Auschwitz sign
People walk through the gate, with the words "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets you free), of the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz. Photo by Reuters
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In an upstairs room at the only remaining synagogue in this town, 37 miles west of Krakow, 13 future American military officers wrestled with ethical questions in the actual shadow of Auschwitz.

Clad in jeans and T-shirts, the students from West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the Honors Program of the United States Coast Guard Academy listened as Christopher Clifton, a 21-year old Coast Guard midshipman, called the murderers who conceived of and carried out the killings at Auschwitz “evil people who enjoyed doing evil to people.”

It was a viewpoint that drew a quick response from Clifton’s fellow participants in the American Service Academies Program, sponsored by the Auschwitz Jewish Center, in Oswiecim, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in New York.

“This was not carried out by an army of psychopaths,” midshipman Jordan Foley countered. “The Holocaust goes beyond evil.” Foley, a 23-year-old Annapolis senior from Butler, Pa., thought that simply blaming the Holocaust on “evil people” ignored the systemic character of Nazi racist ideology. “If we write the killers off as psychopaths for this event, then we excuse humanity for allowing this to happen.”


Read more at the Forward.