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A face in the window

A face in the window

Required reading

Who: Fred Grünfeld, associate professor International Law

Book: The Town beyond the Wall (1962), Elie Wiesel

Target group: UCM and Law students

“It was right here at the old synagogue. Yes, I remember now. A Saturday. The police had herded all the city’s Jews into the building. The house of prayer and meditation had become a depot where families were separated and friends said farewell. (…) It was then that I saw him. A face in the window across the way. (…) The face is neither Jewish nor anti-Jewish; a simple spectator, that’s what it is.”

Elie Wiesel is a Jewish writer, who was born in Sighet, Romania, in 1928. In 1944, he and his family were deported to Auschwitz. Wiesel remembers the deportation as if it were yesterday, as is apparent from the quotation above, taken from the novel The Town beyond the Wall. Elie Wiesel survived Auschwitz and eighteen years later wrote this book, in which a young man named Michael returns to the village where he was born. He goes in search of the spectator, the bystander, who saw how his family were led away and did nothing.

The book could be autobiographical, but it isn’t, emphasises Fred Grünfeld, originally a political scientist and working at the Faculty of Law. Wiesel only returned to Sighet for the first time after the book was published.

The Town beyond the Wall is Grünfeld's favourite book. He quotes from it in his lecture notes for Maastricht College students and Law students who take a block on the violation of human rights. He also quotes from it in the specialist literature that he has published, and the book Evoking Genocide, in which scientists and activists, and hence also Grünfeld, reveal which book, work of art, or film has influenced them in their field of research.

Why does he recommend it? Grünfeld: “There are criminals, victims, and bystanders. The role of the bystander is very difficult. You can hate criminals, you can pity victims, but what about the third party? Students learn that the bystander is not neutral. He is someone who stands up for the victim and is therefore a saviour. Or conversely, someone who watches without getting involved, more or less giving his approval and in that way allowing terrible things to happen.”

In The Town beyond the Wall, the main character Michael searches for the man who - during the war - only watched from behind his window while Jews were herded together on the market square. “Michael starts a conversation. He despises the man. Hate alludes to something of a personal relationship; contempt is much worse.”
According to Grünfeld, bystanders need not be individuals, but can be groups, like associations, a church, or a trade union. In large conflicts in which genocide plays a role, such as in Rwanda or Darfur, the role of politicians, states and international organisations like the United Nations also needs to be looked at.

 

 

 

In this column lecturers recommend a novel that throws a different light on their field than textbooks do

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CommentsReacties

2012-11-22: Andrew
An AMAZING mirror for the Netherlands. In 1962 the Netherlands joined a global joke that has probably killed some 400,000 so far

Technically the agreement between the Netherlands, Indonesia, and the United Nations was a "trusteeship agreement" under chapter 12 of the UN charter and took effect when the General Assembly made resolution 1752 (XVII). But in truth the Netherlands was selling people in exchange for US trade relations, and corporate America was buying the gold & copper on the cheap.

The old Dutch East Indies corporation was a business venture employing Java's warlords to extort goods for sale in Europe, that deal lasted 190 years until bankruptcy in 1795. Then fifty years ago American businessmen, Robert Lovett, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefellers wanted a 21st century version of it.

Am I wrong ? Or has the Netherlands become party to an on-going genocide. Neither the General Assembly nor the ICJ in resolution 2504 (XXIV) nor otherwise has ever revoked article 78 of the UN Charter nor alleged that West Papua has been allowed the vote, the "act of self-determination" by "all adults, male and female, not foreign nations"

West Papua looks like a UN trust territory to me, what about you, will you be a silent witness or will you say no to genocide?

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