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Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges: Judicial Opposition Against the Nazi State

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Abstract

The Nazi regime had loyal judges who willingly transformed the liberal German law into an instrument of oppression, discrimination and genocide. This was achieved without substantially interfering with the operation of the courts and without applying disciplinary measures on the judges. But, not all judges were congenial servants of the regime—some resisted in their capacity as judges. Based on case-studies and existing literature, this Article distinguishes between two different lines of judicial opposition to those in power: Between opposition taking place in the open and opposition in secret, and between opposition within what is accepted by those in power as being within the law and opposition that is in breach of the law. The Article then seeks to explain the deference the regime gave to judicial by employing institutional theory and the concept of path dependence. Germany was deeply embedded in the Western legal tradition of emphasis on law as an autonomous institution with an independent judiciary. Available for download at https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56330ad3e4b0733dcc0c8495/t/5b5c85d56d2a73ec3d043f7e/1532790230250/06+Vol_19_No_04_Graver.pdf
The rule of law, constitutionalism and the judiciary
Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges: Judicial Opposition Against
the Nazi State
By Hans Petter Graver
Abstract
The Nazi regime had loyal judges who willingly transformed the liberal German law into an
instrument of oppression, discrimination and genocide. This was achieved without
substantially interfering with the operation of the courts and without applying disciplinary
measures on the judges. But, not all judges were congenial servants of the regimesome
resisted in their capacity as judges. Based on case-studies and existing literature, this Article
distinguishes between two different lines of judicial opposition to those in power: Between
opposition taking place in the open and opposition in secret, and between opposition within
what is accepted by those in power as being within the law and opposition that is in breach
of the law. The Article then seeks to explain the deference the regime gave to judicial by
employing institutional theory and the concept of path dependence. Germany was deeply
embedded in the Western legal tradition of emphasis on law as an autonomous institution
with an independent judiciary.
Dr. Hans Petter Graver is a Professor and previous Dean at the University of Oslo. The author would like to thank
Stephen Skinner, David Fraser, and Dina Townsend for their helpful comments. The article is based on a public
lecture held at St. Mary’s College, Durham UK, while the author was a fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study,
University of Durham from October to December 2016.
846 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
A. Hitler’s Speeches
Hitler hated judges. Following the Nazi Press criticisms of a judge for an outrageously mild
sentence of five years in prison for the murder of his wife, Hitler addressed the judiciary in
a speech in the Reichstag on April 26, 1942. Among other things, Hitler said:
I expect the German legal profession to understand that
the nation is not here for them but they are here for the
nation . . . . From now on, I shall intervene in these cases
and remove from office those judges who evidently do
not understand the demand of the hour.
1
According to the US military tribunal in Nuremberg, This menacing blast from the Fuhrer
. . . wiped away the last remains of judicial independence in Germany.
2
Nevertheless, in a
less known speech to Nazi Party leaders on May 23, 1942, Hitler stated that despite his
speech in the Reichstag, he wanted the party not to interfere with the functioning of the
judiciary. He later repeated this desire and prohibited putting pressure or interfering in any
way whatsoever with any actor in legal proceedings.
3
The legacy of the Western legal
tradition seems to have tempered even Adolf Hitler. On the one hand, Hitler wanted to bring
judges to heel. On the other hand, he sought to protect the independence of the judiciary in
deciding individual cases. This contradictory approach to the judiciary effectively disciplined
the majority, while also providing some space for judges who objected to demands of the
regime.
The Nazi regime was overall successful in reconciling these seemingly contradictory aims.
Generally, the regime had loyal judges who willingly transformed the liberal German law
into an instrument of oppression, discrimination, and genocide. In the words of US
prosecutor Telford Taylor at Nuremberg, the “leaders of the German judicial system,
consciously and deliberately suppressed the law, engaged in an unholy masquerade of
brutish tyranny disguised as justice, and converted the German judicial system to an engine
of despotism, conquest, pillage, and slaughter.
4
Later research confirms this portrait of Nazi
judges as compliant servants of the regime, which remains the general opinion in legal and
historical research.
5
1
The Justice Case, in 3 TRIALS OF WAR CRIMINALS BEFORE THE NUREMBERG MILITARY TRIBUNALS 50 (1951).
2
The Justice Case, supra note 1, at 51.
3
RALPH ANGERMUND, DEUTSCHE RICHTERSHAFT 19191945 255 (1990).
4
The Justice Case, supra note 1, at 31.
5
See most notably H.W.KOCH, IN THE NAME OF THE VOLK POLITICAL JUSTICE IN HITLERS GERMANY (1989); INGO MÜLLER,
FURCHTBARE JURISTEN DIE UNBEWÄLTIGTE VERGANGENHEIT UNSERER JUSTIZ, (1987) (Ger.), translated in HITLER'S JUSTICE: THE
COURTS OF THE THIRD REICH (1991). For a treatment of military courts see MANFRED MESSERSCHMIDT, WAS DAMALS REC HT
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 847
A compliant judiciary resulted without substantial interference with the operation of the
courts and largely without applying disciplinary measures on judges.
6
German authorities
even treated judges in occupied countries with deference, although they sometimes applied
harder measures. Still, some judges were dismissed in the Netherlands and arrested in
Belgium for protesting against German measures in their rulings.
7
But, despite such
repercussions, not all judges were congenial servants of the regime.
Nevertheless, efforts by contemporary jurists after the fall of the Nazi regime to show that
not all judges were willing servants, such as the extensive study by Hubert Schorn,
8
were
dismissed as apologetic by later observers. Müller scorned the case-stories presented by
Schorn as ridiculous.
9
A similar debate took place over the military courts, where a study by
contemporaries was written off by later scholars as a point of departure that has to be
departed.
10
The successor regime in the West, the Federal Republic of Germany,
rehabilitated judges
11
while making pitiful efforts to hold even the worst of the judges
WAR. . . NS-MILITÄR- UND STRAFJUSTIZ IM VERNICHTUNGSKRIEG (1996). See also the overview of the research by Kenneth
F. Ledford, Judging German Judges in the Third Reich, in ALAN E. STEINWEIS & ROBERT D. RACHLIN, THE LAW IN NAZI
GERMANY IDEOLOGY, OPPORTUNISM, AND THE PERVERSION OF JUSTICE 16189 (2013).
6
See Karl Loewenstein, Reconstruction of the Administration of Justice in the American Occupied Germany, 61 HARV.
L. REV. 419, 444 (1948):
But not a single case is reported in which a judge who resigned was
sent to a concentration camp, or even lost his pension. If he wished,
he could leave the service and “sit the regime out” on his pension.
Though such cases occurred not too frequently, they were known and
widely commented on by the judiciary. Moreoverand this too was
fully knownthere were some judges, particularly among the older
generation, who, neither resigning nor yielding, resisted pressure to
the end. Nor is it correct to assume that non-party members among
the judiciary were invariably denied promotion. No doubt one reason
for this is that very few judges mounted any opposition against the
regime. But some did quite openly without meeting with more serious
sanctions than transfer to a different jurisdiction, lack of promotion or
removal from office with a pension.
7
See Derk Venema, The Judge, the Occupier, his Laws, and their Validity: Judicial Review by the Supreme Courts of
Occupied Belgium, Norway, and the Netherlands 1940-1945 in the Context of their Professional Conduct and the
Consequences for their Public Image, in JUSTICE IN WARTIME AND REVOLUTIONS: EUROPE 17951950 203, 209, 213 (M. de
Koster & D. Heirbaut eds., 2012).
8
See HUBERT SCHORN, DER RICHTER IM DRITTEN REICH GESCICHTE UND DOKUMENTE (1959).
9
See Müller, supra note 5, at 200.
10
MICHAEL STOLLEIS, THE LAW UNDER THE SWASTIKA STUDIES ON LEGAL HISTORY IN NAZI GERMANY 151 (1988).
11
JOACHIM PERELS & WOLFRAM WETTE, MIT REINEM GEWISSEN WEHRMACHTRICHTER IN DER BUNDESREPUBLIK UND IHRE OPFER 16
7 (2011).
848 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
responsible for their deeds.
12
The focus for critical scholarship was therefore not to bring to
light how judges had opposed the regime, but to show how the judiciary had contributed to
the oppression and the atrocities of the Nazis, and that these responsible individuals had
not been brought to account for their misdeeds.
13
In recent years, renewed interest has surfaced for those in Germany who resisted the Nazi
regime.
14
Despite general works on resistance to the Nazi regime, little has been done to
uncover resistance within legal institutions and, particularly, within the judiciary. The only
attention Mommsen pays to the judiciary in his book on German resistance under the Third
Reich is an introductory remark noting that the administration of justice was completely
usurped and that the judiciary functioned as a loyal instrument of the regime.”
