During the past several decades, the twentieth century Holocaust has become a defining event in many histories. This newfound respect for the Judeocide has been cathartic for both individuals and communities, in that it provides evidence that audiences around the world are rethinking the significance of the World War II narratives of bystanders, perpetrators, and victims. Given the complexities of these issues, scholars who are interested in studying Holocaust memory make choices about the questions on which they focus, the artifacts they select for analysis, and the perspectives they want to present.
Hasian reviews how national and international courts have used Holocaust trials as forums for debates about individuated justice, historical record keeping, and pedagogical memory work. He concludes that the trials involving Auschwitz, Demjanjuk, Eichmann, Finta, Nuremberg, Irving, Kastner, Keegstra, Sawoniuk, and Zündel are highly problematic. The author provides a rhetorical analysis of holocaust trials as a way of looking into the question of what role court proceedings play in the creation of Holocaust collective memories.
About the Author
Marouf A. Hasian Jr. is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, University of Utah.
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Hasian develops his innovative, soundly-based conception that most trials--i. e., prosecutions--relating to the genocide of Jews by Nazi Germany--Judeocide--were not strictly exercises in making criminal accusations, presenting evidence, and seeking a verdict. As Hasian convincingly demonstrates and expounds, these trials had a major role in making widely known the systematic atrocities against Jews throughout Europe in World War II and from this, the formation of the subject of the Holocaust. The Nuremberg trials conducted by the victorious United States and its allies closely following WWII only randomly and sketchily broached the genocide against the Jews. It wasn't until decades after the War that particular individuals such as Adolf Eichmann and John Demjanjuk were tried for their connection to what came to be known as the Holocaust. As an Israeli journalist wrote, '[prior] to the Eichmann trial, what we call the Holocaust did not exist as a collective story.' Hasian suggests that maybe the conception of the Holocaust did exist with some persons, but the Eichmann trial 'helped turn [this Holocaust] into a more didactic tale.' The basic elements of this 'tale' came to permeate not only the Israeli legal system, but also that of the United States, as seen in the Demjanjuk trial, and of other democratic countries. Hasian--associate professor of Communication at the U. of Utah and on the editorial board of the journal 'Rhetoric and Public Affairs'--does not suggest that such trials were in any way baseless, wrong-headed, or were show trials. His material and analyses are much more subtle and revealing about the motives for and effects of trials. He shows that trials, like the media of novels, films, or journalism, help to bring elaboration to certain historical and communal episodes and in so doing shape a society's memories of them.