Rachel Auerbach and the Eichmann Trial: A New Conception of Victims’ Testimonies

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Since the 1990s, international criminal law has struggled to find the proper role for victims in mass-atrocities trials. Notwithstanding the rise of the victim-centered trial, victims still participate in these trials mainly as witnesses for the prosecution, but not as full and proactive participants. In this article, I return to the forgotten contribution of Rachel Auerbach (1903-1976), a Jewish-Polish journalist, historian, and Holocaust survivor, and explore her important contribution to the Eichmann Trial, where she helped shape a new paradigm of a victim-centered atrocity trial in the wake of World War II. Auerbach's vision for the trial, as I shall present in this article, can be understood as an early precursor of later developments in both international criminal law and, more broadly, in the field of transitional justice. The contribution of women to the development of international criminal law has been marginalized for many years. Similarly, Auerbach's contribution to the Eichmann Trial has long been viewed as merely technical, limited to finding relevant witnesses for the trial as part of her work as the director of the Testimony Collection Department of Yad Vashem. I show that Auerbach had a groundbreaking vision of the Eichmann Trial and of the way law should perceive victims' testimonies in such trials, based on her “translation” of the legacy of the clandestine Oyneg Shabes archive enterprise in the Warsaw ghetto into a legal setting. In her view, the trial would become victim-centered, not only due to the survivors' testimonies, but also because it would recognize their initiative and agency in promoting a new conception of testimony. I argue that her approach to victims' testimonies and its connection to the crime of cultural genocide are still highly relevant to the ongoing legal and historical discussion about atrocity trials.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-345
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Holocaust Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022


  • Eichmann Trial
  • Holocaust
  • archive
  • atrocity
  • genocide
  • victim testimony

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law
  • History
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Sociology and Political Science


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