15
The
prominent German legal scholar and judge Bernd Rüthers published a small book in 2008
recounting examples of opposition that had hitherto been overlooked, and discussing why
they are mostly forgotten in the collective German memory.
16
He includes the story of the
lawyer Hans Calmeyer who worked as head of the department for internal affairs at the
Reichskommissariat in the Netherlands. In that post, Calmeyer was responsible for
organizing the seizure of all Jews in the country. Instead, he saved several thousand from
deportation by falsely categorizing people as non-Jewish by encouraging the use of false
certificates that he then certified as valid. Recently, another book edited by the German
politician and former minister of justice Heiko Maas provides short portraits of seventeen
judges and prosecutors.
17
For the most part, these people publicly spoke out against Nazi’s
undermining the rule of law, or engaged in some form of secret and active resistance against
the regime. Three of the portraits correspond to judges who opposed the regime through
their legal rulings.
12
See JÖRG FRIEDRICH, FREISPRUCH FÜR DIE NAZI-JUSTIZ DIE URTEILE GEGEN NS-RICHTER SEIT 1948 EINE DOKUMENTATION (1983);
HANS PETTER GRAVER, JUDGES AGAINST JUSTICE: ON JUDGES WHEN THE RULE OF LAW IS UNDER ATTACK 14357 (2015).
13
Studies of Nazism have at different times portrayed the German population as resistant to or complicit with the
regime. See Ian Kershaw, Preface to the Bloomsbury Revelations Edition, in THE NAZI DICTATORSHI P PROBLEMS AND
PERSPECTIVES OF INTERPRETATION (2015).
14
See generally PETER HOFFMAN, HISTORY OF THE GERMAN RESISTANCE, 1933-1945 (3d ed. 1996); HANS MOMMSEN,
ALTERNATIVES TO HITLER: GERMAN RESISTANCE UNDER THE THIRD REICH (2003); NATHAN STOLTZFUS, HITLER'S COMPROMISES:
COERCION AND CONS ENSUS IN NAZI GERMANY (2016). See also GERMANS AGAINS T NAZISM: NONCONFORMITY, OPPOSITION AND
RESISTANCE IN THE THIRD REICH: ESSAYS IN HONOUR OF PETER HOFFMANN (Francis R. Nicosia & Lawrence D. Stokes eds.,
2015) (providing a comprehensive overview of the subject).
15
MOMMSEN, supra note 14, at 15.
16
See BERND RÜTHERS, VERRÄTER, ZUFALLSHELDEN ODER GEWISSEN DER NATION? FACETTEN DES WIDERSTANDES IN DEUTSCHLAN D
(2008).
17
HEIKO MAAS, FURCHTLOSE JURISTEN RICHTER UND STAATSANWÄLTE GEGEN DAS NS-UNRECHT (2017).
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 849
It is difficult to draw sharp lines between criticism of the regime, defiance, oppositional
activity, and active resistance. The German historian Hans Mommsen considers it fruitless
to attempt to conceptualize the distinction between active resistance and other forms of
non-cooperation and anti-Nazi behavior.
18
This difficulty is heightened by the fact that most
opposition in Nazi Germany corresponds to people acting in political and social isolation.
This creates methodological problems in the study of resistance and leaves a wide scope for
interpretation. There is no indication that there was any organized opposition among
German judges. Acts of subversion seem to have largely been the acts of individuals acting
alone. Schorn describes how some judges met with each other and with other members of
the legal profession to discuss how to act to temper or counter the measures of the regime.
19
This, however, seems to have been the exception to the general picture of isolation.
Instances of judicial resistance and opposition to authoritarian regimes, and how such
regimes react to resistance are important topics for research. Insight into the conditions of
opposition may enhance the possibility of future opposition. Familiarity with and recognition
of the brave people who have stood up to authority may inspire others. This does not mean
that the general picture of the German judges as loyal to the Nazis is false. Nevertheless,
efforts to demonstrate how the judges contributed to the implementation of oppressive
policies must not lose sight of examples of the opposite. The purpose of this Article is to set
this right, to bring forgotten instances back into the light, and to discuss lessons that we can
learn from them. Many of the cases are known to those familiar with the literature. They
have, however, not previously been seen in light of each other, but rather have been
recounted as isolated events. Some new instances that have not previously been the subject
of scholarly treatment have been sought out from archives. These include the SS Court in
occupied Norway and the German military judiciary of occupied Denmark. Such studies can
increase our insight into the efforts and conditions of judicial opposition.
All the examples are of German judges. I nevertheless believe that they generally have
something to offer to the understanding of the judicial role, at least for legal orders that
belong to the Western legal tradition. The role of a judge offers many opportunities for
opposition, and opposition may take many forms. After discussing the cases, I present a
typology of judicial resistance. This typology may make it easier to discover instances of
resistance in historical sources to bring more instances to light. This will make it possible to
present a more nuanced picture of the role of the judiciary in authoritarian settings.
18
See MOMMSEN, supra note 14, at 33.
19
See Schorn, supra note 8, at 502.
850 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
B. The Difficult Choice
A judge who experiences that the regime he is serving is undergoing a transition from a
liberal political order to an authoritarian regime, or even totalitarian regime, has several
options. These may be divided into eight distinct categories. He may choose to resign or stay.
In some cases, not resigning can serve as a strategy of opposition. To elaborate, when a law
is clearly oppressive, a judge applying it may choose to voice his dissent in the opinion,
openly characterizing the law as unreasonable, and in this way, influencing the regime.
Ronald Dworkin describes the next three options in Law’s Empire.
20
When applying a law, a
judge can try to limit its excesses by interpreting the legal practices of the regime in their
least bad light. He may alternatively misrepresent the law and lie about what he thinks the
law is or the facts of the case are. Or he may disregard legal sources and obligations as far
as he can get away with it.
The next option is for the judge to not apply an otherwise valid law, either because unjust
laws cannot constitute valid law, or because he has a moral right or even a moral duty to
disregard highly unjust laws. The first of these positions has been taken by legal scholars
such as Radbruch, Fuller, and Dworkin, to mention some of the most influential. The second
position has been taken by scholars such as Hart and Raz. Raz points out that the criteria
that deprives unjust laws of their validity may be part of the positive law of the relevant legal
order.
21
Following Fuller, however, many scholars claim that the notion of law as such entails
such criteria. To complete the picture, legal orders extraneous to the legal order of the judge
can also create an obligation to not apply the laws of his own legal order. For example,
German judges were convicted at Nuremberg under international law for applying special
criminal provisions against Poles.
22
The last option a judge has is to undermine the efficiency of the regime through extra-legal
activities. Some of these activities may be undertaken through the non-judicial functions of
his job. The judge often also has several administrative tasks to perform. Or he may join a
resistance movement and use his position as a judge as a respectable cover.
There are many lines of action and many options available for the judge who wants to
oppose or resist a regime. This Article discusses examples of judges taking many of these
options in opposition of the Nazi regime. The main emphasis, however, will be on forms of
opposition that the judge can perform in his capacity as a judge.
20
See RONALD DWORKIN, LAWS EMPIRE 10507 (Harv. Univ. Press 1986).
21
See JOSEPH RAZ, THE AUTHORITY OF LAW 330 (2d ed. 2009).
22
See Hans Petter Graver, Judging without Impunity: On the Criminal Responsibility of Authoritarian Judges, 4
BERGEN J. CRIM. L. & CRIM. JUST. 1, 12549 (2016).
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 851
While resignation may seem an obvious option, most judges chose to stay on. This choice is
not easy, and involves issues of politics, loyalty, morals, and personal safety and well-being.
A judge has many loyaltiesto his employer, himself and his family, but also, to the law.
Such loyalties may encourage a person to stay in the position as a judge and try to make the
best of it.
In some cases, the choice was based on careful deliberation. The most famous oppositional
German judge, Lothar Kreyssig, wrote in an autobiographical note published by his son in
2011:
In the spring of 1933 I drafted my letter of resignation. I
recounted numerous instances of breaches by the
prosecutors of the most elementary legal rules, both in
acts and omissions. After a sleepless night, I realized that
this was too simple. It would let the contradictions sink
into oblivion and leave the field open to those who had
been led astray.
23
Kreyssig wrote that the uncertainty of the right thing to do left him alert to the conflicts that
would confront him in the line of duty. Soon after, the Jews of his town Chemnitz were
arrested and placed in a detention center near the courthouse.
24
The court was told to open
proceedings against the prisoners and the case was assigned to Kreyssig. He immediately
approached the warden of the center to ensure that the detainees were not ill-treated,
something that was not obvious at the time. He then put all other matters on his dock et
aside to speedily address the substance of the cases. After looking into each case, he found
that all the complaints were groundless, and he released all the prisoners. At that time, many
other judges of Germany acted differently, regarding the detention of Jews as something
inevitable.
