Examining Evil

October 18, 2012 by Michelle Coleman
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What turns ordinary people into mass murderers? How can human beings commit atrocities against their fellow men, women and children?

These are some of the penetrating questions that will be addressed later this month at Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre (JHC) by a panel comprising renowned Holocaust researcher and former chief of the Australian War Crimes Unit Professor Konrad Kwiet, together with psychiatrists Dr Paul Valent and Dr George Foster.

The forum, entitled ‘Perpetrators’, is being organised by community group Child Survivors of the Holocaust, and delves into an aspect of the Holocaust that has traditionally been eschewed by survivors and their families.

“There is a huge reluctance to look at perpetrators because it gives them humanity. It’s like taking the evil away and giving them reasons why they did it. It takes away the whole concept of being able to blame them,” said Dr Paul Valent.

Dr Valent added that the mission of the JHC and indeed many survivors is to share their stories in the hope of ensuring that such atrocities never happen again. However, other genocides have occurred since the Holocaust and he therefore believes it is important to look at the psychology of the perpetrators.

The idea for the controversial forum was born out of a meeting of Holocaust survivors at which Dr Valent mentioned that he was writing a book about violence and the common threads of those who commit violence. It was an idea that was quickly taken up by others in the group.

“As a survivor myself, we’ve been talking about victims for many years but for there to be victims there have to be perpetrators, and we finally came to realise that we have to look at the people who committed the crimes, who made us victims,” said Child Survivors of the Holocaust president Henri Korn.

Korn added that the topic of perpetrators is commonly discussed amongst survivors, but to his knowledge there has been little or no formal examination of the topic publicly within the Jewish community.

“Is the community ready to broach this topic? I will tell you at 4:30pm on Sunday, 28 October,” Korn joked.

There will be an opportunity to ask questions of the distinguished panel, which will be moderated by Mount Scopus Memorial College principal Rabbi James Kennard.

‘Perpetrators’ will take place from 2pm to 4pm on Sunday, 28th October at the Jewish Holocaust Centre, 13-15 Selwyn Street, Elsternwick.

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