Print pagePDF page

Dan Plesch, Human Rights After Hitler: The Lost History of Prosecuting Axis War Crimes (Georgetown University Press, 2017).

Summary
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.

About the Author
Dan Plesch has directed the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS University of London since 2007. His research interests focus on the prevention of global conflict. His 2004 book, The Beauty Queen’s Guide to World Peace, outlines a policy research agenda, part of which he has developed through the UN History for the Future project, and part through disarmament research.

He was awarded his PhD by Keele University and his BA in History from the University of Nottingham.  Prior to joining SOAS, he was the Senior Felllow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, and the founding Director  of the British American Security Information Council in Washington DC. He has also worked for the BBC and CNN and published widely in print media.