Choosing to stay is not an obvious choice. Commenting on South Africa in the apartheid state
of the 1980s, the South African legal scholar Raymond Wachs called for the resignation of
judges by appealing to their moral and legal duty in an authoritarian State: A resignation
would be a clarion call: A statement of judicial despair and outrage. It would be an assertion
of the judge's absolute fidelity to justice, a protest against the abuse of law.
25
The
resignation of the Norwegian Supreme Court judges in December 1940, as a protest against
the German occupiers’ claim to uncontested legal power, sent a clear message to the
Norwegian population about the illegitimacy of the civil rule established by the Germans and
23
LOTHAR KREYSSIG, AUFSÄTZE, AUTOBIOGRAPHIE UNDER DOKUMENTE 114 (Hans-Joachim Döring ed. 2011).
24
See id. at 115.
25
Raymond Wacks, Judges and Injustice, 101 S. AFRICAN L. J. 266, 284 (1984).
852 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
Vidkun Quisling and his party. Their resignation was praised as a call to the Norwegian
population to resist the puppet government.
26
The fact is, however, that judges seldom resign. Of those that do not resign, most remain to
perform their functions to the full satisfaction of those oppressors in power. In doing so,
they give validity to the new order, recognizing the authoritarian regime as legitimate even
in cases where the regime has come to power by illegal means.
27
As a rule, what the regime
enacts as law is law; and the main duty of the judge is to apply the law.
Generally, the scope for opposition from the bench is perceived as being non-existent or
very limited. Many judges perceive judicial opposition as illegitimate and contrary to the
judicial role. South African judges replied, when they were criticized for their complicity in
Apartheid that:
A judge, whether positioned by personal conviction on
the left, center, or right of the political spectrum, who
feels free to ignore the oath of office when compliance
with it conflicts with his or her own credo, is no hero.
Such conduct is bereft of integrity and is a self-indulgent
abuse of judicial power. There are only two honest
courses open to a judge in such a situation: Either resign
or comply with the oath of office.
28
Under this call to action, judges who stay on should disregard any personal objections they
may have and loyally apply the law for the regime in power. In my experience, this latter
prescription expresses the view of judges in many different legal systems. Many also believe
that judicial opposition is of no avail. In other words, judges have no power to enforce their
judgments independent of those in command of the State because aberrant rulings will be
reversed on appeal or bring about new legislation to set things right.” Closer inspection
reveals, however, that opposition is possible, does occur, and may have important effects in
countering oppression. Judges can form an important part of a legal complex that can be
effective in the struggle for political liberalism in authoritarian regimes.
29
This is an
26
See Venema, supra note 7, at 218.
27
See T Mahmud T, Jurisprudence of Successful Treason: Coup d’Etat and Common Law, 27 CORNELL INTL L. J. 27 49,
124 (1994).
28
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Bench, Legal Practitioners and Legal AcademicsWritten
Presentations, 115 S. AFRICAN L.J. 15, 45 (1998).
29
See TERENCE C. HALLIDAY, LUCIEN KARPIK, & MALCOLM M. FEELEY, FIGHTING FOR POLITICAL FREEDOM: COMPARATIVE STUDIES OF
THE LEGAL COMPLEX AND POLITICAL LIBERALISM (2007).
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 853
important message to send out for those who want to preserve the rule of law in challenging
times.
Resistance may be the right thing to do, despite the demands of the judicial role. Breaking
the law may be a moral obligation for the judge.
30
In fact, judges may become liable under
criminal sanctions in proceedings of transitional justice after the fall of an authoritarian
regime for failing to oppose measures of the regime, even when the measures were
considered legal by the criteria of the legal system that the judge served under.
31
Bringing
instances and effects of judicial opposition to the attention of judges and participants in the
legal system may encourage more opposition, and thus make judges better guardians of the
rule of law during extreme conditions. In this Article, I record and discuss instances of judicial
opposition in order to analyze different possibilities and forms.
Outside of my frame of analysis are instances where judges act politically or otherwise
outside the scope of their judicial role against the regime. Famous examples of this are the
leading official and judge Hans von Dohnanyi and Chief Justice Karl Sack, both of which were
executed in April 1945.
32
The two were accused of participating in plots against Hitler. Other
participants in these plots include Dietrich Bonhoeffer and admiral Wilhelm Canaris. Another
example of a judge acting beyond their judicial role is Paal Berg, Chief Justice of the
Norwegian Supreme Court, who after his resignation in December 1940 became the
supreme leader of the Norwegian resistance movement.
33
C. The Case Studies
Not all judges in Germany were always compliant with the wishes of the Nazi rulers. It is
important to note that in many cases, even in cases of great political importance, courts
initially continued to function as independent courts, basing their judgments on the
traditional approach to law. A cause célèbre is the case of the Reichsgericht after the fire in
the Reichstag on December 23, 1933, where four of the five accused were acquitted by the
court due to the lack of evidence. This provoked the fury of Hitler and led to the
establishment of the People’s Court and the special courts to deal with political cases.
34
One
30
See JEFFREY BRAND-BALLARD, LIMITS OF LEGALITY THE ETHICS OF LAWLESS JUD GING (2010) (providing a brilliant and
convincing argument on the subject).
31
See Graver, supra note 22.
32
100. Geburtstag von Hans von Dohnanyi: Ansprache des Präsidenten des Bundesgerichtshofs Prof. Dr. Günter
Hirsch beim Festakt aus Anlaß des 100. Gubertstags von Hans von Dohnanyi am. März 200, DER BUNDESGERICHTSHOF,
http://www.bundesgerichtshof.de/DE/DasGericht/Praesidenten/Hirsch/HirschReden/rede08032002.html (last
visited March 8, 2002).
33
See Venema, supra note 7, at 218.
34
See GERT BUCHHEIT, RICHTER IN ROTER ROBE: FREISLER, PRÄSIDENT DES VOLKSGERICHTSHOFES, 279 (1968).
854 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
might argue that this case occurred so early that the judges had not yet fully adapted to their
new role under National Socialism. It is also worth noting that, based on a law retroactively
given by Hitler as Reich Chancellor, the one conviction resulted in the pronouncement of a
sentence of death.
There were also other instances of judges initially holding on to the ideals and legal traditions
of the old times. Eduard Tigges, president of the Berlin Kammergericht, tried to stop the
attacks of the SA against Jewish members of the court, and filed protests with the Prussian
minister of justice. Following further measures by the Ministry against Jewish judges and
lawyers, he submitted his resignation in April 1933.
35
The Prussian Administrative Court held onto the principle of legality for some time by
interpreting both old laws and laws passed by the Nazi regime narrowly, thereby curbing the
power of the authorities.
36
The Prussian Administrative Court maintained this line
throughout the 1930s and until the court was abolished in 1938 and replaced with a Reich
Administrative Court.
Initially, prosecutors and judges reacted against the misuse of power and the atrocities in
the Concentration Camps. In May 1933, prosecutors in Munich started investigations into
killings of inmates in Dachau.
37
These investigations were met with resistance and
countermeasures by the SS, and the confrontations between the legal institutions and the
SS were soon brought to the highest political level.
38
Nevertheless, SS guards in several
camps were found guilty of mistreatment of prisoners and given prison sentences. In 1935,
Hitler confirmed that the camps could operate outside of the law, pardoning the SS men.
This brought an end to legal proceedings in regular courts against operations in the camps.
Independent judgments in political cases prevailed. In 1936, the authorities initiated a
campaign against the monasteries, convents, and members of religious orders, charging
them with the offense of homosexuality,” often on the basis of the testimony of young
witnesses recruited from mental institutions. The cases were highly profiled and supported
by the Party propaganda apparatus and Goebbels himself. Monks were apprehended by the
Gestapo and kept in custody as ordered by the courts. In Cologne, one of these cases
involving four monks reached the Oberlandesgericht on appeal. The lower courts had
approved the detainments in summary decisions. The three judges of the Oberlandesgericht
demanded the documents of the case and made a thorough investigation of them. In a ruling
35
HANS BERGEMANN & SIMONE LADWIG-WINTERS, JÜDISCHE RICHTER AM KAMMERGERICHT NACH 1933EINE DOKUMENTATION
27 (2005).
36
See Graver, supra note 12, at 98101.
37
See Maas, supra note 17, at 24564.
38
See NIKOLAUS WACHSMANN, KL: A HISTORY OF THE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS 8693 (2015).
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 855
spanning over more than fifteen pages, the Oberlandesgericht released the monks and
severely criticized the methods of the Gestapo. The court revealed that the Gestapo had
made use of illegal detainments, tortured prisoners, and intimidated witnesses. One young
patient suffering from diabetes was denied medication until he made accusations against
the monks. Other courts followed suit. Eventually this led Hitler to order a cease in the
persecution of the monks, fearing reactions from abroad. Only a small number of the initially
accused monks were ultimately convicted, and most of them were released with the charges
dropped.
