A mock trial raises awareness on ethics and human rights

1 March 2023
On 31 January 2023, the mock trial of Ernst Rüdin appeared at the United Nations Headquarters in New-York. Ernst Rüdin was a senior advisor to the Nazi government on its racial hygiene policies and practices. His mock trial was designed as an educational project of both human, moral and declarative importance.

The mock trial attracted 32 young leaders (16-21 years old) from 10 different countries.

Among the judges sat Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, Chair of GAAMAC and former President of the International Criminal Court. She came with extensive knowledge on the Holocaust, remembrance and related matter, having served, inter alia, as Special Representative of Argentina to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

The other judges were Prof. Angelika Nussberger, former Vice President of the European Court on Human Rights, and Prof. Elyakim Rubinstein, former Vice President of the Israeli Supreme Court.

Expert testimonies were given by Prof. Alon Chan, President of the Weizmann Institute for Science, and  Dr. David Deutsch, Head Asia and Africa Section, International School for Holocaust Studies,Yad Vashem.

The mock trial shed a light on a lesser-known aspect of the Holocaust: the ethical perversions and eugenic ideology the Nazi regime embraced, specifically in the field of medicine, public health and medical research.

Ernst Rüdin was one of the highest medical authorities in Nazi Germany.  He was a the President of the German Society for Psychiatrists and Neurologists, Director of the internationally renowned Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry and head of the special Task Force on Racial Hygiene in the Nazi Ministry of Interior. He was an avid promoter of eugenic theory and practice long before Hitler rose to power, and with the advent of Nazi rule became one of the main forces behind the Nazi Forced Sterilization Law (1934). Additionally, he was deeply involved in the so-called “euthanasia” of 300,000 psychiatric patients during WWII.

Rüdin was not chosen only as an individual defendant in the mock trial, but as a representative of a broad category of leaders, scientists and thinkers who engaged in racial incitement and justified the blatant violation of human rights, basing their stance on rationalistic, scientific and philosophical claims.

The arguments

The prosecution, backed up by original archival materials, focused on connecting the defendant to the Forced Sterilization Law and Euthanasia Program, through the incitement of German medical psychiatrists to commit the crimes long before Hitler rose to power. His command responsibility as both a top advisor to the Nazi government and a high scientific authority were also presented as argument.

The defense, on the other hand, tried to show that Rüdin was not guilty of the crimes. Among other things, it argued that bringing Rüdin to trial on being a Racial Hygienist constitutes “selective enforcement” of the law, in light of the fact that forced sterilization was widely accepted and preached for in his time as proper medical science all over the world (Eugenics).

A tool to educate

The latter argument contributed to one of the educational lesson of the trial: the type of thought which contributed to the atrocities in Nazi Germany, and gave scientific authority to the exclusion and persecution of minorities, was in fact prevalent all over the world at the time. This showed how vigilant future leaders will need to be to identify such trajectories within his own people and opinion leaders.

Mock trials are a powerful tool for educating and instilling values within young students. The young leaders involved bring its contents to the awareness of their age group, getting their peers to listen to and reflect upon the discussed themes.

This project is the first step to an international program to instill Ethics and Human Rights issues into school curricula around the world, including raising awareness of the Holocaust not just as a Jewish issue, but as a main concern for human kind.

The recording of the event, as well as background lectures and discussions, will be used for a film or a 4-5 episodes TV series. This video content will also be part of an educational kit on the subject for schools all over the world.

The idea is to have an “add water and mix” kit with which any school around the world will be able to produce a local Mock Trial on Human Rights of its own, with all the materials ready to use, recruiting for the effort local judges and government officials and having as audience the entire school and all their families.

 

The International Mock Trial on Human Rights is an initiative of Dr. Avi Omer, who developed Mock Trials as a tool for instilling Human Rights values in young leaders, and was developed by Mr. Sefi Fischler, the project’s director and coordinator. The project is part of the activity of The Social Excellence Forum, a non-profit founded by Dr. Omer to cultivate future leaders.

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