OWEN M. KUPFERSCHMID
(June 7, 1957 â€“ April 9, 1991)
I am honored to share some recollections about our classmate, and my friend, Owen Kupferschmid. A long-distance runner, Owen died of a heart attack while exercising on a treadmill. In his tragically short 33 years of life, Owen gave us so much.
I met Owen during my second year at BC Law. He had just founded the student-run Holocaust Human Rights Research Project (HHRP), and he had just returned to law school after taking a year off to study in Nepal (where he ended up helping to re-write its new Constitution).
32 years later, HHRP is still going strong at BC Law, with Owen’s original inspiration and practical vision sustaining it. Every school year since 1984, a core group of passionate BC Law students commit themselves to action and follow the core principles Owen gave to this student-run organization he founded.
The catalyst for Owen to establish the HHRP was a lecture delivered at BC Law in 1984 by a former U.S. Justice Department official. The lecturer indicated that there were likely thousands of former Nazi war criminals that successfully immigrated to the United States to avoid prosecution and any accountability for their crimes.
Owen felt compelled to act not only because his very own family had experienced persecution and attempted genocide in Europe during World War II, but also because his more universally focused convictions would not allow him to sit idly by.
Owen’s vision for HRPP was based on two core principles:
First: How can law students be serious about studying and advancing the rules of law if they do not take action to advance the law to hold accountable those responsible for the most heinous acts of mankind? Under Owen’s leadership and inexhaustible energy as a student and then as an advisor, HRPP brought experts, practitioners, advocates, prosecutors, and government officials from all over the world to consider this question.
It was a time when an international criminal court was just a dream and very few countries were willing to hold contemporary trials for the past deeds of their fellow countrymen and women.Owen’s focus was not on the theoretical but the practical. He wanted law students to actually work toward changing substantive law, and realizing its actual application in international and domestic courts.
HRPP’s second core sustaining principle established by Owen was that accountability for former Nazi persecutors was not just an issue for the victims’ communities, but was an issue of universal application to all international and domestic law and to the moral state of our planet.
At the beginning of HHRP, Owen was often asked why a project related to the Holocaust and the law should be based at a law school established by Jesuits. Owen’s response was always â€œwhy not?â€ The Jesuit heritage and commitment to integrating intellectual achievement with service to others and the promotion of social justice fit perfectly with HRPP’s core vision.
Owen saw the direct connection between the moral imperative to hold former Nazis accountable with the then failed and tepid responses to the crimes of the Khmer Rouge and South American military juntas. He saw the value of the precedence of cases from the Nazi era to the growing tribal and ethnic hatreds that were brewing in Europe and Africa, which eventually did break out after Owen’s passing, into the Yugoslavian war crimes and Rwandan genocide.
These two core principles arose from Owen’s own moral commitment to Tikkun OlamÂ–a Hebrew phrase that means “repairing the world.â€ They can inspire each of us to use the privilege of our legal education and our three decades of experience as lawyers, business executives, teachers, and community members, to do something good for others while we are here.
Owen’s legacy is truly a living and evolving phenomenon that calls us to service.
~ William Mandell â€˜86