Wednesday, 17 April 2013 • 4-5p.m. (reception begins at 3:30 p.m.)
Glasscock Center Library, Room 311, Glasscock Building
The lecture is free and open to the public, and refreshments will be served.
Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Toronto
“Nazism, Terrorism, and Criminal Justice in Postwar Germany”
Rebecca Wittmann is Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on the Holocaust, postwar German trials of Nazi perpetrators and terrorists, and German legal history. She has published articles in Central European History, German History, and Lessons and Legacies, and her book, Beyond Justice: The ‘Auschwitz’ Trial (Harvard University Press, 2005) won the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History for Best Book Manuscript. She has received fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service), and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Wittmann also received the Dean’s Special Merit Award for Teaching and Research Excellence from the University of Toronto at Mississauga in 2005.
In her lecture, Wittmann will examine three very different trials of German history and discuss the contradictions in judicial practices during these trials. She states that “in Germany’s extraordinary transition from dictatorship to democracy, there have been seismic growing pains, which have included both successful and deeply problematic attempts to overcome the legacy of Nazism.” She proposes that although Nazi trials have changed and evolved, they remain as troubled and unsuccessful as ever in the ongoing project of coping with the past.
Wittmann will first assess two criminal trials that began in 1975 in West Germany: the Majdanek Trial of Nazi camp guards and the Stammheim Trial of the Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorists. Between 1975 and 1981, 16 camp guards from the concentration and death camp Majdanek in Lublin, Poland were tried for murder in Düsseldorf. Despite the large body of information, evidence, and understanding regarding the Nazi crime complex available in the 1970s, the result of this trial indicates a relaxing of sentencing standards. Wittmann will contrast the Majdanek trial with the infamous Stammheim trial, which began in the same year. The trial of the four founding members of the left-wing terrorist organization the RAF (Red Army Faction) was, unlike the Majdanek trial, a heavily publicized, sensational media event. In this trial, the Federal State Attorney’s office attempted to prosecute “enemies of the state” who had traumatized the nation in the early 1970s. Their sentences were much harsher than those handed out to the Nazi criminals even though their crimes were lesser in magnitude. Finally, Wittmann will assess where the Nazi trials stand today in Germany by examining the 2009-2010 trial of Ivan Demjanjuk in Munich, Bavaria.
Lecture supported in part by the France/Texas A&M University Institute (Centre Pluridisciplinaire).