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Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice

Mary Fulbrook

Publication Date - September 2020

ISBN: 9780197528457

672 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $19.95

A searing exploration of Nazi crimes and the attempts over the decades to bring them to account


Winner of the Wolfson History Prize 2019

Shortlisted for the 2019 Cundill History Prize

From the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. to the "stumbling stones" embedded in Berlin sidewalks, memorials to victims of Nazi violence have proliferated across the globe. More than a million visitors — as many as killed there during its operation — now visit Auschwitz each year. There is no shortage of commemoration of Nazi crimes. But has there been justice? Reckonings shows persuasively that there has not. The name "Auschwitz," for example, is often evoked to encapsulate the Holocaust. Yet focusing on one concentration camp, however horrific the scale of the crimes committed there, does not capture the myriad ways individuals became tangled up on the side of the perpetrators, or the diversity of experiences among their victims. And it can obscure the continuing legacies of Nazi persecution across generations and across continents.

Exploring the lives of individuals across a spectrum of suffering and guilt — each one capturing one small part of the greater story — Mary Fulbrook's haunting and powerful book uses "reckoning" in the widest possible sense: to reveal the disparity between the extent of inhumanity and later attempts to interpret and rectify wrongs, as the consequences of violent reverberated through time. From the early brutality of political oppression and anti-Semitic policies, through the "euthanasia" program, to the full devastation of the ghettos and death camps, then moving across the post-war decades of selective confrontation with perpetrators and ever-expanding recognition of victims, Reckonings exposes the disjuncture between official myths about "dealing with the past" and the fact that the vast majority of Nazi perpetrators were never held accountable. In the successor states to the Third Reich — East Germany, West Germany, and Austria — prosecution varied widely and selective justice was combined with the reintegration of former Nazis. Meanwhile, those who had lived through this period, as well as their children, the "second generation," continued to face the legacies of Nazism in the private sphere - in ways often at odds with those of public remembrance and memorials.

By following the various phases of trials and testimonies, from those immediately after the war through succeeding decades and up to the present, Reckonings illuminates the shifting accounts by which both perpetrators and survivors have assessed the significance of this past for subsequent generations, and calibrates anew the scales of justice.


  • Written by one of the world's most respected scholars on the Holocaust
  • Evokes the multigenerational legacy of Nazi violence among perpetrators including German businesses that used slave labor (to this day paying only symbolic reparations) and those who ran the agencies that early on euthanized German children, elderly, and the infirm--the basis for the horrors to follow
  • Accounts for the various forms of persecution throughout Germany and beyond, including regions where perpetrators were put on trial and those where they evaded responsibility

About the Author(s)

Mary Fulbrook is Professor of German History at University College London and the author of the Fraenkel Prize-winning A Small Town near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust.


"A capacious book that covers survivor experiences, perpetrator narratives, trials, and memorialization... Fulbrook's book ultimately seeks to offer an overarching assessment of Germany's legal pursuit-or lack thereof-of Nazi criminals." -- Michael Meng, Journal of Modern History

"Perhaps now, generations after the atrocities committed under the Nazi regime, it's time to take measure of what has happened to the perpetrators, the victims, and the few survivors. Fulbrook does just that. The author effectively describes the brutal Germanic efficiency in the industrialized murder of homosexuals, "asocials," and, overwhelmingly, Jews. Throughout her substantial text, Fulbrook movingly vivifies her outstanding research with individual histories... As they read this important contribution to Holocaust studies, especially now in the time of neo-Nazis, readers may wonder, is it all in the past? An astute, significant academic study of how civilization can go horribly wrong." -- Kirkus

"This book is required reading for anyone wishing to understand not why the Holocaust happened by how it happened, and how the vast majority of the perpetrators got away with it. Fulbrook's research on Nazi crimes on the local level and on family strategies of silence and selective remembering adds a delicacy and sensitivity to a subject so dark as to be almost unbearable to contemplate. This is humane scholarship at the highest level." -- Jay Winter, Yale University

"Across the world, West Germany is frequently extolled as a model of 'confronting the past'. Fulbrook's contention is that it largely failed during the lifetimes of the victims and their persecutors, and only began to alter the whole culture of discussion over the following two generations. What makes Fulbrook's achievement so extraordinary is her ability to balance the individual voices against the conditioning effects of state power and a social ethos, in which German judges in the 1960s and 70s frequently doubted the reliability of Jewish witnesses, while taking former SS men at their word. This is a magisterial book, the culmination of a lifetime of scholarly endeavor-not just in the sense of the knowledge and framing which Fulbrook has to offer, but also in that deeper and more profound sense of her historical judgment. Essential reading." -- Nicholas Stargardt, author of The German War: A Nation under Arms

"Fulbrook's remarkable achievement is to weave together the history of mass murder with the woeful story of selective post-war justice, an exploration of the painful legacies of Nazi crimes for survivors and a dissection of individual perpetrators' strategies of avoidance. In the process, she vividly evokes overlooked locations and episodes in the history of the Holocaust and unearths extraordinary personal stories. In highlighting the disjunctures between different dimensions of 'reckoning' in the decades since 1945, she offers a powerfully-argued critique of current commemorative practices and poses challenging questions for the future." -- Elizabeth Harvey, University of Nottingham

"Evocative and engaging, Britain's foremost scholar of post-1945 German history offers us a pioneering study of memory, identity, and representation, one that moves innovatively beyond stone monuments and pure politics, beyond facile dichotomies of victim and perpetrator." -- Andrew I. Port, author of Conflict and Stability in the German Democratic Republic and editor of Central European History

"Reckonings is a work of expert scholarship and profound moral energy from of one of Britain's most distinguished historians of Nazi Germany. It is not just another history of the Holocaust or the long shadows it has cast, but a complex alloy of history and memory, experience, testimony and denial, and is shot through with deep compassion as well as unsparing historical judgment." -- Jane Caplan, Professor Emeritus of Modern European History, University of Oxford

Extraordinary well-researched, filled with heartbreaking, heroic and harrowing life stories, "Reckonings is comprehensive, cogent and compelling. Fulbrook's book is a must-read for anyone interested in the realities - and the legacies - of the Nazi Past." -- Glenn C. Altschuler, The Jerusalem Post

"This is an important book for those readers interested in the Holocaust or genocides more generally, and, its many pages of extensive research offer information and insights to readers with varying degrees of knowledge of the Nazi extermination programme and the prosecution of its perpetrators in the post-war period." -- Paul Bookbinder, European History Quarterly

Table of Contents


    1. The Significance of the Nazi Past

    Part One Chasms: Patterns of Persecution
    2. The Explosion of State-Sponsored Violence
    3. Institutionalised Murder
    4. Microcosms of Violence: Polish Prisms
    5. Endpoints: The Machinery of Extermination
    6. Defining Experiences
    7. Silence and Communication

    Part Two Confrontations: Landscapes of the Law
    8. Transitional Justice
    9. Judging Their Own: Selective Justice in the Successor States
    10. From Euthanasia to Genocide
    11. Major Concentration Camp Trials: Auschwitz and Beyond
    12. The Diffraction of Guilt
    13. Late, Too Late

    Part Three Connections: Memories and Explorations
    14. Hearing the Voices of Victims
    15. Making Sense of the Past, Living for the Present
    16. Discomfort Zones
    17. The Sins of the Fathers
    18. The Long Shadows of Persecution
    19. Oblivion and Memorialisation

    20. A Resonant Past