39
A well-known case is the case against Martin Niemöller, one of the founders of the
Confessional Church, an organization that opposed the nazification of German Protestant
churches. This case was brought before the special court of Berlin, and the verdict came to
pass on March 2, 1938. The court was, in other words, one of the courts specifically
established in 1934 to deal with political cases. The judges were hand-picked for the task.
Niemöller was accused of disturbing the peace, misuse of office, and encouraging opposition
against measures enacted by the government of the State. Instead of the long prison
sentence envisioned by the Gestapo, Niemöller was fined 2,000 Reich Marks after an
impeccable proceeding as judged by any normal legal standard. A Swiss paper celebrated
that there [were] still judges in Berlin.
40
Sadly, Niemöller was never released from Gestapo
custody, and was transferred to Sachsenhausen and then, in 1941, to Dachau, where he
spent the rest of the war.
Some judges refused to apply the Nazi anti-Semitic world view and continued to treat Jews
as ordinary legal subjects.
41
Three such cases are reported in a recent book that portrays
seventeen judges who opposed the regime in different ways.
42
In 1935 in the small town of
Triberg, Baden, Friedrich Bräuninger came under severe pressure by the authorities for
allowing a Jewish doctor to return to his practice after serving a prison sentence for
performing illegal abortions. A German doctor had been appointed as an interim doctor in
the regular doctor’s absence and refused to surrender the practice. Bräuninger ordered him
to do so, stating that the view of the Partythat Jews were only guests and not citizens
was not yet the law of the land.
43
39
See Schorn, supra note 8, at 40408.
40
WILHELM NIEMÖLLER, MACHT GEHT VOR RECHT DER PROZEß MARTIN NIEMÖLLERS 83 (1952).
41
See Graver, supra note 12, at 608 (reporting the mainstream adaptation of Nazi Anti-Semitism into judicial
practice).
42
See Maas, supra note 17.
43
See Maas, supra note 17, at 4353.
856 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
In 1934, Karl Steinmetz found in favor of a Jewish butcher who went to court to reclaim his
butcher’s knives that had been confiscated by two SA-men in Neukirchen. The two failed to
appear to the court hearing, and Steinmetz found against them under procedural rules of
non-appearance. He was called to the Ministry of Justice, first of Prussia, and then of the
Reich, and asked to recall his decision, which he refused. As a consequence, he was ordered
to take a position in Oberhausen, 200 kilometers from his home.
44
In 1938, Alfred Weiler refused to accept the legal ideology depriving Jews of normal legal
rights in a case where a landlord wanted his Jewish tenants removed from his property on
the ground that their presence in an Arian household was unsustainable. The regional
court leader criticized the ruling as being against the esprit des lois.
45
The following event became famous because it was mentioned in the US Military tribunal
case in Nuremberg against the leaders of the Nazi Judicial system. In November 1941, Dr.
Willi Seidel, a judge of one of Berlin’s county courts, was confronted with an unusual case.
46
Five hundred Jews brought claims against the city’s food authorities. After the
announcement of extra coffee rations, Berlin citizens had gone to their local grocers to
collect their coffee. Among these were thousands of Berlin’s Jewish population. The food
authorities saw the Jews’ conduct as an offense against the distribution regulations and
accordingly imposed fines on six thousand Jews. Seidel wrote a twenty-page ruling where
he came to the conclusion that the Jews had not committed a punishable act. The contrary
interpretation on the part of the food authorities was absolutely incompatible with the
established facts. Notably, the food authorities had overlooked various factors. In his
ruling, Seidel characterized the legal view of the authorities as untenable, fabricated,
and abstruse.
The ruling was a slap in the face of the Nazi authorities. According to the Reich Ministry of
Justice:
[T]he judge should have put himself the question: How
will the Jew react to this 20-page-long ruling, which
certifies that he and the 500 other Jews are right and
that he won over a German authority without losing one
word about the reaction of our own people to this
insolent and arrogant conduct of the Jews.
47
44
See Maas, supra note 17, at 199212.
45
See Maas, supra note 17, at 238.
46
See Schorn, supra note 8, at 64952 (providing the relevant description of the case); see also The Justice Case,
supra note 1, at 530–32 (providing the Reich Ministry of Justice’s translation of the case).
47
The Justice Case, supra note 1, at 531.
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 857
In the opinion of the Ministry, the legal reasoning of Seidel was obviously doubtful, because
the fact that Jews were not entitled to a supply of genuine coffee was self-evident even if
it was not specially mentioned in the official decree.
48
Willi Seidel was reported by the head of the food office to the president of the Court with
the request that he be transferred to another position. The president of the Court rejected
this request, and again when the regional leader of the Nazi Party (Gauleiter) repeated the
request. The head of the food office appealed the refusal to the Reich Ministry of
Propaganda, which, after consultation with the Ministry of Justice, received Roland Freisler’s
reply that Dr. Seidel had been reprimanded.
The Party Court charged Seidel, revoking his membership to the National Socialist Party. The
Party Court found that he had shown absolute lack in political attitude through a serious
misconception of the Jewish issue. Even if he believed that his decision was necessitated by
the lawwhich the Party Court commented was not the case under an intelligent
interpretationhe should have consulted with the Ministry of Justice before passing a
judgment that could undermine the authority of State bodies.
The Ministry consequently transferred Seidel to the civil department of the Court so that he
would no longer deal with criminal matters. As a judge in the civil law department, he was
no longer exempt from the draft and was subsequently called up for military service. He
survived the war and was later appointed to president of a Berlin district court.
There were also instances of opposition among those who ostensibly served the regime in a
loyal way. Law student Konrad Morgen joined the SS shortly after the Nazi takeover of power
in Germany.
49
In the 1930s, after his graduation, he underwent further legal training as a
judge until he was called up to join the Waffen SS with the invasion of Poland in September
1939. After the invasion of France, Morgen was demobilized and sent to Berlin to join the SS
judicial corps. He was first sent as a judge to the SS court of Cracow, where he got involved
in cases of corruption within the General Gouvernement. Prosecuting and convicting SS
officers for corruption made him many enemies, and in June 1942 he was dismissed from
the service and sent to the front, on the pretext that he had misapplied the law in a minor
criminal case.
50
48
Id.
49
The presentation of Konrad Morgan and his activities is based on the book by HERLINDE PAUER-STUDER & DAVID
VELLEMAN, KONRAD MORGEN: THE CONSCIENCE OF A NAZI JUDGE (2015).
50
See PAUER-STUDER, supra note 49, at 41.
858 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
In May 1943, however, he was called back from the front to the SS judicial head office in
Munich, and he was assigned by the Main Office SS Courts to the Reich Criminal Police
Department in Berlin. There he was given the task to investigate corruption in the
concentration and extermination camps. He investigated Weimar-Buchenwald, Lublin,
Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, Oranienburg, Hertogenbosch, Krakow, Plaszow, Warsaw, and
the Dachau. About 200 cases were tried during this time. Morgen personally arrested five
concentration camp commanders. At least one of them was executed.
51
Morgen had authority to visit concentration camps, an authority held by very few. Before
beginning an investigation, he closely examined every detail of the concentration camp in
question, paying special attention to arrangements that seemed particularly important to
him. In the winter of 194344, he visited Lublin and Auschwitz and discovered that mass
extermination by gassing was taking place. While being interrogated as a witness for the
defense during the main criminal trial at Nuremberg, counsel for the SS Horst Pelckmann
asked Morgen what he would have done under normal circumstances after learning of all
those terrible things. Morgen answered that under normal circumstances [he] would have
had to have Kriminalkommissar Wirth and Commander Höss arrested and charged with
murder.
52
He acknowledged that such would have been impossible because the
extermination was considered a legal activity under positive law. After first contemplating a
flight to Switzerland to combat and topple the system from without,
53
Morgen ultimately
decided that his job gave him a possibility to pursue the crimes.
Morgen recognized that there was no way to attack the legality of the mass exterminations
by normal legal measures. Nevertheless, he thought he could get at them through other,
more indirect actions. In his own words:
I saw a practical way open to me by way of justice; that
is, by removing from this system of destruction the
leaders and important elements through the means
offered by the system itself. I could not do this with
regard to the killings ordered by the head of the State,
but I could do it for killings outside of this order, or
against this order, or for other serious crimes. For that
reason, I deliberately started proceedings against these
51
See id. at xi.
52
One Hundred and Ninety-Eighth Day: Thursday; 8 August 1946, in NUREMBERG TRIAL PROCEEDINGS VOLUME 20,
http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/08-08-46.asp.
53
See PAUER-STUDER, supra note 49, at 89.
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 859
men, and this would have led to a shake-up of this
system and its final collapse.
54
Morgen expected that the defendants would invoke superior orders as defense, and that
this would open discussions into the mass exterminations. These discussions could lead to
the suspension of the entire legal system, if the leadership admitted to ordering the mass
exterminations, or to an official sanction permitting the prosecution of camp leaders for the
exterminations.
