For Professor Amos Guiora, “the act of not acting is a crime of omission” – both during the Holocaust and in the present day.
“In a horrible, horrible, way, something like Pittsburgh re-enforces the requirement that we be vigilant about the tenor of speech, and not ignore the consequences of speech,” he said in an interview with the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin from Utah. “Pittsburgh doesn’t happen out of the clear blue sky. I would hope that this tragedy reinforces the requirement that we don’t allow ourselves to be guided by passivity. It’s easy to be passive, a pain in the ass to be active.”
A child of Holocaust survivors, Guiora is an Israeli-American professor of law at the University of Utah and lieutenant-colonel (ret.) in the Israel Defense Forces. He is actively involved in bystander legislation efforts in Utah and other states.
Amos Guiora will be speaking on Wednesday, November 28, 7 pm, at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre in a Holocaust Education Month event presented by the Shoah Committee of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
The author of The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust, he will discuss his personal and legal perspectives on bystander-victim relationships, focusing first on the Holocaust and then exploring cases of sexual assault in contemporary society.
“I view complicity as a legal question,” he said. “For me the bystander who sees another person in peril, and decides not to provide assistance, is a criminal. The assistance the legislation would call for is to call 911. The act of not acting is a crime of omission.”
In Utah, a bill has been introduced that would impose the obligation on the bystander who is physically present and capable, and seeing a person in peril, to dial 911, he said. “Failure to do so would become a crime.”
It was fortuitous that his dedication to this topic came about later in his career.
“I never intended to write this book or address the Holocaust at all,” he said. “All of my writings over the years have been about national security.”
He has published extensively on issues related to national security, limits of interrogation, religion and terrorism, the limits of power, multiculturalism and human rights. As well as The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust, he is the author of Freedom from Religion: Rights and National Security, Tolerating Intolerance: The Price of Protecting Extremism and, most recently, Earl Warren, Ernesto Miranda and Terrorism.
Six years ago, while training for the Salt Lake City Marathon, Guiora’s running partner, who was not Jewish, asked him how the Holocaust happened.
“Even though I’m the only son of Holocaust survivors, it was never discussed while I was growing up,” he said, “and I was abysmally ignorant. At the age of 55, it was time to look at my parents’ experiences and to read a lot about the Holocaust. And the more I read, the more I saw a largely unaddressed issue. … I decided for me this is what I want to look at, the bystander.”
From his research, he recommends two books on the bystander and the Holocaust – Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews and Bystanders Conscience and Complicity During the Holocaust by Victoria J. Barnett – pointing out that neither book addresses the bystander from a legal perspective.
In his own book, Giora examines the bystander during three events – death marches, the German occupation of Holland, and the German occupation of Hungary, explaining that while the Third Reich created policy, its implementation was dependent on bystander non-intervention.
“My parents disagree with me that the notion of legal culpability should be imposed,” he said. “However, I’m a firm believer that part of the legislative effort is an educational effort as well. I do a lot of speaking to junior high school students, high school students, and elementary school teachers planning curriculum… But as important as an educational effort is, this does not minimize the importance of bystander legislation. It’s a double effort.”
Admission to Guiora’s lecture is free of charge. For more information, contact Lindsay Gottheil at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-798-4696, ext. 355.