What about a statute of limitations?

Just Punishment and the Holocaust (Topic 5, part 2)

In April 2020, to coincide with Yom HaShoah, the day in the Jewish calendar dedicated to Holocaust remembrance, and the 75th anniversary of the liberation, Rabbi Sacks launched a series of videos offering his perspective on some of the biggest questions asked about the Holocaust.

Is there a concept of a statute of limitations when it comes to the crimes of the Holocaust? The short answer is no, and for a very simple reason. Most criminal jurisdictions see crime rightly as an offence, not only against the victims, but against the state and against the society. And therefore, the state or the society can say, “At a certain point, after a certain number of years have lapsed, we are going to forego our right to punish.”

But the crimes of the Holocaust were not crimes against society. There were crimes against humanity, and humanity cannot say, “We forego our right to punish.” It simply can’t. Crimes against humanity are simply different in kind to crimes against the state, and that is why they can be no statute of limitations.

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This series, created in partnership with the Holocaust Educational Trust, has been made possible thanks to the generous support of Richard Harris.

View the full Holocaust series of curriculum resources with additional discussion questions and historical background included