Studying Ethics in Notorious Auschwitz

As a lawyer in the US Navy, Jean-Marc Chanoine, MBA 17, saw that it was possible to follow the letter of the law, while going against its spirit.

It was his fascination with that gap—which at times can be a chasm—that led him to apply to a fellowship studying professional ethics in one of the world’s most notorious places: Auschwitz.

In May, Chanoine will travel to Germany and Poland to participate in Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics, an intensive 12-day program for students of business, journalism, law, medicine, or religion. Fellows in each program learn about the roles played by people in their professions in Nazi Germany, and explore the ethical issues facing those professions today.

“The holocaust is an extreme—there were dozens of companies that took advantage of the ‘legal’ slave labor, but I believe they were very much complicit,” said Chanoine, a former Judge Advocate General’s Corps officer. “We still have companies using what’s tantamount to slave labor today, and it may be completely legal within the context they are doing it. At what point do people suspend their judgment and tell themselves it’s ok? ”

It’s that kind of question that drives the fellowship program. The trip begins in Berlin with visits to the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Forced Labor Museum, and continues for six days of visits and seminars, including one at the Topography of Terror Documentation Center. The fellows then continue to Krakow and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Through visits to Holocaust sites and seminars on the roles businesses and business leaders played, fellows tackle issues like loyalty, ambition, leadership, and tension between ethics and the bottom line The end result is a program that will help them address moral questions, not only through the lens of history but beyond business school.

That’s what Megan Wong, MBA 16, got out of the program. Wong, who won a fellowship last year, said she came away with less certainty and more humility, but also a stronger grasp of the difficulties of systemic inequalities and the role of the bystander.

“This is exactly what I came to business school for: to be an ethical leader and act on my beliefs,” she said.

Chanoine said he applied to the fellowship because he had never seen an opportunity like it. He already had had a good understanding of the military context of World War II: He joined the Navy straight out of law school, and by age 27 he was the general counsel at Naval Nuclear Power Training Command. “This is a chance to learn whole different side of the Holocaust, the profit side, which is something that’s less talked about.”

Chanoine, who will go straight from Berlin to New York to an internship at Goldman Sachs, wants to pursue a career in management at a Fortune 500. “I hope this experience will serve as a backdrop for decision-making throughout my career,” he said.