55
Morgen went ahead with cases against Odildo Globocnik, SS and police
leader in the district of Lublin, and Maximilian Grabner, head of the Auschwitz Gestapo.
Morgen also sought a way to get at Adolf Eichmann, leader of the department IV B4 of the
Head Office of the Reich Security, tasked with overseeing Jewish affairs and evacuation.
Morgen issued a warrant for his arrest in connection with the embezzlement of a pouch of
diamonds stolen from Jewish prisoners. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the Chief of the Head Office of
the Reich Security, suppressed the warrant.
Konrad Morgen was not successful in halting the Holocaust. He was, however, one of the
very few who successfully prosecuted leading officials of the Nazi concentration and
extermination camps. This includes prosecutions that took place after the fall of the Nazi
regime. Konrad Morgen was no moral hero. According to the careful study by Herlinde
Pauer-Studer and David Velleman, Morgen’s motives were ambiguous. First, he wanted an
ideal SS and the crimes he found contradicted this ideal. Second, he was afraid that the
State would be ruined and that the SS-men involved in the mass extermination would
become absolutely corrupt. Konrad Morgen’s commitment to justice may seem uncertain,
and there may even be grounds to doubt his claim that he was acting to do what he could
to impede the extermination taking place in the camps. Nevertheless, that he prosecuted
camp commanders and tried to indict Adolf Eichmann are notorious facts. There are also
good reasons to believe, as shown by Pauer-Studer and Velleman, that he did this in pursuit
of a greater, more subversive goal.
56
He must therefore be counted among those judges who
resisted the regime by the employment of legal measures.
54
One Hundred and Ninety-Eighth Day: Thursday; 8 August 1946, supra note 52.
55
See PAUER-STUDER, supra note 49, at 95.
56
An alternative hypothesis might be as follows. After the war, and after learning about the world’s reaction to the
holocaust, Morgen realized the moral implications of what he had been involved with, or at least he understood
the reaction of the rest of the world. At the same time, an important witness implicated him directly in the
deportation of Jews from Hungary. He was in American custody and as an SS judge he belonged to the class II,
possibly even class I, of offenders on the list of the allies. This would mean that he may have had a real fear of being
brought to trial and receiving a severe sentence. To counteract this, he started portraying himself as a resister of
the mass killings. Although he was denounced in the early days after the defeat, he was protected by the solidarity
of the old network as time passed. This is quite in line with the general experiences. To elaborate:
But here enters a socio-psychological element which AMG (American
Military Government) was unable to neutralizethe class solidarity of
the judiciary, which, subconsciously or consciously, began to balance
860 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
There were also other instances of opposition from judges in SS courts. The SS Court in
Norway was given jurisdiction over breaches of the rules and orders issued by the
Reichskommissar of occupied Norway. This meant that it tried cases against Norwegian
nationals who were accused of espionage, sabotage, and political opposition. Later the court
got jurisdiction in all criminal cases against Norwegians provided that the SS Security service
or the German Wehrmacht decided that German interests were involved.
57
The court was
headed by the German judge Hans Paul Latza. Latza was arrested after the war and charged
with war crimes connected with his judicial functions. He gave several statements to the
police during the investigations against him. He was eventually acquitted by the Norwegian
Supreme Court.
58
The SS Court was notorious in the Norwegian population for its severe punishments and the
frequent use of the death penalty. Latza points to the fact that in a war, where the best part
of the male population is sent to risk their lives at the front, and where civilians at home are
killed in enemy bomb raids, it seems contrary to all reason to treat traitors and those who
actively oppose the war efforts mildly.
59
Sharp measures in such cases were not only ordered
from above, but were also part of the general consensus of the time.
60
Precisely because this
and outweigh the desire for political cleanliness. In fact, under the
impact of the occupation, a certain national solidarity has emerged
not merely in the civil service but among all classeswhich tries to
save as many colleagues as possible from the clutches of the
denazification beast.
Karl Lowenstein (Reconstruction of the Administration of Justice in American-Occupied Germany, 61 HARV. L. REV.
419, 449 (1948). This illustrates the methodological difficulties present in most of the cases when investigating into
instances of resistance. In many cases those that try to resist have to keep this secret in order to be effective and
to protect themselves. This counts for a scarcity of sources. At the same time, many may have motives to paint
themselves in a better light after the end of an authoritarian regime in order to escape criticism. This puts both the
validity and the reliability of sources in doubt.
57
See ROBERT BOHN, REICHSKOMMISSARIAT NORWEGEN: NATIONALSOZIALISTISCHE NEUORDNING UND KRIEGSWI RTSCHAFT 92
(2000).
58
See Norsk Retstidende [Norwegian Court Reports] 468 (1947); Norsk Retstidende [Norwegian Court Reports]
1088 (1948).
59
See Massnahmen und Bemühungen des Gerichts, um die scharfen Tendenzen Terbovens und Rediess zu mildern,
Oslo, Akershus (Dec. 4, 1945) (on file in L-sak Oslo politikammer, dom 40282030: Latza, Regis, Kehr mfl).
60
The US Military Tribunal in the case against leaders of the German judicial system expressed an opinion along the
same line in saying:
The limitations on freedom of speech which were imposed in the
enforcement of these laws are revolting to our sense of justice. A court
would have no hesitation in condemning them under any free
constitution, including that of the Weimar Republic, if the limitations
were applied in time of peace; but even under the protection of the
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 861
opinion was so widespread, it was difficultif not impossibleto step out of line, even for
a judge. On the one hand, if one did not follow the general line, one would be dismissed and
replaced with a person with a better understanding of the necessity of the time. On the
other hand, according to Latza, he and his court made efforts to counter the sharpness of
the Reichskommissar and the secret police in order to ameliorate the force applied by
German justice on the Norwegian resistance. Latza describes several examples.
61
He writes that they received many complaints against the secret police of the SS Security
service from dependents of and counsel for the defendants. He regularly notified the
commander of the police of these complaints, with little results. He therefore wrote a formal
letter listing more than thirty issues that he considered to be instances of unacceptable
practices. The letter was discussed in a formal meeting where Latza was accused of
shooting against the SS Security service. The letter nevertheless led to actions taken
against some of the officers of the police and corrections of some of the practices. In general,
Latza describes the relation between the SS Court and the SS Security service as tense.
Another example he mentions is that the court refused to accommodate requests by the
Gestapo to give prior notice of when the accused were released for time already served in
custody or on the basis of acquittals. The Gestapo wanted this information to prepare for
re-arrest individuals in cases where they deemed it necessary to take them into preventive
custody.”
62
Constitution of the United States a citizen is not wholly free to attack
the Government or to interfere with its military aims in time of war. In
the face of a real and present danger, freedom of speech may be
somewhat restricted even in America. Can we then say that in the
throes of total war and in the presence of impending disaster those
officials who enforced these savage laws in a last desperate effort to
stave off defeat were guilty of crimes against humanity?
See The Justice Case, supra note 1, at 1026. See also the line of reasoning by the famous US Justice Oliver Wendel
Holmes in the well-known case on forced sterilization, where he states:
We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon
the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call
upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser
sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to
prevent our being swamped with incompetence.
Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927).
61
Massnahmen und Bemühungen des Gerichts, supra note 59um die scharfen Tendenzen Terbovens und Rediess’ zu
mildern, Oslo, Akershus, supra note 59.
62
Such an exchange of information had been established in 1939 between the Volksgerichtshof and the Gestapo in
Berlin. See KOCH, supra note 5, at 87.
862 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
In some cases, he would convince the SS Security service to drop charges. He mentions a
case of espionage against approximately thirty professors and students at the University of
Trondheim accused of collecting observations of ships and troops on the way to the eastern
front. The SS expected conviction and severe sentences. He felt sympathy for the accused
after remembering his own days as a student in the French occupied part of Germany east
of the Rhine River. He deferred fixing a date for the case, and after a while many more cases
with more serious charges had emerged. The head of the police ultimately agreed to
withdraw the case. He also mentions other instances where delaying the case was used as a
strategy to have the case dismissed eventually.
He also mentions other examples of bending the rules. In a case against four members of
the armed resistance, it was discovered that one of thema captain on a Norwegian
vesselhad a year earlier been responsible for a rescue operation saving the lives of several
German soldiers. The correct procedure would have been to go through with the case, which
would certainly have resulted in death sentences for the accused, and only afterwards
recommending the captain for a pardon by Reichskommissar Terboven. Instead Latza
cancelled the scheduled proceedings and sent the case back to the SS Security service, who
agreed to drop the case. Although the four did not escape the “security measures imposed
by the SS Security servicewhich meant being sent to concentration campsthey avoided
their immediate death sentences. Latza could act this way in such cases because the head
of the prosecution office was an SS man with human instincts.” Otherwise, he would not
have risked bending the rules as he did by not taking the matter to Terboven.
