The Historian’s Trial: John Demjanjuk and the Prosecution of Atrocity

  • Lawrence Douglas


This chapter argues that atrocity trials have revolutionized the relationship between jurists and historians. With the criminal proceedings against John (Ivan) Demjanjuk as my focus, I argue that in cases involving mass atrocity, basic legal questions are unanswerable without the insights of professional historians. Although some historians worry about what happens to history when enlisted in the service of the state, Demjanjuk’s historic Munich trial showed how prosecutors called upon historians as expert witnesses to offer a highly granular historical understanding of a complex exterminatory practice. This trial by history crucially clarified the role of the collaborator in Nazi genocide. Ultimately, this chapter argues that it is impossible to cabin history from law in trials of mass atrocity. Second, it insists that the state is capable of deploying history in a sophisticated fashion to frame a satisfactory juridical understanding of such crimes.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lawrence Douglas
    • 1
  1. 1.Amherst CollegeAmherstUSA

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