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What New Agents Learn from the Holocaust

New FBI agents tour Holocaust Memorial Museum

Before becoming special agents, students from the FBI Training Academy tour the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. This is the 10th year the FBI has participated in the Law Enforcement and Society program, jointly run by the museum and the Anti-Defamation League.

Every year, the FBI Training Academy graduates about 1,000 new special agents following 20 weeks of intense preparation. In countless tactical and analytical scenarios, the trainees learn how to respond appropriately under the most trying conditions. 

But there is also a rigorous moral and ethical component to the training. In a poignant culmination of 21 hours spent defining the line between right and wrong, all new agents are escorted through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. to see in horrific detail what can happen when law enforcement loses sight of what is right. The program—called Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons of the Holocaust—is a joint partnership between the Anti-Defamation League and the museum.

Elise Jarvis of the ADL writes on chalkboard
The Anti-Defamation League's Elise Jarvis leads a new-agent class in a discussion of core values.
“It makes our people think about morality, ethics, and how to maintain those during turbulent times,” said Special Agent Douglas B. Merel, who teaches the Academy’s ethical leadership course for new agents that includes the museum program. “It shows how important it is for law enforcement to maintain their core values.”

In one visit on a recent Friday morning, about 50 agents-to-be filed into the museum. Over the next four hours they toured the exhibits—led in some cases by Holocaust survivors—and discussed what separates them from the law enforcement officers in Germany who were systematically co-opted by the Nazis.

In a museum conference room, Elise Jarvis, associate director of Law Enforcement Outreach for the Anti-Defamation League, whose mission is in part to secure justice and fair treatment for all citizens, is purposefully blunt in her line of questions. “So the question

“It makes our people think about morality, ethics, and how to maintain those during turbulent times.”

Supervisory Special Agent Douglas B. Merel
FBI Training Division

I’m putting out there is: What makes you different?” Jarvis asked the class. “What, at the end of the day, is going to keep you all anchored? What keeps you from sliding down that slippery slope? What keeps you from abusing your power?”

As answers bubble up—the Constitution, personal morals, compassion, laws—instructors challenge the students to support and defend their positions.

“It’s really our hope that the law enforcement officers who come to the museum see this program, see this history, and really reflect on their professional core values and their role in society today,” said Marcus A. Appelbaum, who coordinates the museum’s community and leadership programs.

The law enforcement program was developed in 1999 after D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey toured the museum and recognized the value of teaching trainees

“The purpose of the program is actually not to compare law enforcement in America today to police under the Nazis, but rather to contrast them. The program highlights the importance of law enforcement as protectors of all people and the Constitution to the safeguarding of our democracy.”

Elise Jarvis
Anti-Defamation League

about law enforcement’s integral role in the Nazis’ rise to power. In 2000, then-FBI Director Louis Freeh incorporated the tour into the Bureau’s new agent training. In 2005, Director Robert S. Mueller said the training has never been more relevant. "At a time when law enforcement must be aggressive in stopping terror, these classes provide powerful lessons on why we must always protect civil rights and uphold the rule of law," he said.

More than 60,000 law enforcement professionals—including about 10,000 new FBI agents and analysts—have gone through the program. This is the 10th year of the FBI’s participation. Members of the recent new agent class said the experience really brought home their new responsibility.
“They did an excellent job of showing how the law enforcement in Nazi society was complicit,” said Lucas, a new special agent, after the program’s conclusion. “It’s important to try to be aware of all the circumstances around you and make sure nothing's crossing the lines, and remember why we’re really here.”

- FBI Training Academy
- U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: Law Enforcement and Society program
- Anti-Defamation League Law Enforcement Agency Resource Network

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