The Politics of Memory/Errinerungspolitik and the Use and Propriety of Law in the Process of Memory Construction

Vivian Grosswald Curran, University of Pittsburgh


The post-Second World War trial for the crime against humanity from the start assumed pedagogical proportions, with the tribunals involved conscious that their legal verdicts would represent historical pronouncement and national values. The newly defined crime has been asked to institutionalize far more than the traditional task of adjudicating the guilt or innocence of the defendant. The trials themselves are meant to define the past, create and crystallize national memory, and illuminate the foundations of the future. I suggest that, by placing a burden on law that it is not designed to bear,we risk deforming law and legal principle. We risk creating an edifice that will not be equal to the task of memory, that will trivialize the memory it seeks to establish and fortify and, worst of all, that may betray law itself by subverting it from within.