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Amending the Past
Europe’s Holocaust Commissions and the Right to History
Alexander Karn

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

“A very important contribution to the interdisciplinary scholarship on the broad theme of reckoning with histories of atrocity.”
—Bronwyn Leebaw, University of California, Riverside

During the 1990s and early 2000s in Europe, more than fifty historical commissions were created to confront, discuss, and document the genocide of the Holocaust and to address some of its unresolved injustices. Amending the Past offers the first in-depth account of these commissions, examining the complexities of reckoning with past atrocities and large-scale human rights violations.

Alexander Karn analyzes more than a dozen Holocaust commissions—in Germany, Switzerland, France, Poland, Austria, Latvia, Lithuania, and elsewhere— in a comparative framework, situating each in the context of past and present politics, to evaluate their potential for promoting justice and their capacity for bringing the perspectives of rival groups more closely together. Karn also evaluates the media coverage these commissions received and probes their public reception from multiple angles.

Arguing that historical commissions have been underused as a tool for conflict management, Karn develops a program for historical mediation and moral reparation that can deepen democratic commitment and strengthen human rights in both transitional regimes and existing liberal states.



photo of author Alexander KarnAlexander Karn is an associate professor in the Department of History at Colgate University. He is the coeditor (with Elazar Barkan) of Taking Wrongs Seriously: Apologies and Reconciliation.





“Historical commissions, Karn argues, have brought expert historical practice to bear on complex questions, adding new meaning to facts that have either been debated or glossed over. These commissions matter because they serve to amend history in cases in which social memory has impeded understanding of historical injustices and begin the amelioration of past human rights violations.”

“Charged with excavating and exposing competing narratives of mass atrocities and their consequences, historical (truth) commissions have emerged as an important forum for conflict resolution. Alexander Karn’s comparative scope stands out among a growing body of research providing a set of tools, relevant to both academics and activists.”
—Daniel Levy, State University of New York, Stony Brook



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New in Paperback!
July 2017
LC: 2015008382 D
336 pp.   6 x 9

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Cloth $65.00 s
ISBN 978-0-299-30550-5
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Paper $21.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-31324-1
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