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FOREWORD One of the most far-reaching legacies of World War II would be the sustained effort to bring to justice those who committed war crimes. For the general public and even for many scholars, the focus has traditionally centered on the most famous of the war crime trials, the International Military Tribunal held in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1946. Composed of judges and prosecuting attorneys from the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France, this court tried the most senior German civilian officials and military officers for not only violating the laws of war but also for waging aggressive war and crimes against humanity. Nuremberg created an important precedent for the establishment of international war crime courts in the aftermath of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and eventually the formation of a permanent International Criminal Court. Prior to Nuremberg, enforcement of international law remained solely the prerogative of national courts. Nuremberg also gave momentum to the codification of international law for the protection of civilians in wartime and clear definition of the crime of genocide. In terms of jurisprudence, the Nuremberg precedent declared that an individual could not use the defense of superior orders as a way to absolve him or herself of criminal actions taken in wartime. Despite the significance of Nuremberg, it was only the beginning of efforts to render justice in Europe after 1945. The United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and France held war crime trials in their zones of occupation in Germany. Most countries occupied by Germany held national trials of Nazi war criminals and their own collaborators. Michael Bryant examines the early efforts of the Federal Republic of Germany to bring to justice German nationals who had committed war crimes under the Third Reich. His focus is on the Reinhard Death Camp Trials that tried individuals who participated in genocide at Belzec, Treblinka, and Sobibor. Bryant tells a sobering account of industrial killing and individual cases of sadism on an epic scale. In the early postwar era, efforts to render justice under West German criminal law faced severe limitations as a result of trying to fit conventional definitions of murder to the ghastly crimes that took place in the death camps of Eastern Europe. Moreover, there were limits to how far the West German state was willing to go to achieve justice in this period. Clear Foreword x boundaries were drawn on who was to be held accountable, and the German judiciary largely absolved itself for the actions of judges and lawyers under Adolf Hitler. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the focus of postwar criminal investigations centered on the personnel in charge of German death camps and who did the actual, physical killings. No effort was made by West Germans to try the industrialists, German national railroad managers, or other institutions vital to the implementation of the Final Solution to rid Europe of its Jewish population. Even with death camp personnel, strict standards of proof made it difficult to secure convictions, especially if eyewitnesses could not be found. Despite these limitations, the trials that Bryant documents show remarkable dedication by some German officials to pursue justice. Suspects were ferreted out and in some cases this meant seeking out individuals who had faked their deaths and assumed new identities. German authorities charged with the Reinhard investigations reached out to historians, cooperated with officials from Israel and other countries, and sought the assistance of Jewish organizations in an effort to collect evidence. Most crucial for securing convictions was the testimony of Holocaust survivors who often journeyed to West Germany from different parts of the globe to participate in these trials. Rending justice in postwar Germany was a difficult task given the existence of scores of perpetrators from virtually every sector of society still in positions of power. In view of the institutional and popular resistance in many quarters to war crimes trials, it is remarkable that they ever took place. Efforts to render justice were imperfect and certainly can be found wanting. But from a comparative perspective, trials examined by Bryant are remarkable. There existed no parallel trials in postwar Japan to prosecute former officials for war crimes committed during the war. Even at the height of the Cold War, when the consensus was to forget the past there were some dedicated investigators, prosecutors, and jurists willing to uncover some of the most awful truths regarding the Nazi past and hold those responsible legally accountable. Bryant’s work ensures...


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MARC Record
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