Cover: Beyond Justice: The Auschwitz Trial, from Harvard University PressCover: Beyond Justice in PAPERBACK

Beyond Justice

The Auschwitz Trial

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Product Details


$30.00 • £24.95 • €27.00

ISBN 9780674063877

Publication Date: 03/05/2012


360 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

6 halftones, 1 line illustration


Beyond Justice is a serious book that provides a fascinating study of law’s limitations confronting mass crimes of historical importance. As the most thorough study of one of the most important, though ultimately vexed, trials of the twentieth century, Beyond Justice is something of a landmark that deserves a wide reading.—Jeffrey K. Olick, Ethics & International Affairs

Why did the Auschwitz trial fail to produce justice? Rebecca Wittmann’s well-constructed and well-written book offers a variety of answers.—Steve Hochstadt, German Studies Review

Federal German law precluded the release of trial documents until thirty years after the case’s conclusion, while the proceedings themselves had been audiotaped rather than transcribed. Only in the last few years has the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt completed the transcription of some fifty hours worth of tape recordings. Rebecca Wittmann’s new book thus represents the first detailed study on the trial, a valuable contribution that draws upon previously untapped evidence and fills a significant gap within existing war crimes historiography. A glance at Wittmann’s work reveals that the long wait for a detailed account of the Auschwitz trial has proved worthwhile. Over the course of six chapters, the entire history of the trial is laid bare in meticulous detail from its inception to the final sentencing. For those unfamiliar with the history of Nazi war crimes trials up to this point, the first chapter provides a concise overview, exploring earlier Allied policies as well as competing political interpretations of the Nazi past played out between Adenauer and Schumacher during the formative years of the Federal Republic… Wittmann’s book thus provides a refreshing corrective to previous scholarly claims about the impact of the Auschwitz trial. Through her careful and immensely detailed analysis of the proceedings, Wittmann offers new evidence of the trial’s impact upon the West German people, and the extent to which it really can be said to have altered popular attitudes towards the Nazi past.—Caroline Sharples, H-Net

In this timely book, which arrives on the heels of the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation, Wittman offers a scholarly and highly detailed analysis of the West German government’s 1963 trial of 20 war criminals linked to Auschwitz. Working from both legalistic and historical perspectives, Wittman shows the complexities of prosecuting war criminals under the domestic German penal code and legal system compared with the more advantageous standards used by prosecutors in the Nuremburg Trials; the verdicts, based on guilt for standard penal-code crimes rather than more serious war crimes, resulted in lenient sentences and were largely preordained by the Nazis’ invoked legal system. While this may have helped a modernizing West Germany confront its Nazi history, many German citizens preferred to ‘let the grass grow over the past.’ Sadly, as this book demonstrates, Germany’s history and soil contain the bodies of all too many Holocaust victims.—Theodore Pollack, Library Journal

When Germans began bringing other Germans to trial for Nazi atrocities, prosecutors found themselves struggling through a thicket of ambiguities, some created by the laws they had to use and some by the equivocal emotions of the German public. Exhibit A in this process remains the trial of 24 Auschwitz guards, held in Frankfurt from 1963 to 1965… The trial was a pivotal event in German history but until [now] no one has described it in detail. Rebecca Wittmann, a young historian at the University of Toronto, fills the gap with a clear, thorough and highly intelligent book.The National Post

Wittmann’s study of the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial is an excellent contribution both to our knowledge of this important trial and to our understanding of how the legal process shapes historical memory. Her argument that the trial failed to do justice to the complex history of Auschwitz specifically, and the Holocaust generally, is persuasively developed and forcefully defended.—Lawrence Douglas, author of The Memory of Judgment: Making Law and History in the Trials of the Holocaust

Rebecca Wittmann provides a skilled and sensitive account of the Auschwitz trial of the early 1960s. The trial was unprecedented, not least for the scale of the alleged crimes. The proceedings were undertaken by German judicial authorities and shone a national and international spotlight on the infamous camp. Wittmann brings out the trial in its complexity and provides a compelling account of the witnesses’ testimony. This well-written book is an original contribution.—Robert Gellately, author of Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany and The Nuremberg Interviews

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