Richards Plavnieks

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Major Field: European History
Christopher R. Browning

BA Stetson University
MA University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2009
MA Thesis: “’Wall of Blood’: The Baltic German Case Study in National Socialist Wartime Population Policy, 1939–1945”
PhD University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013
Dissertation: “Nazi Collaborators on Trial during the Cold War: The Cases against Viktors Arājs and the Latvian Auxiliary Security Police”

Research Interests

The dissertation, defended on 28 March 2013, is a study of the Latvian Auxiliary Security Police—the so-called “Arajs Kommando.” The most notorious group of Latvian paramilitaries during the Holocaust, this death squad was directly responsible for the murders of no fewer than 26,000 Latvian and foreign Jews on Latvian soil between 1941 and 1943, and abetted the murders of perhaps twice as many more, apart from their numberless victims in Belarus, killed in anti-partisan and reprisal actions. The first part of the dissertation—the only academic study of this killing unit undertaken in any language on this scale—reconstructs the wartime activities of the Kommando and explores the motivations of its approximately 1,200 members. The bulk of the dissertation, however, explores the postwar legal aftermath of the Kommando’s atrocities across four separate legal systems: those of the United States, the Soviet Union, and both East and West Germany. Using these hideous crimes as a backdrop, the project examines law in both Communist and liberal-democratic contexts and explores the dialectical contest between atrocity and justice as a defining feature of the human condition. Theories that the law is to be applied to rehabilitate the criminal, to deter future criminals, or to satisfy the victims of the criminal collapse before truly extraordinary crimes. Because of the magnitude of real atrocity, the assignment of proportionate penalties to the perpetrators defies all of those legal philosophies in principle. The best comparative metric, the dissertation posits, is neither the number of perpetrators in the dock nor the severity of their punishments or the cathartic value the process offers the survivors, but rather the volume of reliable historical data generated for posterity over the course of the investigations—the didactic function of law.

Since graduating, I have secured adjunct professorships at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and also at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, where I teach courses on the Soviet Union and on Modern Germany, together with courses in Western Civilization.


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