Michael J. Bazyler, a law professor, and Frank M. Tuerkheimer, a trial lawyer, have written an indispensable account of ten “forgotten trials” of the Holocaust. The volume includes the Kharkov Trial of 1943, which was the first trial of Nazi war criminals, as well as the trial of Pierre Laval, the prime minister of Vichy France who presided over the deportation of 25,000 foreign Jews who lived in France. (His defense was that he implemented Nazi demands in order to save native-born French Jews.) In discussing the Dachau trials, the authors point out that until the aftermath of Kristallnacht in 1938, the concentration camp incarcerated so-called enemies of the Nazi régime, a category that included Jews — but not because of their ”racial” heritage: rather, the Nazis focused on arresting communists, liberals, and critics of the Nazis in general. Only after the 1938 pogrom did the Nazis incarcerate Jews as Jews. Other trials mentioned include that of Amon Goeth, remembered as the brutal commandant of Poland’s Płasków ghetto depicted in the film Schindler’s List. Additional chapters include the Hamburg Ravensbrück trials in British-occupied Germany, wherein the authors address the question as to whether women concentration camp guards were perpetrators or victims of the Nazi system.
The issue of following orders was the essence of the defense in the Einsatzgruppen trial at Nuremberg. Along with the help of native ethnic groups, the Einsatzgruppen killed one-and-a-half million Jews in Eastern Europe. Much has been written as to whether any of these killers had to follow orders to kill. The trial is extraordinary in how members of the Einsatzgruppen tried to defend their murderous actions as obeying orders. The Jewish Kapo trials raise the question as to how Jews appointed as Kapos over their brethren can be judged under the most extreme conditions in both the concentration and death camps. These trials and others discussed in Bazyler and Tuerkheimer’s book provide a picture of how a small number of the perpetrators of the Holocaust were eventually brought to justice.