This week, there were two news items that I found to be somewhat disquieting for the reason that they do not reflect justice. The first was the banning of Russian athletes from the Olympics, and as far as I can make out, from other sporting events. The reason was that there was a lot of doping amongst Russian athletes. Now, to ban those who were found to have taken drugs is fine by me. They were guilty of breaking the rules so they should pay. However, a blanket ban seems to go against natural justice: guilt by association. Notice that during the time of Lance Armstrong, it turned out all his cycling associates were also doing that, but did anyone suggest banning all American cyclists? Of course not. Banning the guilty is fine, but blanket banning as a punishment for the nation was never considered. So why the Russians? Has it got anything to do with a general anti-Russian sentiment? We shall never know, but punishment by association is, in my view, wrong. More to the point, if it were that prevalent, why weren’t the authorities doing something about it when it was more important to do it, even though the publicity value would be much less? Why don’t they simply test all athletes at the Olympics?
Seemingly, the powers that be decided that, yes, this procedure was either bad, or, more importantly to them, it could be seen to be bad. So something had to be done to give the impression of fairness. So, what did they come up with? Why, each athlete would be given the opportunity to prove they had not doped. How? Hmmmm! That is yet to be decided, but the athletes should start proceedings. Yeah, right! With two months to go to the biggest sporting event, instead of training, they should engage in some undefined bureaucratic procedure. Sorry, but in my opinion, the role of these authorities is to be fair and enforce the rules. It is not to make themselves feel good, and thwart criticism by mounting publicity charades.
The next item involved the trial of the 94 year-old Reinhold Hanning. Again, Hanning was guilty by association, although in this case he was associated with mass genocide. Hanning joined the Hitler youth in 1935, and that was not considered a criminal organization at the time. In 1940 he joined the Waffen SS, and fought on the eastern Front until he was severely wounded by grenade splinters. He was deemed unfit for further combat duties, and ordered to go to Auschwitz, where he was first assigned to register work details, and later for duty in a guard tower. No evidence was provided that Hanning had any part personally in killing, or in selection for killing.
My first problem with this is, suppose you were in Hanning’s shoes, and ordered to Auschwitz, what would you do? Disobey any order, or start protesting, and you would be on the other side of the fence. How many of you would take that stance? Is it even a sensible stance? You get killed and you achieve nothing. Think about this, and if you are so confident you would throw away your life, please add a comment and explain why.
My next problem with this procedure is that following the war, it was estimated that about 10% of the German population had been members of the Nazi party. After all, that was the way to get ahead. In 1963 – 1965, trials of second and third tier personnel at Auschwitz led to convictions of only the worst sadists being convicted for murder, and defendants argued successfully that they had only been following orders. If the justice system could not be bothered prosecuting someone like Hanning then, then why now? Basically, about 50 people have been convicted of crimes at Auschwitz, and up to 7000 people worked there.
In 2011, there was an alleged “breakthrough”. Legally, they decided that if you worked at a factory of death, that made you an accessory to murder because without the likes of you, the place could not have run. That is true, but the question then is, were you a voluntary participant? I am not so sure that the desire to stay alive yourself makes you an accessory.
A related problem with the trial is the argument is made that seventy years ago the German courts “made a mistake” and now is the time to correct it. As one legal scholar put it, this trial is symbolically important for the German legal system, and it helps the survivors. I am afraid I do not agree, and the issue is the same as for the Russian athletes. Justice should reflect guilt. The desire by authorities to feel good, or to wipe out traces of their own useless performance, has no place.
And just to clarify my position, I have walked through Auschwitz before there were many tourists. It was an awful place. I remember the fertile mounds that were the remains of the crematoria. I also remember the chalk drawings where the victims tried to record the horrors in a way that the SS would not erase. I also had an uncle in Dachau so I have no sympathy at all for those guilty of creating those places. But I would never put a 94 year-old on trial for “guilt by association” merely to make myself look as if I were doing something.