Research Unit Law

Auschwitz Survivors as Witnesses in Court


Sub-Project of the research project »Victims as Witnesses in Nazi Trials. An Analysis of their Various Roles through Sixty Years of the Federal Republic of Germany«

This project attempts to reconstruct the history of the West German Nazi trials with a focus on the witnesses and their perspectives. The judicial significance of these witnesses, the circumstances of their statements and inquiries, as well as their own motives and activities will be analyzed on the basis of three Auschwitz trials that took place from the 1950s to the 1970s. This investigation period enables the recording of continuities and changes both in the narratives of the witnesses and in the interaction in court and in the judicial criteria of credibility. A special emphasis of the project will be placed on the contents and forms of communication between the Auschwitz survivors and the West German lawyers, thus exploring the judicial setting of witnessing in trials. While the lawyers saw the »victim witnesses« as indispensable but unreliable evidence, the witnesses often had their own agenda and played a much more active role than previously assumed. Their organizations and networks were actively involved in the trials, for example in finding witnesses or evidence against the perpetrators. The difficult encounter of the witnesses and the German lawyers, where different conceptions of justice, historical truth, and memory collided, is to be reconstructed as a significant part of the aftermath of the Holocaust.

This research project is funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.