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Nazi hunters: the struggle for the punishment of Nazi crimes

Wagner, J.S.; (2010) Nazi hunters: the struggle for the punishment of Nazi crimes. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This study examines the efforts a small number of individuals made to bring Nazi criminals to justice. The successor states to the Third Reich shared the predicament of having to integrate millions of former Nazis into their societies. They often did so at the price of keeping silent about Nazi crimes and the Holocaust. While the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Republic of Austria were preoccupied with building up their political and economic systems, the task of dealing with the criminal legacy of the Third Reich stayed low on their agendas. Despite the fact that all three governments publicly condemned the crimes of the Nazi regime, little was done to prosecute the perpetrators systematically. Consequently, those who were implicated in the genocide of European Jewry were rarely held responsible for crimes which had cost the lives of millions of people. A small group challenged this cross-societal trend. Private activists working outside the states’ authority made it their mission to obtain justice. They investigated the crimes committed in the name of National Socialism against Jews, minorities and political opponents, tracked down those responsible and campaigned for their prosecution. The media soon began referring to some of them as ‘Nazi hunters’, but in fact the pursuit of Nazi criminals was but one part of a much larger range of activities. Critically, these individual agents also insisted that the courts and police live up to their duties and co-operated with these agencies on various levels during the investigation of the crimes in question. Furthermore, they organized media campaigns to educate and sensitize the public to their cause. Based on three case studies, this thesis argues that, by challenging norms, rules and customary attitudes, Nazi hunters helped prompt changes in the political and juridical handling of the Nazi criminal legacy, and also influenced the public perception of it. Their involvement facilitated the investigation of Holocaust crimes and served as a corrective throughout. Furthermore, the publicity the private activists generated instigated a wider discussion about Nazi crimes. In some cases their media work helped make the boundaries and taboos surrounding the Nazi past visible and, in the long term, helped to shift or overcome them. However, in other cases their contributions to these debates were of a very ambivalent nature, encouraging a distorted representation of Nazi crimes and Nazi perpetrators.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Nazi hunters: the struggle for the punishment of Nazi crimes
Language:English
Additional information:Permission for digitisation not received
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Arts and Humanities

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