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Susanne Karstedt - Defining Criminals and Constructing Memories: Sentenced Nazi War Criminals in West Germany in the Early Post-War Years
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Susanne Karstedt - Defining Criminals and Constructing Memories: Sentenced Nazi War Criminals in West Germany in the Early Post-War Years


Seminar given by Prof. Susanne Karstedt from the School of Law, University of Leeds on 28 January 2010 at the Department of Sociology, University of Essex …

Seminar given by Prof. Susanne Karstedt from the School of Law, University of Leeds on 28 January 2010 at the Department of Sociology, University of Essex

Transitional justice turns common notions of crime, criminals and criminal justice upside down. Members of the formerly ruling elites, including high ranking members of the armed forces and the government find themselves in the dock accused of the most heinous crimes and human rights abuses. Transitional societies are deeply divided along the lines of communities of victims and offenders, of those who as former victims are now “defended” and those who as offenders are now “defeated”. The “truth” about the events is highly contested among these groups that nonetheless have to forge a common memory of what had happened, and have to find a common understanding of their past.

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  • 1. Defining Criminals and Constructing Memories Susanne Karstedt Professor of Criminology University of Leeds ©2010 Sentenced Nazi war criminals in West Germany 1945 - 1970
  • 2. Collective memories in post-authoritarian societies
    • Collective amnesia
    • Divided memories
    • Suppressed memories vs. open and public memories
    • Individual vs. collective memories (group, nation)
    • Formal and official transmission vs. informal transmission
    • Myths vs. Truths
  • 3. Collective Memories in Post-war Europe ‘ without … collective amnesia Europe’s astonishing post-war recovery would not have been possible ’ Tony Judt (2005: 61)
  • 4. Collective memories in post-authoritarian societies : Whose are they?
    • Predominantly the voices of the defended - the victims:
    • Testimonies in courts and tribunals
    • Testimonies in TRCs
    • Narratives, stories, biographies
    • Stream of public consciousness and memories
  • 5.
    • Voices of the defeated – the perpetrators
    • giving evidence
    • Expressing guilt and remorse
    • Less visible in public
    • Mostly muted
    • Restricted to their own communities and networks
    • Subterranean, non-public
    • Undercurrent of social (group and network-related) and individual memories
    Collective memories in post-authoritarian societies : Whose are they?
  • 6. Voices from the perpetrators “ My critics may have the chronicle, but history belongs to me, and that is where the final verdict will be decided.” Former Argentina junta commander Emilio Massera
  • 7. Voices from the perpetrators ““ History is only an opinion.” Defence counsel in the Touvier trial in France, commenting on the testimony of a historian
  • 8. Formation of Collective Memories in Post-war Germany
    • Characteristics of Post-war international/ transitional justice in Germany
    • Nearly no victims present and hardly any voices heard
    • Nuremberg Trials were based on documents and evidence from perpetrators
    • Crimes were defined mostly as war crimes and less frequently as crimes against humanity
    • Trials by national courts/ tribunals outside Germany and Allied courts/ tribunals in Germany
  • 9.
    • Characteristics of Public Opinion in Post-war Germany
    • Continuing dis-allegiance from Nazi leadership
    • Vicarious revenge on own leadership in Nuremberg Trials
    • War crimes become the defining element of the crimes against humanities and the genocide
    Formation of Collective Memories in Post-war Germany
  • 10. Formation of Normative Climate in Post-war Germany
    • Characteristics of Public Opinion in Post-war Germany
    • Majority in favour of continuing prosecution of war criminals, but strong support for closing the books – divided
    • Majority deems it not right to keep Nuremberg defendants Dönitz, Schirach, Hess, and Speer in prison, in contrast to those who deemed it justified in all cases
    • Majority against former Nazis returning to high office in the FRG
  • 11.
    • No pressures to accept responsibility and guilt, and to demonstrate “signal changes”
    • The judicial procedure is given a different meaning and significance
    • Innocence can be claimed and maintained successfully, and also becomes part of ones self-perceptions and convictions.
    • This needs the support of groups and the wider public
    • Supportive normative climate: no “othering” but “integration as same”
    Returning from Prison
  • 12.
    • Spaces of memories
    • Their previous communities
    • Communities of like-minded people
    • Networks (e.g. vocational)
    • Institutions
    • Semi- public space (e.g. speaker for military groups
    • Public space, media
    Returning from Prison: Perpetrators in Post-War Germany
  • 13.
    • members of the Nazi elite, who were tried at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg between 1945 and 1946, and in the follow-up trials in Nuremberg between 1947 and 1949.
    • members of the SS mostly directly involved in genocidal action. They were mainly sentenced in the Task Force Trials conducted between 1947 and 1948 in Nuremberg, but also later in the Federal Republic of Germany.
    Three Groups of Nazi Criminals
  • 14.
    • Professionals, doctors and lawyers who had been involved in atrocities in concentration camps and had conducted the euthanasia programme, i.e. the mass murder of mentally and physically disabled persons; the lawyers had mainly prepared and were responsible for the atrocities against the Jewish and the population of the occupied countries. They were mainly tried in the so-called Doctors’ and Lawyers’ Trial in Nuremberg between 1946 and 1948.
    Three Groups of Nazi Criminals
  • 15. The Nazi Elite: Public and semi-public space
    • Memoirs by defendants at the IMT:
    • Doenitz (former commander of the navy)
    • Raeder (former commander of the navy)
    • Baldur von Schirach (leader of Youth organisation and governor of Vienna)
