In 1950, when most Allied war crimes trials had ended, thousands of convicted war criminals sat in prisons across Asia and across Europe, detained in the countries where they were convicted and the crimes had taken place. The last executions were still outstanding as many Allied courts agreed to reexamine their verdicts, reducing sentences in some cases and instituting a system of parole, but without relinquishing control over the fate of the imprisoned (even after Japan and Germany became sovereign countries).
An intense and broadly supported campaign for amnesty for all imprisoned war criminals ensued (more aggressively in Germany than in Japan at first), as attention turned away from the top wartime leaders and towards the majority of “ordinary” war criminals (Class B/C in Japan), and the issue of criminal responsibility was reframed as a humanitarian problem. This transformation not only ran remarkably parallel in Japan and Germany but also intersected in important ways, certainly from the perspective of American policy and the work of international organizations. The hypothesis of my project is that the dynamics of this transformation—and the nexus of political relationships it engendered—illustrate a critical aspect of reconstruction after foreign occupation more generally: the need to restore social equilibrium within renegotiated national borders by wrestling the authority to define the political and moral legacies of the wartime past from of the hands of the occupiers. This presentation discusses preliminary results of initial research for a book project that looks comparatively at the “war criminals problem” in 1950s Japan and Germany as it wove itself in and out of international relations and domestic politics, public debate and social protest, and relates it to concurrent processes of professional rehabilitation and social integration.
Franziska Seraphim is an Associate Professor in the History Department at Boston College and the author of War Memory and Social Politics in Japan: 1945-2005 (Harvard University Asia Center Press, 2006). She is currently a visiting Abe fellow and researcher at Waseda University.