History on Trial: Bringing Former Nazis to Court in the Twenty First Century

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Goering at Trial, credits: KaldeiJoint Workshop by the HEC Department, LAW Department and Max Weber Programme, 7 May 2012, Villa La Fonte, Conference Room

Organized by Daniel Lee and Marina Aksenova


In May 2011 a German court in Munich convicted the retired American autoworker John Demjanjuk, aged 91, of 28,060 counts of accessory to murder for serving as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland during 1942-1943.

It was the first time prosecutors were able to convict someone in a Holocaust-related case without direct evidence that the accused participated in a specific killing.

Based on this precedent, German prosecutors announced in early October 2011 that they had reopened hundreds of – until then – dormant investigations of former Nazi death camp guards (together with cases for other crimes), which may have been committed during the period of the Third Reich.

However, there is a need to consider whether a criminal prosecution of the former Nazis is the most appropriate way to deal with the past atrocities.

The colloquium aims at bringing together the issue of time, collective memory, criminal law and civil restitution proceedings in order to answer this question to the fullest.