Justice behind the Iron Curtain: Nazis on Trial in Communist Poland
Published: October 2018© 2018
400 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 x 0.95 in
In Justice behind the Iron Curtain, Gabriel N. Finder and Alexander V. Prusin examine Poland’s role in prosecuting Nazi German criminals during the first decade and a half of the postwar era. Finder and Prusin contend that the Polish trials of Nazi war criminals were a pragmatic political response to postwar Polish society and Poles’ cravings for vengeance against German Nazis. Although characterized by numerous inconsistencies, Poland’s prosecutions of Nazis exhibited a fair degree of due process and resembled similar proceedings in Western democratic counties.
The authors examine reactions to the trials among Poles and Jews. Although Polish-Jewish relations were uneasy in the wake of the extremely brutal German wartime occupation of Poland, postwar Polish prosecutions of German Nazis placed emphasis on the fate of Jews during the Holocaust.
Justice behind the Iron Curtain is the first work to approach communist Poland’s judicial postwar confrontation with the legacy of the Nazi occupation.
Chapter 1 A Restive Society Demands Swift Justice
Chapter 2 The Poles at Nuremberg
Chapter 3 The Supreme National Tribunal, 1946–1948
Chapter 4 Himmler’s Men on Trial, 1948–1953
Chapter 5 Jews, Poles, and Justice
Chapter 6 History and Politics in the Last Trials, 1954–1959
"Finder and Prusin have prepared a solid, well-documented, and objective book that deserves praise and recognition."Łukasz Jasiński, H-Net Reviews (H-Poland)
"Gabriel N. Finder and Alexander V. Prusin’s Justice Behind the Iron Curtain is an exhaustively researched volume that makes an important contribution to the scholarship on postwar justice and Holocaust-related trials."Natalie Belsky, University of Minnesota Duluth, Austrian Studies Newsmagazine, vol 31, no 1, Spring '19
"This is a wonderfull successful work…A judicious, well-informed presentation of complicated issues. Highly recommended."T. Flynn, College of the Holy Cross, Choice Magazine
"Impressively researched and rich in detail, Justice behind the Iron Curtain is the first comprehensive study of Nazi trials in postwar Poland, and as such constitutes a very important contribution to scholarship on the history of war crimes prosecution. The book provides fascinating insights into how the trials created an institutional space (perhaps the only one in postwar Poland) in which the specific suffering of the Jewish people was acknowledged – even though this ran counter to the official communist memory of the war, which erased the distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish victims of Nazism."Franziska Exeler, University of Cambridge, Free University Berlin, Slavic Review
In recent years sedulous efforts have been made to develop jurisprudence for dealing with genocide, mass killing, and crimes against humanity. Thus, all the more reason to welcome this well-researched and often disturbing book by Gabriel Finder and Alexander Prusin, who tragically died before its publication. It is, in fact, two separate studies. The first is an account of the "war crimes trials," which took place in Poland between 1946 and 1959. These began with the trials of alleged collaborators under the "August Decree" (Sierpni6wka) promulgated in August 1944, by the Polish Committee of National Liberation (Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego -PKWN) and ended with the trial of Erich Koch, Reichskommisar of Ukraine and the chief of the Bialystok administration, in 1958-1959. The second topic is an extensive and valuable discussion of what we can learn from these trials about the perpetrators of the crimes, which adds significantly to what we know about their motives.Antony Polonsky, International Institute for Holocaust Research (Jerusalem), Yad Vashem Studies
"Finder and Prusin’s study consists [of a] meticulous reconstruction of Polish efforts to confront in its courts the complex legacies of the Nazi occupation of Poland."Michael Meng, Journal of Modern History, Vol. 92, No. 2
"This important and clearly written study is a must [read] for anyone interested in postwar trials, the interplay between history and memory, and the influence of domestic and international politics on justice in postwar Poland."Mark Mengerink, Lamar University, Holocaust and Genocide Studies
"Historians studying modern Europe rarely are in a position to write about a genuinely new topic, one with little existing literature. Finder and Prusin have done just that. This means that their study will be foundational for all future scholarship, not just on Polish trials, but on the history of Nazi trials in Europe more broadly."Devin O. Pendas, Boston College, Central European History
"Much has been written on the evolution of international criminal justice from the Nuremberg trials to the establishment of the International Criminal Court, and even more on the Holocaust and its aftermath. In Justice behind the Iron Curtain, however, Gabriel N. Finder and Alexander V. Prusin fill a significant gap in both these literatures in their comprehensive survey and analysis of postwar prosecutions of Nazi war criminals in communist Poland."Barbara J. Falk, Canadian Forces College, Royal Military College of Canada, American Historical Review
"Justice behind the Iron Curtain is a cogently argued and clearly presented work on the pursuit of justice in the country that suffered a bloody occupation under the Nazis only to come under Soviet control at the end of the Second World War. With expertise in East European history, Holocaust studies and legal history, Finder and Prusin tackle a topic of great significance, drawing on archival sources, memoirs, the press, and previous search by scholars in Poland and abroad."Natalia Aleksiun, Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Touro College, NY
"A major work, Justice behind the Iron Curtain fills a gap in the field, and will be of interest to both scholars and members of the general public with a keen interest in history."Piotr Wróbel, Department of History, Konstanty Reynert Chair of Polish History, University of Toronto