Human Rights after Hitler: The Lost History of Prosecuting Axis War Crimes
by Dan Plesch
foreword by Benjamin B. Ferencz
Georgetown University Press, 2017
Cloth: 978-1-62616-431-4
Library of Congress Classification KZ1174.5.P58 2017
Dewey Decimal Classification 341.69


Human Rights after Hitler reveals thousands of forgotten US and Allied war crimes prosecutions against Hitler and other Axis war criminals based on a popular movement for justice that stretched from Poland to the Pacific. These cases provide a great foundation for twenty-first-century human rights and accompany the achievements of the Nuremberg trials and postwar conventions. They include indictments of perpetrators of the Holocaust made while the death camps were still operating, which confounds the conventional wisdom that there was no official Allied response to the Holocaust at the time.

This history also brings long overdue credit to the United Nations’ War Crimes Commission (UNWCC), which operated during and after World War II. Dan Plesch describes the commission’s work and Washington’s bureaucratic obstruction to a 1944 proposal to prosecute crimes against humanity before an international criminal court.

From the 1940s until a recent lobbying effort by Plesch and colleagues, the UNWCC’s files were kept out of public view in the UN archives under pressure from the US government. The book answers why the commission and its files were closed and reveals that the lost precedents set by these cases have enormous practical utility for prosecuting war crimes today. They cover US and Allied prosecutions of torture, including “water treatment,” wartime sexual assault, and crimes by foot soldiers who were “just following orders.” Plesch’s book will fascinate anyone with an interest in the history of the Second World War as well as provide ground-breaking revelations for historians and human rights practitioners alike.

Nearby on shelf for Law of nations / Trials / War crime trials: