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Pepperdine Co-hosted Genocide and Religion Conference
Examining the intersection of Religion and Genocide, the Institute on Law Religion and Ethics partnered with the Simon Wiesenthal Center for a conference discussing the genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries and the roles played by perpetrators, victims, bystanders, and resisters.
The conference considered genocides that began with Armenia and unfortunately continue to this day in Sudan. Addressing these terrible occurances, the conference explored the role law should play in mediating the juncture of religion and genocide. The multi-day event took place on Feb. 11 through 13, 2007, at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Pepperdine University.
Pursuing justice for the perpetrators of genocide was Simon Wiesenthal’s life work. 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 ten 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?
Simon Wiesenthal’s life and his work embody issues at the crossroads between genocide and religion—issues such as justice, vengeance, forgiveness, justification, and responsibility.
“The new generation has to hear what the older generation refuses to tell it,” Wiesenthal said.