Familiarity and Concern

Yesterday when I was visiting the Houston Holocaust Museum, I saw the map above.

The first thing that struck me about this map is that it has Rovno on it. Rovno is where my grandfather was born. It’s not always on maps of central Europe, just as it hasn’t always been on the map for me until I began to take a greater interest in his story.

The other thing that comes to mind whenever I visit Holocaust Museums now is that, looking at the maps, I now know how to correctly pronounce the names of many of the places that I wouldn’t have dared to attempt pronouncing just a few years ago.

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Genocide Education as Moral Formation

I still remember my utter perplexity at a so-called professor of Genocide Studies at a Canadian university having accused me of “voyeurism” for having travelled to Germany, Poland, and Rwanda on genocide study trips.

Now, I can see that such a bizarre accusation might stem from failing to see the way in which studying genocide properly can actually constitute an education in moral sense. By learning about perpetrators and meeting with rescuers and survivors, my friends and I with whom I studied and travelled encountered the moral drama of human action and responsibility in persons and deeds, not in mere systems or abstractions.

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How human he was

Although it was half a lifetime ago for me, I remember watching the film Dead Man Walking in a high school religious studies class. I also remember that this single film affected me deeply and challenged whatever limited thoughts I had had on the death penalty at that point.

Now that I am currently in Texas, I took the occasion to read this fascinating transcript of a conversation between Debbie Morris, Helen Prejean, and Rabbi Elie Spitz on Krista Tippett’s program On Being.

As the moment of the man’s execution approached, Morris said:

Debbie Morris was abducted and raped by a man who was eventually killed by capital punishment. In the interview, she discusses her ambivalence about his execution and describes her reason for wanting her perpetrator dead as having been motivated more by fear of him than out of a desire for revenge.

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