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Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion and Ethics

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News: February 2007

Genocide and Religion: Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders, and Resisters

"The new generation has to hear what the older generation refuses to tell it"
- Simon Wiesenthal

On July 6, 1941, Simon Wiesenthal was living in the Ukraine when he was arrested with other Jews and ordered to line up in rows to be shot by Nazi auxiliary forces.

The shooting started from the left front row and continued systematically across the rows. The executions lasted throughout the afternoon. Suddenly, a church bell rang and somebody called out, "Enough for now, vespers!" The order came to stop the killing and attend to prayers. The shooting stopped 10 yards from Mr. Wiesenthal. He survived that day because of a call for the executioners to evening prayers.

A few years later, Simon Wiesenthal was in a concentration camp in Poland. Through a series of unusual circumstances he found himself sitting alone beside a German soldier on his death bed at a makeshift military hospital. The dying soldier wanted absolution and forgiveness for his unspeakable crimes. And he requested it from a Jew speaking on behalf of the Jewish people. Mr. Wiesenthal refused the request and walked away. Decades later he wrote in The Sunflower of his struggle with that decision and his uncertainty if he made the right choice. What is the appropriate response for a victim of genocide in the face of such a moral dilemma?

As a Nazi hunter, Wiesenthal's life work was to pursue justice for the perpetrators of genocide. His life and his work embody issues at the crossroads between genocide and religion - issues such as justice, vengeance, forgiveness, justification, and responsibility.

This unique conference - jointly organized by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Pepperdine University School of Law - focuses on the intersection between genocide and religion. It emphasizes the roles played by perpetrators, victims, bystanders, and resisters during the genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries, genocides that began with Armenia and unfortunately continue to this day in Sudan. The conference will examine what role law should play in mediating this intersection between religion and genocide.

We hope you can join us for what we are confident will prove to be a challenging and illuminating conference.

Roger Alford
Associate Professor
Pepperdine University School of Law