DS0802 -



Nazi war crimes on trial in Eastern Europe, 1943-1991

Make a story in equal parts of East-European public trials

The criminal innovations initiated by the Nuremberg trial in 1945-1946 have been the subject of numerous studies both in the field of international law and in the history of the Second World War and the Holocaust. By widening the scope to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, and the period studied from 1943 to 1991, the project aims to reveal the possible singularities of the political, social and symbolic trajectories of East European public trials envisaged for the first time over a long period of time, in comparison with their Western European counterparts. Special attention is thus paid to the various actors who co-produce the legal action and the stories that the latter contributes to promote in the public space in the countries studied as well as abroad. The backdrop against which these events stand out is not neglected. The research returns to the notion of «screen events« often applied to political trials, deepening the questioning about the functions, uses, (re) appropriation of the publicized trials in the whole of the procedures aimed at war criminals. At the same time, we'll consider circulations between East and West: legal models, normative frameworks, practices and imaginations of the justice, but also, more concretely of men, of evidence and documents, stories.

The research combines three main approaches. A political and judicial approach, by studied country: we'll identify, over fifty years, the shifting political stakes of these public / mediatized trials, but we will also examine the laws and devices put in place. Special attention is paid to the years 1958-1970, the scene of a new wave of trials in several countries of the East but also of an East / West confrontation about the fate to be reserved to the still unpunished Nazi criminals (and their accomplices). A social and cultural approach: which individuals, groups, professionals and institutions are involved in organizing these trials? What place is given to the trials in the public space of these countries, be it the official «acclamative« public sphere, mid-level public spheres, or niches of dissent? What stories of the Second World War and what portraits of his victims and their executioners do they draw, particularly through the media and the arts? A transnational approach: beyond the East-West confrontation on this issue, which it is important to analyze in detail and with special chronological rigor, what cooperation, circulation can be observed both inside the Soviet bloc and between the latter and other international actors? These three approaches will be conducted in a constant dialogue with the historiography of the trials held in the West (Europe, Israel, United States, Canada, Australia).

The project will result in the creation of an English multimedia site containing a database based on the analysis of some 30 newspapers, its cartographic restitution, analytical notes about these newspapers, case studies, thematic focus, and three sound creations elaborated by a historian and a director. Several academic publications, mainly in English, are in preparation. A collection of East European court films is being set up at the BNF, commented screenings will be organized.

The project is liable to further development in non academic spheres: documentary films, teachers' training, etc.

3 articles in peer-reviewed journals
5 book chapters
2 conference papers.

The Nuremberg trials of 1945–1946 stimulated innovation in criminal law. The jurisprudence has been intensely studied in the framework of the history of international law, of the Second World War as well as of the Holocaust. In the last three decades, the historical research on the postwar purges of actual and suspected collaborationists in Western countries significantly transformed thanks to combining methods to study national, regional and continental issues and exploring the legal, political and socio-cultural dimensions of the purge trials. Despite the opening of East European archives in the 1990s and the publication of several works, our knowledge of the global phenomenon of punishing Western and Eastern European quislings suffers of a learning gap. This research program is founded on a broad range of sources including records of government and law enforcement agencies, archival documents of institutions of various hierarchies, and material from the written and audiovisual media. The project's aim is to complete Western historiography which has hitherto mostly neglected East Europe, the analysis of the transnational circulation of ideas and practices and of the experience of the purges in the immediate postwar period which remains a painful memory in the region.
The program will enlarge the geographic and chronological scope of earlier research and explores possibly singular aspects of the political and social framework of the public trials in East Europe and their symbolic dimensions. It will analyze for the first time the long period of 1943-1991 with an eye on Western cases. At the same time it will focus on the mutual influence of conceptual frames of references and of Western and Eastern understandings of jurisdiction. Specialists of the countries under study will collect and explore the data. Their work will be coordinated by a full-time research director. The participants will organize scientific conferences on issues related to the project. Four channels of communication [colloquiums; multimedia website; database; radio documentaries] will complement each other to disseminate the results and target different audiences.
The priority given to public trials or to cases featured in the media leads to the examination of legal, political and social background and consequences and to the study of the memory of the purges. The approach is particularly useful for the evaluation of the trials as instruments of international relations. It implies specific attention to the heterogeneity of the actors who play a role in the judicial process without necessarily belonging to the judiciary and elaborate and spread narratives. The environment of the trials will not be neglected. The team will question the concept of "media event" which is often invoked in relation with political trials and make a point of the specificity of particularly notorious trials of presumed war criminals.
To do so the team will first of all compile an inventory of all trials which made it to the media in order to map their chronology as well as that of changing political and judicial conjunctures. Then it will focus on the coverage itself in order to explore the social, political and cultural dimensions of the production and reception of information on the trials. The team shall analyze the elaboration of the different narratives about the war and the ways they were transmitted to the multitude of actors who operate in different spheres with different ranges of action. The last step of the work will concentrate on the relationship between the question of the war criminals and international relations. The project shall write a history of the circulation of people, documents, practices and representations within the former Eastern Bloc and between East Europe and the rest of the world. The program therefore allows an innovative analysis of the political uses of the war experience in international relations.

Project coordination

Vanessa Voisin (Centre d'étude des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CNRS Centre d'étude des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen
CNRS DR PARIS B Centre d'étude des mondes russe, caucasien et centre-européen

Help of the ANR 344,957 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2016 - 48 Months

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