Chelsea Rosenthal '12 explores legal profession's role in Holocaust

Chelsea RosenthalChelsea Rosenthal ’12 was among 50 graduate students who participated this summer in Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE), a groundbreaking international program taking place in New York, Berlin, and Poland. FASPE uses the Holocaust and the conduct of members of the legal, medical, journalism, and theological fields in Nazi Germany as a lens for focusing on contemporary ethical issues.

Overseen by the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, this summer’s two-week FASPE program began with an orientation for the students at the museum, including touring the exhibits, meeting with Holocaust survivors, and engaging in further background study of the Holocaust. Traveling to Berlin, the fellows examined the activities of members of their profession during the Holocaust. In Oświęcim, Poland (called Auschwitz by the Germans), participants visited the infamous concentration camps and discussed the contemporary ethics of their professions. The program concluded in Krakow.

“FASPE emphasizes the ‘power of place’—the power of time spent in actual historical locales to illuminate issues in their histories,” said Rosenthal, who was among law students from six different schools. “In this spirit, our discussions of legal ethics and the Holocaust were combined with visits to relevant sites.” Those locations included the House of the Wannsee Conference, where Nazi officials mapped out their “Final Solution”; Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Topography of Terror museum; the camps at Auschwitz; and the Auschwitz Jewish Center, devoted to the history of the town’s now-vanished Jewish life.
 
Law student fellows engaged with the themes “Breaching Government Secrecy” and “Obedience to Authority.” Rosenthal, who is pursuing both a J.D. and a Ph.D. in philosophy at NYU, participated in seminar discussions based on both assigned readings and experiences from the trip. “We examined legal ethics as applied to Nazi perversions of justice, but also drawing on themes from that context in an effort to illuminate contemporary legal ethics issues,” she said. Students looked at parallels between the Holocaust and contemporary issues such as the role of deception in legal practice, the Department of Justice’s “torture memos,” and legal professionals’ involvement with the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“While attempting to draw broader lessons from the context of atrocities, the program avoided polemics, instead embracing the complexity and difficulty of the problems we were grappling with,” said Rosenthal. “Although it was sometimes emotionally difficult, I also found the chance to reflect on these issues and experiences with such a perceptive group to be extremely rewarding.”

Posted on September 8, 2011

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