Transnational holocaust litigation

Leora Bilsky*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


International adjudication of the Holocaust has played a defining role in the development of international criminal law. Its legacy has recently been challenged by the Holocaust restitution actions brought before American courts in the 1990s. Settled for unprecedented amounts, the litigation has been sharply criticized by legal scholars and historians, who raise doubts as to the justice achieved for victims, and criticize the representation of the Holocaust in the actions. This article assesses the contribution of civil proceedings to conceptions of justice in international law. First, contrary to the critics, it argues that the civil class action provides an appropriate legal tool to deal with the liability of bureaucratic institutions for participation in gross human rights violations. Secondly, this article argues that the restitution actions altered the relationship between law and the history of the Holocaust as shaped under the paradigm of criminal law. Precisely because it was structured as a civil action and was settled, the litigation made a substantial contribution to historical research on the relationship between the state, corporations, and civil society in the carrying out of mass crimes. Thus, in opposition to the prevailing view that criminal law is the privileged form of law for dealing with atrocity, this article uncovers the valuable contribution of this new model of litigation to international law.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-375
Number of pages27
JournalEuropean Journal of International Law
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2012


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