Some judges committed even more serious breaches of rules. In one case, a sitting judge
imposed prison sentences where established practice required imposing a death sentence.
The ruling had to be confirmed by the head of the SS in Norway, General Wilhelm Rediess.
Rediess initially refused, but after intervention from Latza he eventually agreed to confirm
the ruling. Some months later, notice came from Berlin that the head office had reviewed
the case and decided to overrule the confirmation. The files were to be sent to Berlin for a
retrial. Knowing that this would certainly lead to a death sentence for the accused, the judge
and the chief administrator of the court physically destroyed the files. Afterwards they
claimed that the documents were lost in the mail and filed a missing report.
In the winter of 194142, Germany introduced a special campaign to collect wool for the
troops on the Eastern front. The campaign was accompanied by legislation introducing
capital punishment for petty theft of wool and woolen products. When this legislation was
introduced in Norway, Latza protested and argued that such severe measures would not be
understood by the Norwegian population. His successful protests resulted in these German
rules not being enforced in Norway.
Latza also engaged in legal argument with the Reichskommissar. Following a British raid on
Spitzbergen, more than one hundred Norwegian nationals in allied uniform were arrested.
Most of them had escaped from Norway and joined the Norwegian forces in Britain.
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 863
Reichskommissar Terboven wanted them tried for the capital offence of leaving the
occupied territory to join forces with an enemy power. Latza protested and pointed out that
the men were prisoners of war according to international law, and that it would be a w ar
crime to execute them. The issue went all the way to Hitler, who sanctioned Latza’s opinion.
Instead of being tried, the men were held as prisoners of war until the end of the war.
A similar narrative of resistance surrounds the actions of Ernst Kanter, the Chief military
judge and advisor to the Supreme Commander of the German forces of Denmark.
63
After
the fall of the regime, Kanter became advisor to the Ministry of Justice in the Federal
Republic until being appointed a Supreme Court judge. He left this position following a
report published in the GDR that exposed his past as a leading military judge in the Nazi
regime.
Kanter writes that he had increasing problems of conscience with his service as judge at the
Supreme Military Court because of the number of death sentences he contributed to. He
tried several times to get leave to be dismissed but failed. Finally, he succeeded and he left
the court on September 30, 1942. After some weeks, he was recalled into service in the
military judicial office, and in January 1943 was sent to Denmark as Chief military judge and
legal advisor to the Supreme Commander of the German forces in Denmark, Hermann von
Hanneken. There, he was charged with the task of writing the emergency rule provisions for
the court procedures. In order to be able to intervene in the execution of death sentences,
he added a provision that all death sentences had to be confirmed by the Supreme
Commander before they were implemented. In this way Kanter managed to get von
Hanneken to annul two death sentences imposed during the state of emergency declared in
August 1943.
After a BBC report on the occupation of Denmark commending the lenient practices of the
German courts there, Hitler ordered a change. He demanded that the courts use capital
punishment in cases against members of the resistance. In order to ensure the
implementation of these sentences, he ordered that weekly reports on the practices of the
courts be sent to Berlin. Kanter manipulated the figures in these reports to prevent a
dramatic increase of execution of Danish citizens. Although executions could not be
altogether avoided, he inflated capital punishment numbers by including all verdicts into the
countincluding pardonsand counting each death sentence twiceonce after the
pronouncement of the judgment and then again after the execution of the sentence. He
even included some cases of death sentences against members of the German troops.
Toward the end of 1944, Field Marshal and Army Chief Wilhelm Keitel gave an order that
allowed military commanders to be present during military court proceedings. The objective
63
ERNST KANTER, ERLEBNISSE ALS CHEFRICHTER IN DÄNEMARK FEBRUAR 1943MAI 1945 (Signatur ZS 1991) 1 INSTITUT FÜR
ZEITGESCHICHTE MÜNCHEN-BERLIN ARCHIV (1991).
864 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
of the order was to intimidate judges into pronouncing harsh sentences. Kanter advised von
Hanneken to disregard this order, as it was illegal and contrary to the provisions of judicial
independence. von Hanneken initially did not heed this advice, and turned up at the
proceedings of a military court. Kanter managed to warn the judges in advance. When von
Hanneken entered the conference room of the judges, the judges paused their deliberations
and von Hanneken left. After this, Keitel’s order was no longer effective in Denmark.
D. A Typology of Judicial Opposition
The instances recounted here show different types of judicial obstruction of the aims of the
Nazi regime. But is it meaningful to categorize it as judicial opposition? There is no evidence
of any organized resistance among the judges. On the one hand, resistance is a difficult
concept to understand within a setting where judges work everyday to uphold the laws and
the legitimacy of those in power. On the other hand, we should also recognize that there are
differences between those who go about their role as judges in an ordinary fashion and
those who at least try to obstruct the rulers to some extent.
Ian Kershaw has proposed distinguishing between resistance, opposition, and dissent.
64
The
term resistance should be reserved for organized attempts to work against the regime with
the aim of undermining it. Opposition comprises all forms of action with partial and limited
aims that are not directed at the system as would a resistance. Passive resentment and
voicing attitudes that do not necessarily lead to action can be classified as dissent. Based on
these categories, the instances of judicial action that we have examined may be classified as
opposition and dissent. There does not seem to have been any resistance against the regime
by the judiciary or a legal complex comprising of judges and other members of the legal
profession.
65
We can distinguish between opposition taking place in the open and in secret, and between
opposition within what is accepted by those in power as being within the law and opposition
that is in breach of the law. The cases referred to initially, the Reichstag fire, the case of
Niemöller, and the Berlin coffee case are examples of opposition in the open. For the most
part, they are also regarded as being within the scope of law, at least in the sense that the
opposition was within the legally accepted scope of action of a judge. The attempts made
by Latza and Kanter to persuade executive and police commanders to change their practices
fall into the category of dissent. Konrad Morgen is different. Although he did nothing
ostensibly illegal, he had a secret strategy guiding him in his actions. Had he openly declared
that his aim was to stop the mass exterminations and to get at those responsible for it, his
efforts would immediately have been put to an end. Apart from the fact that he was acting
alone, his actions could have been regarded as an instance of judicial resistance. Some of
64
See Kershaw, supra note 13, at 240.
65
See HALLIDAY, supra note 29, at 69 (providing a description of the concept of a legal complex).
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 865
the actions taken by Latza, in particular the destruction of files demanded by the head office
in Berlin, were both covert and illegal. But, as they did not have the aim to wholly or partly
undermine the regime, they were instances of opposition and not resistance. Accordingly,
we may come to the following table through which we can analyze the different types of
judicial opposition:
A judge may oppose legislation passed by the regime in one of two ways: Through open
opposition or by covert means. These methods of opposition, in turn, may be done within
the law or outside the scope of law. Whether opposition is carried out within the scope of
the law depends on the particular legal order. A strong factor in this latter consideration, for
example, is whether the law recognizes a right for the judges to review legislation. If the
legal order respects the independence of judges, at least some scope of opposition is
possible within the interpretation and application of general norms of law. The judge may
also express dissent within his rulings without coming in conflict with the law.
In a liberal democratic regime, opposition is tolerated to a certain extent and dissent is even
encouraged. Generally, the Nazi dictatorship did not tolerate either. Active resistance is
another mattereven within liberal legal orders such is seldom tolerated. For a judge to
engage, in the capacity of a judge, in active resistance against the regime that he serves, is
difficult to reconcile with any reasonable understanding of the rule of law. We can expect
any regime to protect itself against active resistance. We can also expect any regime, liberal
or authoritarian, to condemn judicial actions that are outside the scope of legalityin other
words, actions that break the law regardless of whether they are measures of resistance or
opposition. When it comes to covert illegal actions by the judge, most legal orders sanction
such actions through disciplinary measures or criminal law. The destruction of the files at
the SS Court in Norway would have been a severe breach of duty under any legal order, as
would the conscious manipulation of statistics by Kanter. Even greater difficulties are found
in the overt breaches of rulings that are indefensible from the point of view of positive law.
866 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
In such circumstances, we are talking about judicial rulings that lie outside of the law. The
Berlin Coffee case represents one such poignant example. The demands of judicial
independence require that such rulings be dealt with within the system of appeals and
without holding individual judges liable for their rulings that fall short of exceptional
circumstances.
66
Rulings within the law that are against the interests of the regime must be considered as a
normal part of the game in liberal societies based on the rule of law. Under regimes where
no dissent or opposition is tolerated, however, we may expect that even judges can run into
trouble. On the one hand, deviant judges were unceremoniously removed in the communist
regimes of Eastern and Central Europe. On the other hand, many oppressive regimes have
tolerated judges that keep a dialogue going on the legality of measures taken by the regime
by voicing their dissent and following up with judicial action.
67
The last category, where judges uses their power for extraneous purposes, may be legitimate
or illegitimate depending on the circumstances. If the judge’s decision on matters of fact or
law depends on extraneous motives, their conduct falls into the category of illegal rulings.
Differently, if the judge reaches his decision independently of his extraneous motives, there
are no grounds for criticism, provided that the aims the judge pursues are within his or her
jurisdiction. A famous instance of this latter type is the prosecution and conviction of Al
Capone for evasion of taxes. If the judge pursues aims outside of his jurisdictionfor
example, personal reasonspotentially conflicting interests may oblige him to recuse
himself. Failure to do so can lead to sanctions.
Opposition depends both on motivation and effects. Some forms require great moral
courage and entail risks, while others are perhaps more properly categorized as internal
emigration than acts of opposition or dissent. In line with this, Peter Hoffman lumps judges
awarding lenient sentences in political cases together with people refusing to fly the
swastika flag on prescribed days and people joining the army in order to be safe from
persecution and escape the Gestapo.
68
In fact, some prominent jurists joined the military
courts in the 1930s because they perceived doing so as being less subject to political control
than would be the case in ordinary courts.
69
When it comes to the legal forms of opposition that did not involve any open statement of
dissent, it is difficult to distinguish between obstructive actions and unacceptable excuses
for collaboration. After the fall of the regime, many highly placed officials of the regime
66
See Graver, supra note 22.
67
See Graver, supra note 12, at 415
68
See Hoffman, supra note 14, at 20.
69
See Schorn, supra note 8, at 315.
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 867
sought to exonerate themselves by claiming that they had remained in their position to work
against the regime. A famous example is the defense at Nuremberg of Wilhelm Stuckart, the
State Secretary at the Ministry of Interior responsible for Jewish affairs and one of the
leading Nazi legal experts on racial laws and public administration. Stuckart argued that he
was not responsible for participating in planning the evacuation of Jews from Germany, and
that thanks to his efforts at the Wannsee conference, persons of mixed blood and the so-
called privileged Jews”—Jews married to Germanswere exempted from evacuation,
sterilization, and compulsory divorce. These arguments were dismissed by the US Military
Tribunal and he was sentenced to prison for placing his skill, learning, and legal
knowledge. . . at the disposal of those who originated the plan of extermination.”
70
Due to
a serious heart condition, the tribunal ordered his release immediately after the passing of
the verdict.
From an empirical and a moral point of view, it may be difficult to distinguish between those
who actually opposed the regime and those who came up with a seemingly unacceptable
excuse for their own collaboration only after the regime fell. Those who openly defied the
regime or who broke the rules and performed illegal acts to oppose the regime undoubtedly
engaged in acts of opposition. Those who went along trying to make the best of it, and used
their position to avoid worse evils, ran the risk of becoming collaborators and, albeit
unwilling, supporters of the regime. As pointed out by Hannah Arendt, totalitarian regimes
condition government officials and the public at large by consciously taking advantage of the
disposition many have for accepting the lesser of two evils.
71
E. The Risks and Nazi Tolerance
Given the intolerance of the Nazi regime to all opposition, and the draconian measures taken
by the SS and the courts, it is surprising to find that highly placed officials were willing to
take the risk of subversion and obstruction. There were heroes who engaged all their energy
in resisting the regime by any means, even sabotage and assassination plots. The brilliant
young lawyer Hans von Dohnanyi was one of these few.
72
While working as a high official in
the Ministry of Justice, Dohnanyi conspired with Admiral Canaris against the Nazis. He also
openly engaged in discussions with deputy minister Roland Freisler over the nazification of
the German Criminal Code in the middle of the 1930s. He was removed from the Ministry to
the Supreme Court in Leipzig, but soon resigned to return to Berlin where he was better
placed to continue the work against the regime and Adolf Hitler. He was convicted by an SS
court and executed in Sachsenhausen on April 6, 1945.
70
LAW REPORTS OF TRIALS OF WAR CRIMINALS VOL. XIV, UNITED NATIONS WAR CRIMES COMMISSION 646 (1949) (reporting on
what is known as the Ministries Case)..
71
HANNAH ARENDT, RESPONSIBILITY AND JUDGEMENT 35 (2003).
72
See Maas, supra note 17, at 55.
868 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
Latza’s and Kanter’s subversion was certainly less heroic. Nevertheless, both were still
examples of officials who at great personal risk were willing to defend values that they
believed in. The values they defended were deeply engraved in their professional identity as
lawyers, and they stood up against what they perceived as a misuse or perversion of law.
They were not resistors, and they did not try to topple the regime; on the contrary, they
were its loyal servants. But they also had loyalty to the idea of law and justice, and this loyalty
sometimes outweighed their loyalty to the regime. Konrad Morgen falls into the same
category, although his loyalty to the purity of the ideas of the SS seems somewhat more
perverted.
73
Given the fact that their acts of subversion came relatively late in the war, at a time when
the future of the regime was at best uncertain, there might be some measure of what
Helmke has called strategic defection in the actions of some, such as Kanter. Strategic
defection is when a judge rules against a regime because he fears being punished by the
government’s successor.
74
One can widen this approach and include other motivations such
as laying the foundation for a continued successful career under a successor regime. Kanter
defected from the Reichskriegsgericht in 1942 after a successful legal career under the Third
Reich. He went on to continue a successful legal career after the war under the Federal
Republic, reaching a supreme court once again.
75
What little opposition there was from the judiciary was mainly in the form of rulings against
the Party or the State. As exemplified by Latza and Kanter, these rulings took the form of
argumentation for a greater adherence to legal values. The many examples given by Hubert
Schorn in the book that he wrote to re-establish the reputation of the German judiciary
mostly represent accounts of this kind.
76
Although Schorn mentions instances involving
more than five hundred judges, the number is not impressive when we recognize that the
number of persons employed as judges during the Nazi time was more than 15,000.
Nevertheless, many judges refused to accept the doctrine that law is what serves the
people, at least in the sense of accepting the party and the officials responsible for
maintaining the security of the State as the authoritative interpreters of what serves the
people. In many cases, judges refused to give judgments according to the demands of the
State, which the State the accepted. There were instances of this even within the SS.
Functioning under martial law, all judgments had to be confirmed by the chief commander
(Gerichtsherr) in order to take effect. On the one hand, according to second in command of
the SS legal service, Günter Reinecke, there were instances where Himmler as Gerichtsherr
73
See PAUER-STUDER, supra note 49, at 12027.
74
See GRETCHEN HELMKE, COURTS UNDER CONSTRAINTS JUDGES, GENERALS AND PRESIDENTS IN ARGENTINA 21 (2004).
75
See MANFRED GÖRTEMAKER & CHRISTOPH SAFFERLING, DIE AKTE ROSENBURG DAS BUNDESMINISTERIUM DER JUSTIZ UND DIE NS-
ZEIT 143 (2016).
76
See Schorn, supra note 8.
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 869
refused to confirm a judgment, and sent a case to retrial two times before eventually giving
in to persistent judges.
77
On the other hand, those in power had means to circumvent
inconvenient rulings by placing people who were treated too leniently in camps and
pardoning loyal party members who were convicted for ill doings as part of their terrorizing
of the population.
Surprisingly, the regime tolerated such instances of judicial dissent and opposition. The
tolerance of deviant judges even went so far as to abstain from taking measures against
judges who obviously bent the law further than the prevailing doctrine allowed. The security
of tenure was formally abolished by the new act on public servants (Beamtengesetz) of 1937.
According to Article 37, public servants, including judges, could be forcibly put into
retirement if they did not engage themselves in the furtherance of the National Socialist
State. According to Article 171 of the same act, retirement could not be based on the
contents of a judicial ruling. On the one hand, this provision was undermined by an explicit
wish of the Fuhrer that the act be used to cleanse the service of all persons of whom “the
Third Reich could have no use.
78
On the other hand, only five cases to remove judges were
initiated in the ten years between 1932 and 1941.
79
These cases were all based on the
behavior of judges acting outside their judicial role, like engaging in political expressions
against the Nazis and refusing to adapt to Nazi conventions.
The coffee case of Judge Seidel mentioned in the introduction is illustrative of the reluctance
to remove judges. One other notable examples is the fascinating case of the district court
Judge mentioned in the introduction, Lothar Kreyssig. Kreyssig was an able jurist that was
well respected among his colleagues. He became one of the early members of the
Confessional Church when it was formed in opposition to the Nazification of the Lutheran
church in 1934. Because of his activities there, the Nazis sought to have him removed from
his position as judge. This attempt was blocked by the Ministry of Justice.
