Journal Article

Transnational Holocaust Litigation

Leora Bilsky

in European Journal of International Law

Published on behalf of The EJIL

Volume 23, issue 2, pages 349-375
Published in print May 2012 | ISSN: 0938-5428
Published online June 2012 | e-ISSN: 1464-3596 | DOI:
Transnational Holocaust Litigation

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International adjudication of the Holocaust has played a defining role in the development of international criminal law. Its legacy has recently been challenged by the Holocaust restitution actions brought before American courts in the 1990s. Settled for unprecedented amounts, the litigation has been sharply criticized by legal scholars and historians, who raise doubts as to the justice achieved for victims, and criticize the representation of the Holocaust in the actions. This article assesses the contribution of civil proceedings to conceptions of justice in international law. First, contrary to the critics, it argues that the civil class action provides an appropriate legal tool to deal with the liability of bureaucratic institutions for participation in gross human rights violations. Secondly, this article argues that the restitution actions altered the relationship between law and the history of the Holocaust as shaped under the paradigm of criminal law. Precisely because it was structured as a civil action and was settled, the litigation made a substantial contribution to historical research on the relationship between the state, corporations, and civil society in the carrying out of mass crimes. Thus, in opposition to the prevailing view that criminal law is the privileged form of law for dealing with atrocity, this article uncovers the valuable contribution of this new model of litigation to international law.

Journal Article.  15230 words. 

Subjects: Public International Law

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