Thanks to fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Lawrence Douglas, the James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought, will spend the 2013–2014 academic year researching and writing a book on the war crimes trial of Nazi John Demjanjuk, as well as studying firsthand the trial of the alleged architect of the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole.
Prof. Lawrence R. Douglas
Douglas said he will spend this fall traveling to do research for a book, to be published by Yale University Press, about Germany’s prosecution of Nazi-era war criminals. It will build upon the research Douglas did for his article “Ivan the Recumbent, or Demjanjuk in Munich,” which appeared in the March 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine.
John (Ivan) Demjanjuk, a native of Ukraine, immigrated to Ohio after the World War II but was deported to Israel in 1986 on charges that he worked at Treblinka, a Nazi extermination camp. He was released after new evidence cleared him of having been Treblinka’s “Ivan the Terrible.” But in 2009, Demjanjuk was deported to Germany for another trial, and in 2011, he was convicted on charges that he participated in the murder of 27,900 Jews while serving as a guard at the Sobibor death camp. He died in 2012 while appealing the 2011 conviction.
“This trial was called the last great Nazi-era atrocity trial,” Douglas said, adding that Germany’s prosecution of Demjanjuk is arguably also the longest and most convoluted criminal case prosecuting a perpetrator of the Holocaust.
Douglas plans to use the facts of the Demjanjuk trial to examine, in his forthcoming book, the history of Germany’s postwar prosecution of Nazis and their collaborators.
“The German record in that regard is not particularly impressive, which is not surprising,” he said. “In a certain way, the trial was an important moment of reckoning for Germany. … [T]hey saw this as a moment to rectify a lot of their earlier mistakes.”
Douglas has received an ACLS senior fellowship for the fall term, during which he plans to return to Germany for more research and interviews. He is one of about 300 scholars selected for a fellowship from 4,200 applications submitted this year. (Other recent ACLS fellows from Amherst include Visiting Assistant Professor of the History of Art Jeffrey Saletnik , Assistant Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought Adam Sitze  and Assistant Professor of Music Klára Móricz .)
In the spring, Douglas will head out to Washington, D.C., to spend the semester as an Ina Levine Invitational Scholar at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
He said he will likely wrap up work on the book at that time.
He will also be researching a future article for Harper’s, this one concerning Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi Arabian citizen currently being held at the U.S. military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay on suspicion of having planned the Cole bombing.
Douglas visited Guantanamo a year ago and just recently went back to observe al-Nashiri’s trial.