Last March, Oskar Gröning died in the north German city of Lüneburg while preparing to serve a four-year prison sentence. He was ninety-six years old. A former SS office clerk in Auschwitz, Gröning had been convicted of ‘complicity’ in the killing of 300,000 Hungarian Jews who had arrived in the death camp during the summer of 1944. While the Gröning conviction was welcomed by many as evidence of the proverbial long arm of justice, the trial of this ‘bookkeeper of Auschwitz’ also highlighted the spectacular failure of the German judiciary to bring the vast majority of Nazi war criminals to account. Commenting on Gröning’s death, the BBC noted, ‘Fewer than 50 of the estimated 6,500 Auschwitz guards who survived the war were ever convicted.’ This sixteen-word statistical observation could serve as a tidy epigraph to Reckonings, Mary Fulbrook’s most recent, expansive chronicling of Nazi atrocities and postwar attempts at judicial remedy.
Published by Oxford University Press with fully weighted academic apparatus – seventy pages with, by my count, fifteen hundred annotated endnotes – and three effusive dust jacket blurbs from fellow scholars (‘the culmination of a lifetime of scholarly endeavour’), this 657-page tome would normally be expected to take its place