Education Matters: Still carrying the victims' scars

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.

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.

I was asked by a student years ago why there wasn’t ever an Armenian organization like the Wiesenthal Center to hunt down the Turkish murderers of 1915 and bring them to justice. My answer was that their crimes were never acknowledged by the perpetrators or by a relatively indifferent world.

Other questions were asked that persist to this day. I’ll paraphrase:

In light of the many challenges we already face in dealing with people currently engaged in mass murder around the world, does it make sense to keep fighting the wrongs of a past century? At some point, can’t we figure out how to let go of the fight without forgetting that it happened and resolving that it not be repeated?

Might it not be more appropriate to cease fighting against the demons in our past and instead fight against those who follow actively in their footsteps?

I am inclined to believe that mass murder has no statute of limitations. The record of the past in such cases can, and must, provoke us to redouble our efforts to prosecute the genocidal maniacs of the present.

The voices of massacred Armenians, Cambodians, Bosnians, Rwandans, Native Americans — and the list goes on — have been stilled, but the memory of their suffering and the murder of innocents leaves us with the moral imperative to eradicate the evil of genocide.

Those who see such a resolution as “needless clinging to the past” will come to appreciate that the past is never in the past as long as there are victims, and descendants of those victims, who carry the scars of its atrocities.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at



Portions of this piece have been plagiarized from an article by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield. The piece, “Prosecuting Old Nazis,” was published by “JUF News” on April 1, 2009.



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