Oral History

Historian Peter Black describes the potential of legal consequences

In the 1980s and 1990s, historian Peter Black worked for the US Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations, as part of a team tracking and prosecuting suspected war criminals. Black later served as the Senior Historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.


As a federal civil servant, I felt that I was doing a service to the American people, in the sense that -- having grown up in the Vietnam generation -- I was contributing to a process where individuals who committed crimes during wartime, with all the excuses that one has to commit acts of atrocity during wartime, were being called to account, despite the fact that they were small fry, despite the fact that in some cases they were compelled to be in positions where they eventually committed their crimes, despite the fact that decades and decades had passed and that there was some reason for them to feel that this may never come back to haunt them, that this was a judicial process, a fair process, by which people who had committed crimes could be called to account, and if there's a potential for that in the future, conceiveably the perpetrators of the future might stop to think twice before perpetrating crimes along the lines of these crimes that were perpetrated during the Second World war. And if that potential of legal consequence even works to prevent one killing, I feel that it would be worth that effort both for the future, in terms of prevention, and in terms of bringing closure to the past.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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