CfP for the Conference: Making Justice Visible: The Mediatization of the World War II War Crimes Trials

Hannah Arendt writes in Eichmann in Jerusalem, "Justice, in order to be done, ‘must be seen to be done,’ and for that justice demands a legal trial." The postwar trials, such as the Nuremberg trials, the Eichmann trial, or the show trials in the Soviet Union in the Cold War years, in order to make justice visible, made their judicial proceedings public. The complex histories of the Second World War through media reporting came to transcend the courtroom. In all of these trials, the aim was not only to punish the accused war criminals but as legal scholar Lawrence R. Douglas argues, the courtrooms of these public trials were turned into didactic spaces, where justice had to been done to history and memory as well. These show trials sought to establish certain regimes of truth, to define national belonging and create collective war memories.

The aim of this conference is, through a comparative perspective, to investigate widely publicized war crimes trials held in the West and in the Eastern Bloc after the end of the Second World War. These trials took place not only in actual court buildings but also in the press, radio, literature, film, and television. In this conference, we will discuss how these show trials were presented and staged in their individual courtrooms, and then channeled through the media for publicity. What narratives were created about these trial proceedings by different types of media (press, radio, films, theatre etc.)? What was the goal of such mediatization? Judgement in these trials was not only the application of legal rules but it also reflected the interaction of many different actors. Therefore, we seek to illuminate who were the main actors who staged these public criminal proceedings. We also want to discuss how these public acts of postwar justice were perceived by those living at the time and what is their reception today.

The postwar war crimes trials that took place in the Soviet Union were often accompanied by public propaganda campaigns and served as an ideological arena for attacking foreign and domestic enemies. The public character of the war crimes trials was often aimed at fighting against the regime’s enemies and educating people about the atrocities committed during the war. These trials were also often manipulated to serve a predetermined verdict. Therefore, we also welcome papers that would examine how these war crimes trials were publically instrumentalized and publicized in order to legitimize different political regimes in both the Western countries and in the Soviet Union.

Soviet postwar war crimes trials, especially in such places as the Baltic States, Belorussia and Ukraine, where the largest Jewish communities had lived before the war, paid particular attention to the Holocaust. Historian Alexander Victor Prusin argued that these trials “became the first instances that revealed to the Soviet public the scope of the Jews’ tragedy and made it an inseparable part of the history of the Great Patriotic War.” Therefore, we want to discuss how in these show trials the history of the mass murder of Jews was retold and how different memories, shared by Jewish survivors, perpetrators, bystanders and witnesses, were publicly narrated.

We also seek papers that speak about the role of gender. In the postwar war crimes trials in the West, many women, because of the nature of their “peaceful” and “innocent” femininity, were publicly portrayed as incapable of having committed all the alleged crimes and often received milder punishments than their male counterparts. In the 1950s and in the 1960s, other public images of female perpetrators emerged, that of “a female beast” and “a shrew”, while the male perpetrators, as historian Christina von Braun observed, were publicly presented as “normal” and “ordinary men” who had to follow orders. Therefore, this conference welcomes papers that would examine the perspective of gender and/or compare gender constructions in the courtrooms, trial reports, documentaries, press coverage, and other media publications about the postwar trials.

The objective of this conference is to discuss what new theoretical, methodological, and empirical findings in writing the history of the mediatization of the postwar trials are present in scholarly research today. We welcome papers that focus on case studies of trials or engage with such aspects as: the role of involved actors, the perspective of gender, the functions and aims of the publicized trials, the public construction of memories of the Second World War, the process of the mediatization. We are also interested in papers that deal with the reception of these public trials today. How were/are these postwar war crimes trials perceived after the fall of the Iron Curtain? What was/is their legal, political and social evaluation during the rehabilitation processes? The conference welcomes various approaches and encourages submissions that cross disciplines. We seek to gather an international group of scholars who will deal with the different aspects of the publicization of the postwar war crimes trials. Graduate students are encouraged to submit as well.

The keynote speaker for the conference is Lawrence R. Douglas, James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought, Amherst College.

Each presentation at the conference should last no more than 20 minutes. For all accepted presenters, travel and accommodation will be covered. The conference will be held in English. You will be required to submit a final paper to conference organizers one week before the beginning of the conference.

Scholars interested in presenting at the conference are asked to send abstract proposals of no more than 500 words with a short bio by March 15, 2019 to the following address:

The conference will be organized by:
Dr. des. Gintarė Malinauskaitė (German Historical Institute Warsaw / Branch Office Vilnius)
Prof. Vygantas Vareikis, Dr. Hektoras Vitkus, Dr. Justas Stončius (Klaipėda University, Institute of Baltic Region History and Archaeology).

Deadline for submission of proposals: 15 March 2019
Notification due: 15 April 2019
Location and date: Vilnius, 25-26 September 2019

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