The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust” by Amos N. Guiora— Answering Profound Questions


Guiora, Amos N. “The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust’, Ankerwycke, 2017.

Answering Profound Questions

Amos Lassen

Amos N. Guiora addresses profound questions and the bystander-victim relationship from a deeply personal and legal perspective. He focuses on the Holocaust and then explores cases in contemporary society. He shares the experiences of his parents and grandparents during the Holocaust and examines sexual assault cases at Vanderbilt and Stanford and other crimes where bystanders chose not to intervene. To put it plainly, Guiora recommends that we must make the obligation to intervene the law, and thus non-intervention a crime.

“Sometimes moral analysis works best by being abstract and detached from reality” while at other times, benefit comes from intense engagement with its subject matter. Amos Guiora’s writing on the conundrums of complicity and the requirement that bystanders and passersby intervene to prevent evil is the latter. His explanation is detailed, thoughtful, erudite and he is able to be totally at one with his subject matter. He takes us back to the Holocaust so that we can understand the complicity of bystanders who watched his father on a death march in Serbia or his mother and grandmother being lined up to be executed in Budapest or his grandparents waiting on a platform for the train that would take them to their deaths at Auschwitz. Guiora asks if bystanders had a legal duty to intervene, and, if so, what actions were they required to take. From that alone, you can hear the brain cells turning over and over as we ask ourselves difficult questions like this. We wonder what we would do if we were bystanders at such an event (for lack of a better word).

“Should bystanders be regarded as ‘complicit’ for pertinent forms of nonintervention and how shall we best explain the bystander’s decision not to intervene? These are plainly difficult questions to answer; but author Guiora gives is an assessment that is competent and purposeful. It also builds a compelling jurisprudential argument for dealing with various forms of bystander complicity as distinctly punishable crimes.

Guiora brings together the personal and the objective and emotions and science to make us think how to react to difficult questions. By describing death marches and the atrocities of the Nazis while the rest of the world looked the other way really brings this home. Guiora contends that those who watch violence have a greater duty not to remain silent and that legislation imposing that duty to protect the innocent is necessary. Moral obligation alone cannot secure justice and bystanders must be judged for their complicity and held accountable by the state for refusing to protect the innocent from harm.

He explains the role of the bystander in relation to the perpetrator and victim in such a way that the reader with no profound knowledge about the Holocaust is able to understand the issue with little or no trouble. This is something that cannot be ignored.