Parlez-vous war criminal? Leopold Munyakazi and Goucher college
Sanford H. Ungar, journalist and current President of Goucher
, a small liberal-arts college near Baltimore writes about his experience hiring - unbeknownst to him - a Rwandan war criminal (Leopold Munyakazi) to teach French as a visiting scholar, and the aftermath for him personally. He examines the sometimes problematic desire from liberal arts colleges, or at least Goucher in this instance, to hire somebody controversial, and delves in to the blurry world of apportioning blame in the Rwandan genocide.On motivations for hiring Leopold Munyakazi, at that point not known by the college to be a war criminal:
"A pointed, if mysterious, warning from the SRF staff that Munyakazi held “controversial views” only stoked our enthusiasm—we didn’t even stop to ask what was meant by it. If a liberal-arts college could not handle controversy, we thought, then who could? Perhaps he’d even attract attention and make a few positive headlines for the college."
"Dignified yet humble, shy, and sincere, one of the few faculty members who routinely dressed in suit and tie, Leopold became a familiar figure in the library and on the campus paths, almost disappointingly low-key and dull. But we flattered ourselves that we had done that rare thing, a purely good deed, striking a blow for the cause of intellectual freedom while bringing an honorable man to campus."
After the revelation:
"I earnestly explained that our intentions were pure and our decision to take in Leopold was based on the best of motives. I did not acknowledge the red flags we might have overlooked in our own eagerness to bring Leopold to campus, or how automatically we accepted the most generous interpretation of why this scholar might have been at special risk. But still, I promised, we would do everything in our power to get to the bottom of it all."
On guilt and innocence:
"Jarecki [who compiled dossiers on Munyakazi's guilt and innocence] says he wants to believe that Leopold is innocent of the charges against him, but, as a child Holocaust survivor who returned to Germany for medical school in the fifties, he is acutely sensitive to the possibility that a scholar he’s helped shelter may be guilty of “war crimes”—the moral equivalent, for him, of “rescuing Göring in Argentina.”
“We often rescue people without really knowing who they are,” he says, citing the minimal standard that one of his board members has developed: “Is he a scholar, and is he in danger?” But that question can obscure as much as it illuminates, he admits, and Jarecki, now 79, remembers with horror a particular cautionary tale: One of his most cherished medical professors in Heidelberg, “an amusing and cheerful fellow, a good companion,” was revealed, long after he had died, to have been a wartime assistant to Josef Mengele."
"And I [Ungar] have come to live with serious doubts of my own—about Leopold, about my own part in his ordeal, and about the high-minded idealism that brought him to Goucher. Is his case a simple matter of good intentions gone awry, or a profoundly discouraging allegory about how difficult it can be to identify injustice in the world and repair it? I’m no longer sure the two are very different, or that the sincerity of our humanitarian impulses can ever be reliable proof of the worthiness of our actions. But I find it difficult to accept that we must all simply suspend judgment and take the world as we find it. Ignorance is its own kind of exile."
Ungar was the Washington editor for The Atlantic for many years
, and headed up the Voice of America, "the U.S. government’s principal international broadcasting agency"
for two years prior to his position at Goucher.