CES: In Search of Retribution: The Roles of Holocaust Survivors in Trials of Nazi Perpetrators in Postwar Germany


Thursday, November 30, 2017, 4:15pm to 6:00pm


Adolphus Busch Hall, Hoffmann Room, 27 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, MA

Jews in Modern Europe Study Group

Laura Jockusch
Albert Abramson Assistant Professor of Holocaust Studies, Departments of History and of New Eastern and Judaic Studies, Brandeis University


This lecture looks at a number of criminal trials that focused on crimes committed in the concentration, labor, and death camp Auschwitz and were held in Germany over the course of seventy years. It addresses the challenges of the legal conceptualization and prosecution of Nazi crimes while exploring the roles played by Jewish Holocaust survivors in bringing Nazi perpetrators to justice. Starting with the so-called “Belsen trial” in fall 1945, just four months after Germany’s unconditional surrender, the first Auschwitz-related trial ever it concludes with the trial of the former SS officer and accountant Oskar Groening, which occurred in spring and summer 2015 as one of the last Auschwitz trials we are likely to see. Although the trials took place in completely different contexts—one under British military occupation, before a military tribunal, and under military law, the other in a sovereign, democratic, and reunited Germany, before a German court, based on German criminal law—both dealt with Auschwitz and addressed perennial questions of agency, intent, and responsibility of the perpetrators and the suffering, memory, and authority of the victims.

Professor Jockusch’s research and teaching focus on the social, political, cultural, and legal histories of European Jews before, during, and after the Holocaust and engage in comparative, transnational, and cross-disciplinary perspectives. 

Her first book studied the beginnings of Holocaust research by Jews and from a Jewish perspective immediately after the liberation from Nazi rule. Based on unpublished archival records in various languages, it is the first comparative history of a number of documentation centers and historical commissions that pioneered Holocaust research in the wake of the Second World War. Comparing the cases of France, Poland, Germany, Austria, and Italy, it retrieved from oblivion these first endeavors by Jews across Europe to write the history of the Holocaust and reappraised the earliest attempts to raise research questions and methodological problems that still have relevance for Holocaust and genocide studies today. 

Jockusch’s ongoing research project investigates how Jews conceptualized legal redress after the unprecedented crime of the Nazi genocide of European Jews. It explores how Jewish individuals and organizations related to the Nuremberg trials and other Allied war crime trials in occupied Germany, and examines the multifaceted ways in which Jews sought to implement their ideas of justice in and outside of the Allied tribunals.



Phyllis Cohen Albert