    • Albert Speer (Secretary for Armament and Munition)
  • 16. The Nazi Elite: Karl Dönitz
    • Commander of the German Naval Forces in WWII (1943-1945); successor of Hitler in May 1945
    • Sentence: 10 years at IMT, release 1956
    • Public and semi-public space:
    • Publishes his memoir “My fickle life” in 1968
    • Sought-after public speaker, travels the country
    • His message: He had a purely military role
    • He served his sentence
        • as his duty as soldier
        • as a kind of prisoner of war
  • 17. The Nazi Elite: Karl Dönitz
    • Community:
    • Community of WW II soldiers/ navy members of all ranks, Esprit de Corps
    • Was revered as former commander of the Navy
    • Sharing of memories between highest and lowest ranks
    • Equality of shared memories amongst the “defeated”
  • 18. The Nazi Elite: Albert Speer
    • Since 1942 Secretary for Armament and Munition, responsible for war economy & use of forced labour
    • Sentence: 20 years at IMT, released 1966
    • Public space:
    • Publishes two highly successful books, “Memories”, and “Spandau Diaries”
    • Becomes a celebrity after his release
    • (gentleman Nazi), attracts national and
    • international attention
    • Denies involvement and knowledge
    • Community:
    • Elites of the FRG, media
  • 19. The space of institutions: The Lutheran Church
    • Creating space for perpetrators through
    • Support for release/ remission of sentences for individual perpetrators
    • Campaigning
    • Support for former church officials (even if involved in genocide)
    • Positions in the church
  • 20. The space of institutions: The Lutheran Church
    • Sandberger, Martin
    • SS Leader; as leader of Task Force 1a he had principal responsibility for the genocide in the Baltic states.
    • Death penalty, commuted to life sentence by US High Commissioner McCloy, release in May 1958
    • Community
    • Support and engagement of numerous
    • members of the South German
    • establishment, amongst them the
    • Bishop of the regional Lutheran Church
  • 21. The space of institutions: The Lutheran Church
    • Biberstein, Ernst
    • SS Leader; commander of a Task Force of Group C in Ukraine (until 1943) responsible for the murder of 3,000 mostly Jewish men, women and children
    • Death Penalty, commuted to life sentence, released in 1958 through remission of sentence, mainly due to efforts of the Lutheran Church
    • Networks
    • As a former vicar he got a position in the administration of the Lutheran Church, dismissed at the beginning of the 1960s.
  • 22. The space of institutions: The Lutheran Church
    • Steimle, Eugen
    • SS Leader; worked in the Security Service; leader of Special Task Forces of the Security Sevices; as such responsible for mass murder in the Soviet Union.
    • Death Penalty, commuted to 20 years imprisonment, released in 1954
    • Community
    • After his release he became a teacher for German, history, and civic studies at a Lutheran grammar school
  • 23. The space of professional networks
    • Beiglböck, Wilhelm
    • Doctor in Dachau concentration camp; responsible for human experiments with subnormal temperatures
    • Sentenced to 15 years, released in 1951 (remission of sentence)
    • Professional network
    • he was offered a position by a Member of the Commission of the German Society for Internal Medicine
    • Since 1952: Head of the Department of Internal Medicine in a hospital
  • 24. The space of professional networks
    • Heyde, Werner alias Sawade, Fritz
    • Head of the medical department of the Centre for Euthanasia; main expert orchestrating the Euthanasia Programme T4
    • charged by the Frankfurt chief public prosecutor with aggravated murder in at least 100,000 cases
    • Heyde fled when he was transferred to the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial and went into hiding; he was arrested in November 1959; in February 1964 he committed suicide before the start of his trial.
  • 25. The space of professional networks
    • Heyde, Werner alias Sawade, Fritz
    • Professional networks
    • In 1949, he was employed under his new name Fritz Sawade as doctor for sport by a city in North Germany. He also became a medical expert for mental health.
    • He had the support of his colleagues who were well aware of his real identity.
  • 26. The space of international networks Albert Kesselring was Field Marshal of the German Army in Southern Europe and North Africa, finally in Italy War crime: Responsible for the execution of 365 hostages in retaliation for an attack on the German Police by the Italian Resistance Army.
  • 27. The space of international networks Trial: One of the last British War Crimes Trials conducted in Venice in 1947 Sentence: Death penalty Commuted to life sentence shortly afterwards Commuted to 21 years imprisonment Held in prison in Werl, West Germany Release: 1952 after being dignosed with cancer
  • 28. International networks
    • Campaign in Britain against death penalty (including Churchill) immediately after the sentence
    • Rationale: “honest enemy”
    • Support from military establishment and opposition
    • Support from US military establishment (General Lucius Clay)
  • 29. International politics
    • West Germany as prospective ally
    • Campaign in Britain (and support in the US) for a release of all members of the military elite sentenced for war crimes
    • Subdued and cautious campaigning by German government
    • Rationale: it would be impossible to secure the support of the German public for joining NATO as long as the military elite was kept in prison
  • 30. Groups and networks
    • President of veterans’ organisation
    • Declared himself innocent
    • Declared that he had been seminal in saving Italian heritage from war damage (they should be “grateful” to him)
    • Never dissociated himself from the Nazi regime or Hitler
  • 31. The subterranean space of collective memories
    • Perpetrators are not decisive in shaping the public face of collective memories in the wake of transitional justice
    • They rely less on public and open support but rather on support in smaller communities, semi-public spaces and networks
    • But: They can rely on a normative climate that is receptive to justifications, denial of guilt and acceptance of impunity