Nuremburg Nazi Trials: Transitional Justice

Nuremburg Nazi Trials: Transitional Justice

 Devin O. Pendas (Boston College) has published Democracy, Nazi Trials, and Transitional Justice in Germany, 1945-1950

Transitional justice is rooted in accountability and redress for victims. It recognizes their dignity as citizens and as human beings. Ignoring massive abuses is an easy way out but it destroys the values on which any decent society can be built.

Transitional justice puts the victims and their dignity first, it signals the way forward for a renewed commitment to making sure ordinary citizens are safe in their own countries – safe from the abuses of their own authorities and effectively protected from violations by others.

Nuremberg brought this to light in the world like never before.

From the Editor

Post-war Germany has been seen as a model of ‘transitional justice’ in action, where the prosecution of Nazis, most prominently in the Nuremberg Trials, helped promote a transition to democracy. However, this view forgets that Nazis were also prosecuted in what became East Germany, and the story in West Germany is more complicated than has been assumed. Revising received understanding of how transitional justice works, Devin O. Pendas examines Nazi trials between 1945 and 1950 to challenge assumptions about the political outcomes of prosecuting mass atrocities. In East Germany, where there were more trials and stricter sentences, and where they grasped a broad German complicity in Nazi crimes, the trials also helped to consolidate the emerging Stalinist dictatorship by legitimating a new police state. Meanwhile, opponents of Nazi prosecutions in West Germany embraced the language of fairness and due process, which helped de-radicalise the West German judiciary and promote democracy.

 Praise for the book:

“A vast literature insists that the transition from authoritarianism to democracy demands that a nation frankly reckon with its past crimes. Pendas’s new book brilliantly challenges this view. In exploring Germany’s half-hearted and vexed efforts to punish and purge former Nazis and ‘fellow travelers’, he demonstrates how the German nation achieved an important political success at the cost of a disturbing moral failure. His is a fine and singular achievement.” – Lawrence Douglas

“Pendas has spun a powerful cautionary tale about transitional justice, a necessary corrective to the idea that liberal-legal trials in the aftermath of atrocity necessarily lead to democratization. As Pendas shows with his usual erudition, the very different political fates of West and East Germany undermine any such happy teleology. An absolute must-read – and will no doubt be read for years to come.” – Kevin Jon Heller

“This is the definitive account of the ‘Nuremberg interregnum’ … In a tour de force, Pendas takes the reader from Nuremberg to Dachau, Lüneburg, and Waldheim, and to the many places where investigations never made it to trial. Combining a keen eye for detail with analytical rigour, Pendas reasserts historians’ authority on transitional justice’s potential and its limitations. This excellent book shows how unintended consequences and perennially irrational actors defy neat models and precise cost-benefit analyses.” – Kim Christian Priemel

Further information is available here.

About the Author

Devin O. Pendas is Professor of History at Boston College. He is the author of The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, 1963–1965 (2010) and co-editor of Political Trials in Theory and History (2017) and Beyond the Racial State: Rethinking Nazi Germany (2018) as well numerous articles on the history of Holocaust trials and international law.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Anna Waldherr

    Thank you for drawing attention to this book and the Nuremberg Trials. Unfortunately, the world has a short memory. If you are interested, I wrote a post titled “Nuremberg” on A Lawyer’s Prayers

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