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Wittmann, Rebecca 1970- (Rebecca Elizabeth Wittmann)

Wittmann, Rebecca 1970- (Rebecca Elizabeth Wittmann)

PERSONAL:

Born February 3, 1970. Education: University of Toronto, Ph.D.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of Historical Studies, University of Toronto at Mississauga, Rm. 153E, North Bldg., 3359 Mississauga Rd., N., Mississauga, Ontario L5L 1C6, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

University of Toronto at Mississauga, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, assistant professor of history.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Fritz Stern Prize, German Historical Institute, for the best dissertation in German history; fellowships from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the German Academic Exchange Service, and the Holocaust Educational Foundation; Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship, 2004-05; Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History for Beyond Justice: The Auschwitz Trial.

WRITINGS:

Beyond Justice: The Auschwitz Trial, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.

Contributor to journals, including German History, Ethics and International Affairs, and Central European History.

SIDELIGHTS:

Historian Rebecca Wittmann earned her doctorate at the University of Toronto and went on to take a position with the university's Mississauga campus as an assistant professor of history. Her primary areas of research and academic interest include the Holocaust, the trials of Nazi perpetrators and German terrorists in the wake of World War II, and overall German legal history. Her doctoral dissertation was awarded the Fritz Stern Prize by the German Historical Institute. In support of her professional research efforts, Wittmann has been awarded several fellowships, including from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the German Academic Exchange Service, and the Holocaust Educational Foundation. She was also a recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship for the 2004-05 academic year. Outside of her academic endeavors, Wittmann has contributed to a number of scholarly journals, including German History, Ethics and International Affairs, and Central European History. She is also the author of Beyond Justice: The Auschwitz Trial, for which she won the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History.

Beyond Justice recounts the 1963 Auschwitz trials held to bring the perpetrators of some of World War II's most notable war crimes to justice, and it was published to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of the event. Approximately two dozen guards from the concentration camp were brought up on charges for their crimes against humanity. The trials, which were supposed to show West Germany's willingness to atone for its actions and to help everyone involved move past the horrors of war, ultimately proved to many that the Germans were not as open to taking responsibility as they claimed. For the duration of the trials, the war criminals were held accountable for their actions based on the laws that were in effect in Germany during the Nazi regime. These laws naturally exonerated the criminals for many of their actions, which by Nazi reckoning were not criminal actions at all. Many of the perpetrators were granted far lighter sentences for their deeds than the actions warranted had they been considered under guidelines set down for international fair dealings during wartime. Many other countries viewed the trials in a negative light given the results, and assumed that the West Germans were unwilling to take an honest look at their past transgressions.

Wittmann, however, takes a different approach to West Germany's attitude over the course of her book. She researched the trials in great detail, a particularly difficult task because many documents were protected for a specific time period after the trials were completed in Germany, meaning that much of the material she needed was not available to her until at least 1995. In addition, large quantities of the trial materials was still only available on tapes, not having been completely transcribed. In some instances, the tapes themselves were also unavailable when Wittmann went to listen to them, as they were only then undergoing the transcription process. Ultimately, however, listening to the trials themselves enabled Wittmann to experience both the words and the atmosphere of the events as they took place. Through the documents and the information she gleaned, Wittmann relates the events of the trials and attempts to explain how and why the court system attempted to prove that the guards were simply obeying orders, and therefore acting in accordance with the political situation and the laws of their time. The major thrust of the defense throughout the proceedings was that the crimes themselves needed to be considered within the context of the times. The result of this was that the court was forced to prove that the defendants acted unlawfully based on the laws of the era. Wittmann, however, suggests that the court itself had no other choice, as it was a German court following German legal statutes, and therefore could only consider the crimes set before it according to its own guidelines.

Reviewers had varying opinions of Beyond Justice and of Wittmann's thesis. Anthony D. Kaunders, in a review for the Canadian Journal of History, remarked that, regarding the overall trial, "Wittmann's main concern is to address the impact it had on perceptions of the Holocaust," though she seemed to focus primarily on the question of the court's ability to function without addressing concepts such as "war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity." American Historical Review critic Harold Marcuse commented that his "main criticism of this book is that it so closely follows the trial sources, with little attention to other archival materials (such as the lawyers' papers) or the results of prior and ancillary scholarship." Jeffrey K. Olick, writing in Ethics and International Affairs, similarly stated that "one might wish for a deeper investigation of the personalities and for a more sustained investigation of materials beyond the trial itself." He concluded, however: "Nevertheless, as the most thorough study of one of the most important, though ultimately vexed, trials of the twentieth century, Beyond Justice is something of a landmark that deserves a wide reading."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Historical Review, February 1, 2007, Harold Marcuse, review of Beyond Justice: The Auschwitz Trial, p. 298.

Canadian Journal of History, March 22, 2006, Anthony D. Kauders, review of Beyond Justice.

Central European History, June 1, 2006, Richard Breitman, review of Beyond Justice, p. 348.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, March 1, 2006, J.C. Watkins, review of Beyond Justice, p. 1297.

Ethics and International Affairs, Volume 20, issue 2, 2006, Jeffrey K. Olick, review of Beyond Justice, pp. 265-267.

German Studies Review, May 1, 2007, Steve Hochstadt, review of Beyond Justice, p. 438.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2005, review of Beyond Justice, p. 223.

Library Journal, April 1, 2005, Theodore Pollack, review of Beyond Justice, p. 111.

ONLINE

University of Toronto at Mississauga Research and Graduate Web site,http://www.utm.utoronto.ca/ (January 15, 2007), Carla Demarco, "Trying Times: Professor Wittmann Copes with Difficult Research Topics."

University of Toronto at Mississauga Web site,http://www.erin.toronto.edu/ (April 23, 2008), faculty profile.

University of Toronto History Department Web site,http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/ (April 23, 2008), faculty profile.

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