Making Justice Visible: The Mediatization of the World War II War Crimes Trials

This article is part of the TRAFO series “Emerging Topics. Insights from ‘Behind the Scenes’”. Today, we put the spotlight on the conference Making Justice Visible: The Mediatization of the World War II War Crimes Trials which will take place on September 25-26 at the Branch Office Vilnius of the German Historical Institute Warsaw. We talked with one of the conveners, Gintaré Malinauskaité about the upcoming conference.

The premise of the conference “The Mediatization of World War II War Crime Trials” is a rather interdisciplinary one: What audience do you address, what disciplines will be represented at the conference, and what aspects or point of views will be brought to the table?

Photo: Defendants accused of mass murder of Jews at the trial in Klaipėda, 1964. Source: LGGRTC Okupacijų ir laisvės kovų muziejus, inventory number OLKM KF 561/1.

The conference seeks to reach a wide audience, ranging from established international scholars, advanced graduate students to the general public interested in historical topics. The event will take place in the National Martynas Mažvydas Library of Lithuania and will be open to everyone. The objective of the conference is to discuss new theoretical, methodological and empirical findings in writing the history of the postwar trials, therefore, we sought to have scholars from many different disciplines: history, cultural and film studies as well as law. We aim to discuss how war crimes trials both in the Western and in the Eastern Bloc have been mediated through different forms of media (radio, printed press, documentary and feature films), and how these mediated representations of war crimes trials have been received by the public. The papers will also investigate the impact of this mediatization on the legal system of the respective countries as well as its influence on the national and international political debates about the war crimes trials.

The call for papers explicitly refers to war crime trials and their medial representation both in the Western and in the Easter Bloc: Is this transregional approach of the theme/topic typical for the field?

In the last years there is a growing interest in studying war crimes trials that took place in the Eastern part of Europe and in the Western countries through a comparative perspective. Such comparative analysis not only enables scholars to see differences and similarities of the trial processes but also allows us to see the interconnection and entanglements of these legal proceedings. War crimes trials held in the Soviet Union and in Western Europe during the Cold War years were not completely isolated from each other. In the Soviet Union, there was a wide media reception of the war crimes trials taking place in the Western countries. The Soviet authorities also used war crimes trials as weapons to fight against the Western countries, blaming them for the failure to bring war criminals to justice. In some cases, there was even an interconnection of the proceedings, as the same witnesses testified in the interrogations of war crimes trials taking place both in the Eastern and in Western countries. Furthermore, war crimes trials held in the Soviet Union were also widely publicized abroad and had a transnational character as some of the accused defendants lived in Western Europe or in the USA. Therefore, very often Soviet war crimes trials mobilized exile communities against the Soviet legal system and were turned into transnationally mediated events.

Which future debates on the mediatization of war crime trials do you wish to encourage with your upcoming conference?

We hope that this conference focusing on the mediatiziation of the war crimes in both Eastern and Western countries will encourage more scholars to study the entanglements of these legal proceedings. We wish that in the future war crimes trials will be more often investigated not only within a closed national space but that a transnational and comparative perspective will also be added to the research agenda.

Gintaré Malinauskeité studied in Kaunas, Berlin and Budapest, and graduated with a PhD in 2017 from Humboldt University Berlin with a thesis on medial memory of the Holocaust in Lithuania after 1990. Since 2017 she is a researcher at the branch office of the German Historical institute Warsaw in Vilnius.

Citation: Making Justice Visible: The Mediatization of the World War II War Crimes Trials, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 13.08.2019,

Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

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