A leader rethinks church: 7-24/25-10
Clergy on the move: 7-27-10

On faithful eyewitnesses: 7-26-10

When Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I were writing They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust, we felt it important to be as careful as possible about eyewitness testimony of Holocaust survivors.

Browning book

Where their memories could be matched against historical events, we sought to make sure they at least got the dates right. In one case, one of the survivors knew the date on which he almost died and insisted it was a particular day of the week -- Monday, as I know recall. But we checked the calendar for that year and discovered it was a different day of the week.

At any rate, we talk some about this in the introduction to our book, even quoting the Holocaust historian Christopher Browning about the need to be cautious about eyewitness testimony. Indeed, Rabbi Jacques and I had gone to hear Browning speak in early 2008 about such matters at a lecture at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

In that speech, Browning talked about a case in which a judge egregiously rejected the eyewitness testimony of many people to acquit a Nazi of his role in the destruction of some Jews. That is the subject of his most recent book, Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave Labor Camp. And it's that book that is the subject of this interesting piece about Browning and his views on eyewitness testimony.

To hear my personal recording of Brown's 2008 talk at K-State, click on this link: Download Christopher Browning 2-18-08. I warn you that this tape runs about an hour and a half, but his comments about eyewitness accounts and the case mentioned in the piece to which I've linked you come pretty early in the tape after he is introduced.

In Judaism, memory plays a crucial role. Yes, we must be careful about trusting all eyewitness accounts but we also must be careful to honor memory and to honor the people who have survived terrible trauma with memories they have come to cherish or abhor.

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You may remember that I wrote here recently about a panel discussion I did in Indiana with Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, a Jewish scholar at Indiana University. This past weekend he wrote a lovely piece about the difference between "causeless hatred" and "causeless love." I found it a special insight into Jewish sensibilities. To read a pdf file of it, click on this link: Download PERSPECTIVES ON FAITH. The piece appeared in the Bloomington Herald Times, and if you want to read it there, click here. But know that you'll need to sign up for a minimal subscription to the paper to read it all there.

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P.S.: My latest Presbyterian Outlook column now is online. To read "Who will be the last Presbyterian?" click here


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