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The August Trials

The August Trials

The Holocaust and Postwar Justice in Poland

Andrew Kornbluth

ISBN 9780674249134

Publication date: 03/02/2021

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The first account of the August Trials, in which postwar Poland confronted the betrayal of Jewish citizens under Nazi rule but ended up fashioning an alibi for the past.

When six years of ferocious resistance to Nazi occupation came to an end in 1945, a devastated Poland could agree with its new Soviet rulers on little else beyond the need to punish German war criminals and their collaborators. Determined to root out the “many Cains among us,” as a Poznań newspaper editorial put it, Poland’s judicial reckoning spawned 32,000 trials and spanned more than a decade before being largely forgotten.

Andrew Kornbluth reconstructs the story of the August Trials, long dismissed as a Stalinist travesty, and discovers that they were in fact a scrupulous search for the truth. But as the process of retribution began to unearth evidence of enthusiastic local participation in the Holocaust, the hated government, traumatized populace, and fiercely independent judiciary all struggled to salvage a purely heroic vision of the past that could unify a nation recovering from massive upheaval. The trials became the crucible in which the Communist state and an unyielding society forged a foundational myth of modern Poland but left a lasting open wound in Polish-Jewish relations.

The August Trials draws striking parallels with incomplete postwar reckonings on both sides of the Iron Curtain, suggesting the extent to which ethnic cleansing and its abortive judicial accounting are part of a common European heritage. From Paris and The Hague to Warsaw and Kyiv, the law was made to serve many different purposes, even as it failed to secure the goal with which it is most closely associated: justice.


  • Kornbluth’s forensic examination of August trials documents, only recently made available for scrutiny, confirms that the Jedwabne pogrom was not an isolated event…As a result of actions taken by Germans and Poles during this period, 90 per cent of Poland’s 3.5 million Jewish population was exterminated. Kornbluth’s detailing of cases makes difficult reading.

    —Mark Glanville, Jewish Chronicle


  • 2022, Joint winner of the Reginald Zelnik Book Prize in History
  • 2020, Joint winner of the The Wiener Library Ernst Fraenkel Prize
  • 2021, Winner of the Salo Wittmayer Baron Book Prize


  • Andrew Kornbluth is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a former fellow of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press