Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences


Exploration of Nazi perpetrators’ evasion of justice shortlisted for Wolfson History Prize 2019

15 April 2019

A new book uncovering the extent to which the perpetrators of Nazi war crimes evaded justice and exploring the reverberations of Nazi persecution across generations has been shortlisted for the prestigious Wolfson History Prize.

Reckonings by Mary Fulbrook

Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice by UCL’s Professor Mary Fulbrook is one of six historical non-fiction books nominated for the £40,000 prize. The final winner will be announced on Tuesday 11 June in a ceremony at Claridge’s Hotel, London.

As Professor of German History in UCL’s School of European Languages, Culture and Society, Mary Fulbrook is one of the world’s leading scholars of the Holocaust and twentieth-century German history, on which she has published extensively. Her latest book is motivated, she says, by “an enduring sense of injustice” that the vast majority of those who perpetrated the Holocaust or who made it possible evaded responsibility for their crimes.

The book investigates the long-term legacies of Nazi violence amongst both perpetrators and victims, and uses memory studies and oral histories to uncover buried personal and cultural memories. It explores the history of trials in East and West Germany and Austria, showing that, while up to a million people were involved in the genocidal murder of Jews in the Nazi death camps, the ghettos, and the killing fields, fewer than 6,700 were convicted in the Federal Republic of Germany, despite its good reputation for facing up to its Nazi past.

While survivors of Nazi persecution struggled to obtain recognition or compensation for their suffering, she observes, the vast majority of those who had sustained the Nazi system were quietly rehabilitated and integrated into post-war society.

Professor Fulbrook comments:

“I felt it was important to explore what I see as a ‘topography of injustice’: to document how attempts to bring perpetrators to account proved inadequate; to recognise the variety of ways in which different groups of victims were variously listened to or marginalised; and to understand the legacies for succeeding generations.

“I hope that having the book shortlisted for the Wolfson Prize will help to bring the experiences of those who have remained outside the spotlight to wider audiences, and will stimulate discussion of key issues posed by involvement in collective violence – issues which remain all too relevant today.”

Paul Ramsbottom, chief executive of the Wolfson Foundation, which awards the Prize, said:

“The Wolfson Foundation awards the Wolfson History Prize to make a public statement about the importance of history writing to society. The Prize celebrates wonderful books – books that break new ground in understanding the past and which are written in an engaging and accessible style, attributes which each of this year’s shortlisted works skilfully demonstrate.”

Professor Fulbrook is also the author of the Fraenkel Prize-winning A Small Town near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust. A Fellow of the British Academy, she is a former Chair of the German History Society and was founding Joint Editor of its journal German History. Amongst other commitments, she serves on the Academic Advisory Board of the Foundation for the former Concentration Camps at Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora. She is currently directing an AHRC-funded research project entitled Compromised Identities? Reflections on Perpetration and Complicity under Nazism.

The Wolfson History Prize 2019 Shortlist will be showcased at a live recording of BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking on Tuesday 7 May, hosted at the British Academy, London. The event will bring together the shortlisted authors to debate history writing and offer an insight into each book.