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Postwar Justice


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A Verdict from "Our Camp-tribunal"

Our camp court Undzer Hofnung newspaper article 1946
Undzer hofenung, September 9, 1946

Roughly nine million displaced persons (DPs), many of them former prisoners of concentration camps, remained in Germany at the end of the war. Among them were at least 50,000 Jews who, fearing persecution, resolved not to return home. Following the Kielce pogrom of 1946, thousands more fled Poland, seeking asylum in the Allied occupation zones of Germany. By 1947, 250,000 Jews lived in DP camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy.1 They became known as the "Sh'erit ha-Pletah"—the "Surviving Remnant."

With aid from organizations such as the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and its successor, the International Refugee Organization, as well as the Joint Distribution Committee, DP camps provided DPs with access to medical care, social services, cultural and religious activities, and schooling. Camp leaders also set up courts intended to adjudicate the daily affairs of the camp. For Jewish DPs, however, the camp justice system did more than maintain law and order.2 Because many Jews in DP camps saw themselves as laying the foundations of a future Jewish community, "honor courts" furnished a tool for assessing citizens' moral character. Presiding officials took particular interest in cases dealing with former concentration camp functionaries, as well as former members of the Judenrat and the Jewish police. They sought foremost to determine whether a defendant had "betrayed the trust of the Jewish people" and should be therefore branded a "traitor to the Jewish nation."3

Articles published in a DP camp newspaper in September of 1946 illustrate how Jewish DP courts could discharge a kind of restorative justice. An honor court in the "Hertsog" DP camp of Hessisch Lichtenau, Germany, convicted a former attendant at a forced labor camp of abusing and beating prisoners, stealing their belongings, and "other brutal deeds." Yakov Flayshheker was sentenced to three months imprisonment and exile from the Hertsog camp. However, as Undzer hofenung ["Our Hope"] reported, "the accused was given the opportunity to return to the community after a year of his sentence; his misdemeanor should be forgiven if during this year he proves that he has acted for the good of the Jewish community and deserves to become a rightful citizen."

Hertsog's court offered Flayshheker a chance to pay penance, but other honor courts perceived their role as strictly retributive. Whatever the outcome, the application of justice in Jewish DP courts was complex: in confronting crimes of collaboration within their own ranks, the "Surviving Remnant" struggled to fashion an ethical and juridical framework that could account for Nazi coercion in Jewish crimes, while appropriately punishing—or rehabilitating—members of a fragile, forward-looking community.4

When the last DP camps closed in 1957, more than 200,000 Jews had emigrated to Israel, the United States, and elsewhere. The unique role played by the honor courts soon diminished as survivors focused on rebuilding their lives in new homes.

For more detailed statistics on Jewish DPs, see Atina Grossmann, Jews, Germans, Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007). 

The honor courts had little legally-binding authority; Jewish DPs in Germany fell under the jurisdiction of military law in their respective occupied zones.

Laura Jockusch and Gabriel N. Finder, eds., Jewish Honor Courts: Revenge, Retribution, and Reconciliation in Europe and Israel (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2015), 5-11.

For more discussion on the functions of Jewish honor courts in DP camps and Jewish communities, see the following items DP Camp Trial of Chaim Trajet and Verdict in the Case of Alexander Eintracht in this collection.

See Annette Wievorka, The Era of the Witness, trans. Jared Stark (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006), for more on survivor testimony at the Eichmann trial and its impact on scholarship and popular memory of the Holocaust.

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Our camp-tribunal

Man is by nature a social animal, since time immemorial he has strived towards a communal life and not towards isolation.

In communal cohabitation, mankind can satisfy its material, moral, ethical and other needs. Collective cohabitation limits man’s freedom. 

In isolation, he creates forms of ethics and justice for his own benefit, and adjusts to them himself. The moment he decides to live in society he falls under certain restrictions, which oblige everyone. Without an organised group, whether it be family, society, or a state man cannot be in contradiction to the general laws, or live in opposition to them according to his own judgment; he must submit to the generally accepted norms for the good of the group. By breaking these rules, man finds himself in opposition to morality and experiences a reaction.

In any society where there is division of labor, there is also an institution which safeguards the legal implementation of these rules and which acts in the event that these laws are broken.

Naturally, among people with a higher culture the number of such violations is much lower than among those who are culturally inferior, and yet everywhere one must restrain the individual who goes against the community and regulate the conflicts that arise between individuals. Therefore the Jewish committee has rightly decided, during one of its meetings, to create a citizen’s court here in our camp, assuming that we are building a small society that is bound by common rules that can be broken by one of us, and in the wish that such situations  should be handled by us, and not by strangers. It should be clear that this institution is not intended to spread fear, nor will it impose itself on anyone by force. It has merely been called to aid the committee in matters of order and justice in our camp.

The citizen’s court, in addition to the task of resolving conflicts, also has an educational purpose. In its judgments there are often indications how one can comport oneself properly and morally, by pointing out bad deeds it also points towards the correct path. We must admit that under the influence of demoralizing forces in the last world war, mankind has grown culturally and ethically backwards, especially the young, who have grown up without the appropriate educators in their formative years, find themselves in an impasse and do not know whom to turn to, or which paths to take. It happens that crimes can be committed by fundamentally good people, all because they have never received the proper education.

Our citizen’s court has no desire to punish or, as I have mentioned, spread fear. Its only desire is to resolve genuine conflict and, at the same time, draw attention to bad behavior so that deeds that are deemed harmful should not be repeated.  This is the kind of guide that our citizen’s court should be, and that was the intention behind organizing this institution in our camp.

Adv. M. Tsukerfayn.

Judgement of camp-tribunal N. 1/46

September 6th, 1946, in camp "Hertsog" in the presence of the chairman, Tsukerfayn and co-chairs , Feld and Winter, in the matter of citizen Flayshheker, Jakov, 23 years old, born in Kielce province in the town of Otorow—accused, from the beginning of 1942 to the end of 1943 while working in camp Skarzysko-Kamienna as disinfector of the bath facilities, of having tormented the Jewish inmates and women in particular, beating them over the face and body, forcing them to undress in his presence, stealing valuables from newly arrived inmates and many other brutal acts. Acknowledging that the accusations against the accused are at least in part proven and ascertaining that his deeds warrant further investigation by the Jewish court, he has been sentenced to 3 months arrest, and immediate removal from the vicinity of the camp. A year after his sentencing, the accused will have the possibility of appealing to any Jewish court to have his crimes pardoned if he can prove that during the year, through his behavior and his work for the good of Jewish society he has earned recognition as a fully-fledged citizen. This judgement is to be published in all Jewish newspapers in the refugee camps. The sentence will soon be passed with no recourse to appeal. 

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Undzer hofenung, September 9, 1946
Date Created
September 25, 1946
Page(s) 1
Author / Creator
M. Tsukerfayn
Publisher
DP camp newspaper
Document Type Newspaper Article
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