When Americans think about trials of Holocaust perpetrators, they generally think of the Nuremberg Trials or the trial of Adolf Eichmann or perhaps of the Frankfort trials of perpetrators from Auschwitz. If they think of Polish trials at all, they likely assume these were show trials driven by political goals rather than an interest in justice.
and Alexander Prusin
's book Justice behind the Iron Curtain: Nazis on Trial in Communist Poland
(University of Toronto Press, 2018) shows that the truth was considerably more nuanced. The book is a comprehensive account of the trials of Nazi perpetrators conducted in liberated and postwar Poland. But it’s more than that—it’s a reflection on how politics impact justice, on what trials can teach us about perpetrator behavior, and on the ways in which ordinary Poles responded to the Holocaust. Finder and Prusin show that the trials were shaped by their political context. But this context allowed and sometimes encouraged the participation of a variety of actors and for a careful and thorough examination of documentary evidence and the testimony of survivors. As a result, the trials were largely successful in achieving a kind of justice, as imperfect as that might be.
died shortly before the book was published. This interview is dedicated to his memory.
Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including
The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994, published by W. W. Norton Press.