Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice

Mary Fulbrook (Author)


Winner of the Wolfson History Prize 2019

Shortlisted for the 2019 Cundill History Prize

A single word--"Auschwitz"--is sometimes used to encapsulate the totality of persecution and suffering involved in what we call the Holocaust. Yet focusing on a single concentration camp, however horrific the scale of crimes committed there, leaves an incomplete story, truncates a complex history and obscures the continuing legacies of Nazi crimes.

Mary Fulbrook's encompassing book explores the lives of individuals across a full spectrum of suffering and guilt, each one capturing one small part of the greater story. Using "reckoning" in the widest possible sense to evoke how the consequences of violence have expanded almost infinitely through time, from early brutality through programs to euthanize the sick and infirm in the 1930s to the full functioning of the death camps in the early 1940s, and across the post-war decades of selective confrontation with perpetrators and ever-expanding commemoration of victims, Fulbrook exposes the disjuncture between official myths about "dealing with the past" and the extent to which the vast majority of Nazi perpetrators evaded responsibility. In the successor states to the Third Reich -- East Germany, West Germany, and Austria -- prosecution varied widely. Communist East Germany pursued Nazi criminals and handed down severe sentences; West Germany, caught between facing up to the past and seeking to draw a line under it, tended toward selective justice and reintegration of former Nazis; and Austria made nearly no reckoning at all until the mid-1980s, when news broke about Austrian presidential candidate Kurt Waldheim's past. The continuing battle with the legacies of Nazism in the private sphere was often at odds with public remembrance and memorials.

Following the various phases of trials and testimonies, from those immediately after the war to those that stretched into the decades following, Reckonings illuminates shifting public attitudes toward both perpetrators and survivors, and recalibrates anew the scales of justice.

Product Details

$34.95  $32.15
Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
October 02, 2018
6.2 X 1.8 X 9.3 inches | 2.54 pounds

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About the Author

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.


"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