Just days after liberation, surrounded by starvation and disease, a young woman looked into a soldier’s movie camera and described the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. Months later, the same woman, Hadassah Bimko, gave crucial, tearful testimony at the trial of the camp commander and guards. Allied prosecutors included her filmed interview in a shocking documentary that was entered into evidence at the trial, at Nuremberg, of high-ranking Nazis. Menachem Z. Rosensaft showed that 1945 film clip to his class on the law of genocide, at Columbia Law School, but to him, the woman in flickering black-and-white was no distant witness to history. She is his mother. The professor is the Jewish son of two Holocaust survivors whose families were wiped out.
DYet Mr. Rosensaft, 63, who is teaching the class at Columbia for the first time, manages to take an almost dispassionate approach, as if to say that outrage is fine, but then what? He peppers his lectures and conversation with hypothetical questions devised to avoid easy answers.