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René Staedtler

Roadblocks to Franco-German Reconciliation? The Place of War Crimes Trials in the Construction of Postwar Europe

On the eve of the conclusion of the Franco-German Treaty of Friendship in November of 1962, French president Charles de Gaulle pardoned and released the highest ranking Nazi war criminals captured by French authorities in the aftermath World War II: the former heads of the SS and Security Police in France, Carl Oberg and Helmut Knochen. My dissertation argues that the release of these prisoners was not coincidental, but rather the resolution of the tension between justice and reconciliation in favor of the latter. My project will situate war crimes trials in both post-World War II West Germany and France, involving both German and French defendants, into the trajectory of Franco-German reconciliation and the formation of the future European Union. I seek to examine the costs of Franco-German reconciliation which have been ignored in light of the great success of such reconciliation.

To investigate the hypothesis that Franco-German reconciliation was concluded at the expense of justice, my dissertation will consider three important war crimes trials, namely the aforementioned Oberg-Knochen-Trials, the French Rastatt trials and the trial of the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, and the relationship of these trials to the goal of Franco-German reconciliation. I will argue that while Franco-German reconciliation and ultimately West European integration were successful, imperfect and incomplete postwar justice for war crimes undermined the extent of this success. An analysis of how the war crimes trials I will discuss were shaped by larger goals of Franco-German reconciliation is a critical piece to understanding the history of postwar Europe and can be applied to other post-conflict reconciliation efforts.

My project stands at the conjunction of legal, diplomatic, political, social and transnational history and involves the close study of trial records, diplomatic correspondence, ministerial and parliamentary documents and records from interest groups seeking to influence both the dispensation of justice and the process of reconciliation between France and West Germany.