The Role of Victim Witness Testimonies for Collective Memory Formation, Recovery from Trauma and Future Reconciliation

Friday, July 18, 2014: 3:45 PM
Room: F206
Oral Presentation
Patrick HEIN , Meiji University, Lithuania

Title: The role of victim witness testimonies for collective memory formation, recovery from trauma and future reconciliation.

Subtitle: The case of the truth commission in South Africa, the international Khmer Rouge tribunal and the Comfort Women's War Crimes Tribunal in Tokyo (2000).

In this paper the author argues that witness testimonies in war crimes and genocide trials play a crucial role even though they may not be related to the indictment of the prosecution or help to establish justice. In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem Hannah Arendt mentioned that the survivor accounts were not helpful in collecting legal evidence against Eichmann. This author thinks however that witness accounts are crucial not for legal purposes but for purposes of collective memory formation and victim trauma recovery by using the example of the witness account of the Auschwitz survivor Alfred Oppenheimer who gave a testimony at the Eichmann trial.

The paper refers to other reconciliation attempts such as the truth commission in South Africa or the Comfort Women issue in Korea and Japan and seeks to identify conditions that make future reconciliation possible.

The example of the comfort women in Japan shows that witness testimonies alone cannot lead to positive change and reconciliation as long as there is no recognition of wrongdoing and guilty behavior in the first place. In other words witness accounts can only be effective and fulfill their purpose if there is an opposite (either an individual or a political body) who acknowledges his wrongdoing. In the case of the Eichmann trial and the South African truth commission the perpetrators were physically present whereas in the case of the comfort women nobody has assumed responsibility.