Last Thursday, April 14 through Saturday, April 16, Kalamazoo College hosted many scholars for a conference titled “Seventy Years After Nuremberg: Genocide and Human Rights In Comparative Perspective.” According to the brochure, the workshop aimed to give space to “the world’s leading scholars to discuss their work among themselves and to an audience [of] students, faculty, and the general public …”
The event was hosted and organized by Dr. David Barclay, Professor of International Studies in the History Department at K. He picked the topic of the workshop because “[t]he relationship between Nuremberg and the evolution of global human rights is so important that I thought it very appropriate to commemorate the 70th anniversary.” The Nuremberg Trials took place between the years of 1945 and 1946.
“We were able to attract some of the world’s most distinguished scholars to campus for this event,” said Dr. Barclay.
One of these scholars was K alumnus Carter Dougherty K’92, who gave a talk titled “What Would Telford Taylor Do? A Nuremberg Prosecutor Swaps Places with an Africa Hack.”
“I never miss a chance to come back to K and talk about journalism or history and this was no exception,” Dougherty said. “It was especially enjoyable because it was a sort of sendoff for David Barclay, my advisor when I was at K.”
Other scholars present at the conference were Wendy Lower, Professor of History at Claremont McKenna College (Calif.) and Hilary Earl, Associate Professor of European History at Nipissing University (Ont.)
Professor Wendy Lower was interested in discussing the extent to which we can understand genocide more broadly by looking at the Nuremberg Trials. Historians, according to Lower, are much like prosecutors in a trial in that they must reconstruct what happened in the past.
Lower also explored the role of women in Nazism, focusing on the case of Erna Petri, a woman responsible for shooting Jewish prisoners who escaped from trains headed for Triblinka Concentration Camp. When asked why she did this, Petri stated that she was under the influence of her Nazi husband, and had become desensitized to the violence. Petri also wanted to prove herself as a woman and as a fascist. Petri was sentenced to life in prison, but was released before her death in 2000.
Professor Hilary Earl gave a talk titled “Perpetrators of Genocide & The Nuremberg Trials: Comments on the ‘Banality of Evil’ and Other Motives.” In her lecture, Earl pointed out that war crimes trials are a recent invention, with Nuremberg being the first one.
“First is often the most important,” Earl stated, also pointing out that holding a trail was a very “American thing to do.”
Earl focused mostly on the Einsatzgruppen Trial, which was the ninth of twelve trials that have been dubbed the “Subsequent Nuremberg Trials.” According to Earl, these trails are important because they were “unquestionably Holocaust trials,” dealing with no other aspects of World War II.
In this specific trial, Earl was interested in the motives of the 24 accused. She feels that another explanation, besides just hatred of Jewish people, could be reached.
One person on trial in Nuremberg that Earl explored was Martin Sandberger, one of the few that were not hanged, but rather reintegrated in German society in the 1950’s. During the Holocaust, Sandberger was responsible for the mass murder of Jewish populations in the Baltic States. Sandberger, along with many other Nazis on trial, were very well educated, proving that, according to Earl, “education does not inoculate us against violence.”
According to Dr. Barclay, the goal of the conference was to honor the late Margaret Scholten and the late Dr. Roger Scholten, “whose generous bequest supports international studies at the College.” Dr. Roger Scholten was a general surgeon at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo.
Dr. Barclay has organized many other conferences at K, with this one being in the works for many years, and taking about a year of hard planning.
Dr. Barclay will be retiring at the end of this school year, leaving the school with a conference that left a lasting impression on many.
“One of the most striking things to me about this conference was how much writing history and doing journalism cross over [with] the subjects of genocide and human rights,” Dougherty said. “At the conference there was talk of Armenia, Colombia, Sudan, Burma, and other countries.”