CW: This article references genocide and antisemitism. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.
In recognition of Holocaust Memorial Day, the Jewish Business Alliance and the Jewish Law Student Association collaborated to host a discussion with Eli Rosenbaum, the counselor for war crimes accountability at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Holocaust Memorial Day, or Yom HaShoah, is traditionally observed on the 27th day of Nizan on the Hebrew calendar, which falls between April and May on the Gregorian calendar. This year, Yom HaShoah is April 18. The date also falls near the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising that began April 19, 1943. This uprising was the largest act of Jewish resistance during World War II.
Many commemorate the day by lighting yellow candles in remembrance of victims of the Holocaust, during which the Nazi regime and its allies and collaborators persecuted and murdered over six million Jews.
The April 11 event, titled “Holocaust Memorial Speaker: Prosecuting War Crimes From Nuremberg to Ukraine,” also featured Georgetown University Law Center professor Jared Silberman who teaches classes on the post-World War II Nuremberg trials.
Rosenbaum is known for his work at the DOJ identifying, denaturalizing and deporting Nazi war criminals following the Holocaust.
At the event, Rosenbaum said uplifting the stories of survivors is crucial. He shared a segment of poetry written by a survivor of the Holocaust, testimony shared in court by a survivor of a concentration camp and a description of the systematic murders of Jewish children in concentration camps.
Many survivors who Rosenbaum and his DOJ team speak with face an often impossible task of communicating how traumatizing their experiences were.
“You cannot imagine,” Rosenbaum said at the event. “Survivors who have tried to recount for my Justice Department colleagues and for me their hollowing experiences of brutalization at the hands of the Nazis, they don’t have the words to convey the relentless, nightmarish horror of what they made us see and what they did to us.”
Rosenbaum said the international community must remember the history of how the Holocaust unfolded in order to ensure similar tragedies do not happen again, a prospect that is becoming increasingly concerning as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to unfold.
“Jewish people have learned, at the terrible cost of six million lives, that one must not wait until those who harbor ambitions of mass violence and even genocide are able actually to realize their pernicious goals,” Rosenbaum said. “They have to be believed when they speak candidly of their evil goals.”
Rosenbaum now leads the DOJ’s efforts to investigate ongoing war crimes taking place on the global stage, with a specific focus on Ukraine.
“Last June, Attorney General Merrick Garland asked me to take on a new responsibility to lead the Justice Department’s efforts to pursue accountability in the wake of the unlawful full-scale invasion of Ukraine that accused Russian war criminal, Vladimir Putin, launched a year ago,” Rosenbaum said.
“We’ve quickly made some progress in our investigative work, somewhat to my surprise, given the challenges; we have already identified a number of suspects,” Rosenbaum added.
After months of speculation and pressure from activists, the International Criminal Court at The Hague in the Netherlands issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The warrant, which bears Putin with personal responsibility for the forceful separation of Ukrainian children, marks the first time such an action has been taken against a head of state of one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
Rosenbaum said the DOJ’s preventative work in Ukraine is imperative, as the violence is continuing on the ground.
“The ghastly reality of Russia’s ongoing, widespread and systematic commission of atrocity crimes means that all of us in law enforcement have to do everything we can to pursue justice with all deliberate speed, especially with the intent to deter would-be war crimes,” Rosenbaum said.
Resources: On-campus resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Service (202-687-7080); to report an incident of hate or bias on campus, refer to the Georgetown University Bias Reporting website. In the event of an emergency, dial 911. To report a hate crime, contact the MPD Hate Crimes Voicemail (202) 727-0500 or the Hate Crimes Coordinator ([email protected]).
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