors, who emerged from concentration camps’ is reported on the jacket of one of the latest Holocaust related books. See Timothy W. Ryback, The Last Survivor. In search of Martin Zaidenstadt (New York: Pantheon Books, 1999).Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Danys, Milda: DP. Lithuanian Immigration to Canada after the Second World War (Toronto, Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1986), p.11.Google Scholar
  3. According to Danys, ‘once Nazi power was established over Europe’, resettlement, slave labour and destruction would await the Lithuanians as well. Latvian-American historian Andrew Ezergailis argues that the same fate would have awaited the Latvian nation, Ezergailis, Andrew: The Holocaust in Latvia. 1941–1944, (Washington/Riga: The Historical Institute of Latvia and the US Holocaust Museum, 1996, p.50). In his book Ezergailis uses an argument, which was widely used in Germany in the forties and fifties: only a small group of hardcore perpetrators are guilty — in the Latvian context, the Arajs command, — while everybody else was victim of circumstances. As expert historian for the defence of a Latvian police officer in Toronto, Ezergailis considered the deportations of ‘able-bodied’ children to labour camps in the course of a major anti-partisan action as ‘an act of mercy’ because it took them away from burning buildings. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration v. Peteris Vitols, Transcript of Proceedings of 25 February 1998 at p.2301. Ezergailis’ book was co-published by the Holocaust Museum in Washington. The defence won their case.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Sol Littman, War Criminal on Trial, Rauca of Kaunas (Toronto, Key Porter Books, 1998), p.55, p.59. Littman also stresses the ‘failure of any responsible Lithuanian element to speak out’ ibid, p.59. In the latter part of his book, Littman turns to the present Canadian effort to investigate Nazi crimes. Accuracy does not seem to be his strong suit; in his account, he mixes up the information on three of the present cases, ibid., p.219. He also presents unfounded theories, such as that the, then conservative Canadian government would have wanted war crimes cases to fail. Other examples are as egregious.Google Scholar
  5. 18.
    Nechama Tec, In the Lion’s Den. The Life of Oswald Rufeisen (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  6. 19.
    Shalom Cholawski, The Jews of Bielorussia during World War II (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publ., 1998); with an introduction by Jehuda Bauer, one of the world’s leading authorities on the Holocaust.Google Scholar
  7. 22.
    All quotes from the decision of McKeown, J. in The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration v. Eduard Podins released on 9 July 1999, T-1093–97, pp.18, 98.Google Scholar
  8. 24.
    See: Irving Abella and Harold Trooper, None is too many, Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933–1948, Toronto, Lester and Orpen Dennys, 1982. Whenever this theory, or a similar one, is promoted in the literature, the reference is Abella and Trooper.Google Scholar
  9. 25.
    See: David Matas with Susan Charendoff, Justice Delayed. War Criminals in Canada, Toronto, Summerhill Press, 1987;Google Scholar
  10. James E. McKenzie, War Criminals in Canada, Calgary, Detselig Enterprises, 1995; Sol Littman, op. cit.Google Scholar
  11. 29.
    See: Alti Rodal, Nazi War Criminals in Canada: The historical and policy setting from the 1940s to the present, Prepared for the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals, September 1986, in particular p.117.Google Scholar
  12. 32.
    For a balanced account of Canadian post-war immigration screening, see: Howard Margolian, Unauthorized Entry. The Truth about Nazi War Criminals in Canada, 1946–56 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 33.
    See: Louise W. Holborn, The International Refugee Organisation. A specialized agency of the United Nations. Its history and work 1946–1952 (London: Oxford University Press, 1956).Google Scholar
  14. 38.
    Ottawa Citizen, ‘CSIS fanning terrorist hysteria, critics say’, 17 October 1998. A comparison of the language Mr. Matas uses is quite instructive. On Nazi perpetrators: ‘A single Nazi criminal symbolizes the atrocity of the Holocaust. By ignoring even one perpetrator Canada disregards the murder of millions of innocents.’ David Matas, op. cit., p.159. In respect of abusers of the refugee process, who might be war criminals, he says ‘If we admit abusers, all we have done is admit an immigrant who does not meet the criteria’, David Matas with Ilona Simon, Closing the Doors. The Failure of Refugee Protection, Toronto 1989, p.103.Google Scholar
  15. 39.
    Peter E. Quint, The Imperfect Union, Constitutional Structures of German Unification (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  16. 41.
    Such as that the suffering of victims of other genocides or criminal regimes was not so terrible, in comparison. A few stark examples can be found in Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners. Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996), p.587 n91, p.412 n86.Google Scholar
  17. 43.
    Inga Markovits, Imperfect Justice. An East-West German Diary (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1995). The bias shows in particular in the terminology she uses, which is close to the former Communist usage.Google Scholar
  18. 45.
    Stefan Klemp, Freispruch fuer das ‘Mord-Bataillon’. Die NS-Ordnungspolizei und die Nachkriegsjustiz (Muenster: LIT Verlag, 1998).Google Scholar
  19. 56.
    Daniel Goldhagen, op. cit. It should be noted that this writer reviewed Goldhagen’s use of historical sources critically. See: Ruth Bettina Birn, ‘Revising the Holocaust’, The Historical Journal, 40/1 (1997): 195–215. In my review, I set out a number of sources that contradict Goldhagen’s finding; interestingly enough, one constantly encounters potential new ones. In the context of this paper, Oswald Rufeisen’s account of the two major perpetrators in Mir (Hein and Serafimowicz) that he could observe in close detail, is another example, which entirely contradicts Goldhagen’s assertions.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 59.
    Daniel Goldhagen, ‘A New Serbia’, in The New Republic, 17 May 1999.Google Scholar
  21. 60.
    An article in the Canadian Jewish News commented on ‘the irony’ of the United States’ opposition to a permanent International Criminal Court, given it ‘has done more to bring Nazi war criminals to justice than any other democracy. Paul Lungen, ‘Jewish groups welcome international court’, in: The Canadian Jewish News, 2 July 1998. This is hardly surprising, considering that Nazis have no lobby in the United States and that an International Criminal Court would be a restraint to the power politics of any country.Google Scholar
  22. 61.
    Some contributions to the field of ‘Holocaust Studies’ make one wonder how much reality there is at all. Author Daniel Levy, in an effort to interpret what the controversy about Goldhagen tells us about German identity, considers the accuracy of Goldhagen’s thesis negligible. Indeed, that equates a ‘this is not the truth’ to ‘I do not want to hear the truth’. Daniel Levy: ‘The future of the past: Historiographical disputes and competing memories in Germany and Israel’, in: History and Theory, vol.38, (1) 1999, Wesleyan University, p.51–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 65.
    Roth finally withdrew his candidacy. Ira Stoll, ‘Museum Nominee once compared Israel to German Nazis’, Forward, 5 June 1998; Ira Stoll, ‘Roth will retreat to California, Friend says’, Forward, 19 June 1998; Robin Friedman, ‘Comparing Israelis to Nazi leaders called wrong for a museum leader’, NJJN-MetroWest, 9 July 1998; Jonathan Mahler, ‘Museum of Woe’, The Wall Street Journal, 31 July 1998; Michael P. Forbes, Jon D. Fox, Congress of the United States, open letter to Miles Lerman, Chairman, US Holocaust Memorial Council, Washington, 10 June 1998. For Forbes and Fox, ‘troubling remarks about our own country’ are: criticism of Ronald Reagan’s American Dream, suggesting a moral equivalence between the US and the Soviet Union, and questioning US policies in Latin America.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

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  • Ruth Bettina Birn

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