Eastern and Western European Investigation and Legal Prosecution of War Crimes

The blog focuses on the Eastern and Western European investigation and legal prosecution of war crimes that were committed on the Soviet occupied territories and in Eastern Europe. It covers all the period of time that runs from the war itself to the end of the Soviet Union and includes the trials of German war criminals as well as those of local collaborators. This topic will be addressed in regard to war crimes policies that were implemented in the Soviet Union and in Poland, as well as in the two postwar German States (FRG and GDR), in Austria, and in the former auxiliary states of the Nazis: Romania, Hungary and Finland. The Czechoslovakian and Yugoslovian cases should be considered as well. Beyond a comparative perspective, the blog ambitions therefore to become a major tool for shaping a transnational and entangled history of the Eastern/Western European prosecution of Nazi war crimes that had been committed in the East. Up to now, this issue – the legal prosecution of war crimes that were committed in the occupied Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe- has been mainly studied in the German context. The shifting to Eastern Europe itself should allow to rewrite the history of East-West relationships in the post-war decades, in terms of bilateral relations and logics of the two blocs, as well as internal relations inside the communist bloc, emphasizing times of cooperation as well as times of conflict in this precise field and linking them to explicitly or implicitly connected topics. War crimes investigations and prosecutions on the East have notably profited after the end of the communist regimes from the opening of the national archives. Important research has been undertaken these last two decades in order to identify some milestones of this history, focusing mostly on the war’s aftermath. Nevertheless, further research has been impeded by the partial opening of archives regarding the states’ security policies and legal prosecutions, although the situation varies extremely from one country to another. The linguistic gap is also a major impediment in the construction of a transnational vision of post-war legal prosecution. The experts of one particular area can encounter serious trouble if they want to get access to the historiography, not to say the archives, of other countries, although it would allow them to get a more comprehensive understanding of the whole process at stake. The second impediment to a broad and deep understanding of this issue is due to Cold War logics and its legacy: the prosecution of war criminals in the Eastern bloc has been mostly studied as a tool of state repression in authoritarian regimes. Up to now, the transnational aspect of this history has been narrowed to the single aspect of the “shadow of the Kremlin” on its new satellites, using war crimes prosecutions to eliminate internal political enemies. We would like to shape a new, more complex framework in order to shed more light on a fully neglected chapter of the Cold War transnational history, the implications of which seem to us central in Eastern/Western European mutual understanding’s ability. Last but not least, the blog aims as well at laying the ground for an explanation of the diverging and distorted perceptions that emerged in the Eastern and Western European societies concerning the Nazi War on the East. It aims at exploring their formation and their persistency, including the recent reassessment of the Jewish genocide that took place in the occupied part of the Soviet Union, and that still have to be replaced inside the history of the Nazi policy of the European Jews’ extermination. The discrepancy between Eastern and Western memories, as well as the discrepancy between national and local memories regarding the fate of other categories of Nazi-victims, will constitute the other main topics of discussion.

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