Oral History

Peter Black describes why it is important to continue pursuing justice, even decades after the events

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.


There is obviously no guarantee. I don’t think the argument that "most of the guilty don’t get tried" is any reason not to try the ones and obtain convictions against the ones who you can try, and because one couldn’t try Al Capone for murder didn’t mean it was a bad thing to try him for tax evasion. And I think it’s very important to set a standard, a fair standard, for prosecuting, and in this sense, war crimes like this -- i hate to call -- I’ll call them Nazi offenses rather than war crimes -- are not different from other criminal acts in terms of the need to establish a consistent and fair process to try these individuals and judge them, and if found guilty -- the innocent -- the acquittals are as important as the guilty verdicts for the survival of the system, for an expectation that the system will be fair – that this is an important process. It has already, to a certain degree, the idea of trying people for crimes committed in other countries decades after the event is catching on today, [former Chilean dictator Augusto] Pinochet is an example, it’s an interesting example, and again if this becomes a habit of political behavior then legal response to regimes that violate human rights, this might make the world a better place, and because there’s no guarantee that the world will be a better place doesn’t mean that we shouldn't stop trying.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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