Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: War Crimes and Postwar Justice After 1945
Abstract: The history of Nazi-era crimes and the search for justice remains a contentious topic with enduring relevance in our contemporary world. Investigations and trials of war criminals in the years following 1945 provide precedent for modern efforts to prosecute dictators and those who commit human rights abuses. At the same time, the complexities and compromises of various postwar efforts to balance justice and reconstruction offer cautionary tales for those who seek to punish today's perpetrators.

This panel brings together three perspectives on war crimes and postwar justice after the end of the Second World War in Europe. David Wildermuth, a scholar of German language and literature, uses his deep evidentiary perspective on the wartime behavior of a single Wehrmacht division to explore the little-studied Soviet investigations into wartime crimes. Connor Sebestyen, a PhD candidate in History at the University of Toronto, examines the system of prisons administered by the allies in postwar Germany. He is particularly interested in the ways that military rank influenced the treatment of German prisoners in American and British custody. Finally, Edward Westermann offers a novel perspective on the question of war crimes by examining the reaction of Jewish survivors to the Allied bombing campaign against Germany. Our commentator, Geoffrey Megargee, is one of America's foremost authorities on the German concentration and forced labor camp systems and is particularly well-suited to discuss this panel's work.

This panel will showcase new research that substantially deepens and broadens our understanding of the legacies left behind by some of the Second World War's most terrible violence. Aside from the quality of the presenters, this panel is also noteworthy because it brings together the perspectives of the western Allies, the USSR, Germans, and Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.
Adam Seipp, Texas A&M University
David Wildermuth, Shippensburg University
Participant's Paper Title: After the Battle: The German Army and Soviet Justice, 1945 - 1955
Participant's Paper Abstract: While cases of war crimes committed by the German Army in the Soviet Union and brought before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg by the Soviet Union have received sustained attention from western historians, the proceedings of later Soviet post-war justice conducted within the Soviet Union remain lesser known. My paper will look at three different judicial proceedings involving members of one German Army unit, the 35th Division, that fought on the Eastern front from 1941-1945 and surrendered to the Red Army upon its capitulation. Questions that will be addressed include:

? What kinds of crimes were the accused originally charged with?
? What crimes were they convicted of? What were the sentences?
? How was the evidence collected, and what role did eyewitness testimony play?
? Where did the convicted serve their sentences, and what does this tell us about the practice of Soviet justice?
? To what extent did the judicial proceedings align with and/or differ from judicial proceedings and standards of the western Allies?

The paper is based on research completed at various Russian and Belarussian archives and provides insights into the ubiquitous sentence of 25 years of hard labor favored by the highest military tribunals of the Soviet Union.
Geoffrey Megargee, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Edward Westermann, Texas A&M San Antonio
Participant's Paper Title: "Terror Bombing" or "Winged Retribution"? Allied Strategic Bombing and European Jewish Responses
Participant's Paper Abstract: During the Second World War, Nazi propaganda repeatedly accused the Royal Air Force and US Army Air Forces of "terror bombing" and war crimes resulting from the Combined Bomber Offensive aimed at German industrial and urban targets. In the scholarly literature, numerous works have examined the ethics and morality of the strategic bombing campaign, including Stephen Garrett's Ethics and Air Power in World War II (1996), Frederick Taylor's Dresden (2004), and A.C. Grayling's Among the Dead Cities (2006). Likewise, Jörg Friederich's Der Brand (The Fire) in 2002 ignited a debate on the issue of German victimization as a result of Allied bombing operations. This paper approaches the issue of the Allied bombing from the perspective of European Jews who experienced such attacks within Germany or in German concentration and killing centers across Europe. For example, Victor Klemperer, a Jew under protected status due to his marriage to an "Aryan" woman, experienced the bombing of Dresden including the firestorm of February 1945 and detailed his response in his diary. Likewise, Hans Rosenthal, a young Jewish man in hiding in Hamburg, recalled his reactions to Royal Air Force bombing raids on that city. Finally, memoirs of Jewish survivors of the camps, especially of Auschwitz, remarked on their reaction to Allied bombing raids. This paper uses these perspectives to examine the Allied bombing operations among those who faced both the Nazi genocidal impulse and the deadly rain of Allied bombs.
Connor Sebestyen, University of Toronto
Participant's Paper Title: "Special Concessions and Small Gestures": The Impact of Rank on the Treatment of German War Criminals in Western Allied Custody after the Second World War
Participant's Paper Abstract: After the Second World War, German war criminals convicted in western Allied courts including the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, Subsequent trials varied considerably not only in the nature and extent of their crimes but also in their military rank. From civilians to foot soldiers all the way up to generals and fieldmarshalls, all were housed in three main prisons: Landsberg, Wittlich, and Werl. While it was official policy to treat all prisoners as equally as possible, this is not how it played out in reality.

Drawing on sources from American, British and French archives, this paper will compare and analyze how military rank impacted the treatment and experience of war criminals in the custody of the three western Allied occupiers of Germany. How and why did the Allies own staff subvert their own policies and regulations and extend special treatment to high ranking war criminals? Some (though not all) military government officials and prison administrators expressed a sense of professional solidarity amongst military officers that rationalized and justified their actions.

Conversely, from the German perspective, in what ways did German staff within prisons subvert the penal regimen in favour of high ranking war criminals? What impact did rank have on the intensity of support organized by the German public? Many Germans maintained a sense of respect and admiration for the feats of Wehrmacht leaders, who still benefited from a reputation for excellence and maintained an illusory distance from the genocidal acts of the "Nazis".

Finally, this paper will seek to incorporate this new research into a wider framework of how we assess the legacy of the Allied war crimes programs in Germany. What does this say about the old criticism of Allied war crimes programs that they "let the big fish go free while focusing on the small-fries"?

College of Arts and Sciences

Gottschalk Hall
University of Louisville
Louisville, Kentucky 40292

Office Hours

M-F 8:00am to 5:00 pm


tel (502) 852-6817

fax (502) 852-0770

Social Media