80
There had also
been earlier complaints against him. At the revealing of a portrait of Adolf Hitler in May 1,
1933, he left the room in protest. He also dropped out of continuing education events and
failed to shout a three-time Heil Hitler at a formal occasion. The Ministry rejected the claim
that these were grounds for dismissal. The Ministry told Kreyssig that its decision was the
last word on these matters, and that he should not fear that they would be used against him
77
See TRIAL OF THE MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS BEFORE THE INTERNATIONAL MILITARY TRIBUNAL: NUREMBERG 14 NOVEMBER 1945
1 OCTOBER 1946 416, 42930 (1947) (providing the testimony of Günther Reinecke before the International Military
Tribunal in Nuremberg on August 6, 1945).
78
See to the act and the letter from the office of the Fuhrer to the Ministry of Justice, EKK EHARD REITT ER, FR ANZ
GÜRTN ER, PO LITIS CHE BIO GRAPHI E EIN ES DEU TSCHE N JURIS TEN 1881-1941, 192193 (1976).
79
See Maas supra note 17, at 176.
80
Anke Silomon, Lothar KreyssigRealistischer Visionär, Prophet und Schwärmer, in KOTHAR KREZSSIG AUSÄTZE,
AUTOBIOGRAPHIE UND DOKUMENTE, EVANGELISCHE VERLAGSANSTALT LEIPZIG 19 (Hans Joachim Döring ed., 2011).
870 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
in the future. They would, however, be reconsidered should future grounds for action
against him arise.
81
Some months later Kreyssig bought a farm some distance away and
applied for relocation to another court in its vicinity. The Ministry did not make use of this
opportunity to rid themselves of a troublesome judge and instead granted his request.
Early in 1940, Kreyssig became aware of the fact that institutionalized mentally ill people,
who were under his judicial custody, were being taken to another institution and put to
death. Kreyssig believed this was in breach of the law, and he wrote a letter to this effect to
the Court president.
82
In the letter, he rejected the maxim that law is what serves the
people.” He characterized the doctrine as terrible because it allowed openings into the main
parts of life and society that were in turn devoid of the safeguards of lawfirst, with the
concentration camps and then again with the institutions for the mentally ill. The president
demanded that he revoke his letter, which he refused. He was then ordered to have
conversations with the Ministry. During two meetings with deputy minister Roland Freisler,
the Ministry failed to produce any grounds that could show that the killings were legal. The
euthanasia program was so secret that even the Ministry of Justice had not been informed
of it. Because the Ministry could not come up with anything to show the legality of the
killings, Kreyssig issued an order to the institutions under his jurisdiction banning the
removal of persons to places where euthanasia was performed. He also initiated criminal
proceedings for murder against the person whom he had been told was responsible for the
euthanasia program.
The president of the province demanded that Kreyssig’s prohibition be lifted, and the
Ministry issued a renewed order to Kreyssig to come for conversations. By then, the Ministry
had received the secret order from Hitler authorizing the euthanasia, and this was shown to
Kreyssig. This time Kreyssig’s meeting was with the minister himself, but the minister could
not convince Kreyssig of the legality of the killings. The minister then said that a person who
could not accept the will of the Fuhreras the highest source of lawcould not hold a
judicial position, and that proceedings to pension off Kreyssig would be initiated. A couple
of days later, Kreyssig wrote to the minister stating that his conscience prohibited him from
revoking his ban. He subsequently applied for his resignation with pension rights. The
Ministry granted him his pension in March 1942.
83
81
Lothar Gruchmann, Ein unbequemer Amtsrichter im Dritten Reich, in KOTHAR KREZSSIG AUSÄTZE, AUTOBIOGRAPHIE UND
DOKUMENTE 41 (Hans Joachim Döring ed., 2011).
82
The letter and other documents from his file in the Ministry of Justice are printed in Döring (ed.) 2011 pp. 143 ff.
83
Stoltzfus claims that Adolf Hitler pardoned Kreyssig, “instead of following the will of other government agencies
to exact punishment.” Stoltzfus, supra note 14, at 20, 76. Nevertheless, in March 1942, Hitler approved the
recommendation by the Ministry of Justice of May 10, 1941, to dismiss Kreyssig from his position with pension
rights. See Gruchmann, supra note 81, at 47.
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 871
Kreyssig’s story is unique because there are no other known examples of a judge taking such
an open stance over such a long period of time against the very basis of the legal ideology
of the timethat law serves the people and that the Fuhrer is the highest source of law.
Kreyssig had his own conception of law based on Christian natural law that set limits to the
legality of measures of positive law and to the prevailing legal ideology. He did not reject the
legality of the regime as such, rejecting instead the regime as the sole and highest source of
law. Kreyssig is only unique, however, in that he represents one extreme end of a scale.
There were others less extreme and less willing to expose themselves, but who nevertheless
drew their own line and broke the law in their defense of it. On the one hand, there is hope
in the fact that there were such judges during the Nazi regime. It is, on the other hand, rather
depressing that they were so few, given the fact that the Nazi conception of law and the
measures taken were so outrageously far removed from any reasonable conception of the
rule of law as we understand it in our Western legal tradition.
F. The Power of Tradition
The fact that so many of the judges went along with the system and became its willing
servants is perhaps not surprising. What is surprising is the tolerance the regime show n
towards those that did not go along with it and instead tried to curb and moderate it. Better
insight into the factors surrounding this tolerance may serve to educate judges as to how to
better oppose oppression and atrocities in the future.
The Nazi regime did not relentlessly crush all opposition. Stoltzfus maintains that an
explanation for the effectiveness of the Nazi domination of the German people was Hitler’s
recognition of the limits of force in some cases.
84
But what limited the effectiveness of the
use of force against the judiciary? On the one hand, resistant judges may have been spared
because there were so few of them. There was no point for the regime to appear to oppress
judges if the great majority of them were subservient. On the other hand, there were active
struggles over how to react to troublesome judges between the Ministry of Justice and court
leaders, on the one side, and the SS and the Party on the other. This seems to suggest that
the answer cannot fully be that restraint was an effect of a balanced calculation. Why did
the judicial administration engage in defense of judges, and how can we explain their
reasonable success? It may be that the task of the Ministry would have been more difficult
if the number of judges that opposed the regime had been greater. But the opposite may be
equally true. More widespread opposition could have restrained the regime, especially in its
initial years.
84
See STOLTZFUS supra note 14, at 271.
872 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
A more general explanation may be traced to the path dependency of institutions and their
resistance to change.
85
German law is part of the Western legal tradition, and the conception
of an autonomous legal order is deeply ingrained in centuries going back to the middle
ages.
86
An important aspect of this tradition is the notion that the ruler is not the highest
source of law and, accordingly, is also bound by law.
87
This notion stands in stark contrast to
the Nazi dogma that the Fuhrer himself was both the highest source of law and the ultimate
judge with a right to intervene in any legal proceeding.
Institutions create roles that are filled by people who form organizations. These
organizations represent structures of power that work to preserve those institutions that
serve their interests. Actors in different positions within the Nazi State acted out the
contradiction between the force of tradition and Nazi dogma. The Ministry of Justice was
actively involved in protecting the judiciary from intervention by the Party. In 1934, a case
was brought against the commander and members of the guard of the concentration camp
Hohnstein for sadistic and perverse treatment of prisoners. The head of the Sachsen
administration tried to quash the case by bringing a complaint against the prosecutor to the
Ministry. The Ministry rejected the complaint and stated that prosecutors could be
instructed by only the Fuhrer and chancellor himself. The case went on. After the
proceedings, when the judges were deliberating the case, the Sachsen chief approached the
judges and argued for a dismissal of the case. This recommendation was disregarded by the
judges. After the verdict and the sentences had been passed, the two lay judges and the
prosecutor were expelled from the Party. The Minister of Justice complained to to the
Fuhrer’s office, but received no support. Instead, the Minister was pressured to appeal for a
pardon of the convicted guards, and their sentences were subsequently substantially
reduced.
88
Buchheit, in his biography on Roland Freislerthe infamous Secretary of State
and later President of the People's Courtmentions several other examples where the
Ministry protected judges against the fury of the Party.
89
On a lesser scale, Kanter records instances where he sought and received support from the
headquarters of the military judicial office against his military commander in Denmark.
85
See Hans Petter Graver, Judicial Independence Under Authoritarian Rule: An Institutional Approach to the Legal
Tradition of the West, HAGUE J. RULE L. (2018).
86
See HAROLD J. BERMAN, LAW AND REVOLUTION: THE FORMATION OF THE WESTERN LEGAL TRADITION 910 (1983).
87
DOUGL ASS C. NORTH, THE PARADOX OF THE WEST 107 (Stanford Univ. Press 1991); FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, THE ORIGINS OF
POLITICAL ORDER FROM PREHUMAN TIMES TO THE FRENCH REVOLUTION 246 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux ed. 2011).
88
See KOCH, supra note 5, at 10407 (describing the battle in 1941 between the Ministry and Richard Heidrich over
the respect of the statutes of the Volksgerichtshof).
89
See Buchheit, supra note 34 at 4654.
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 873
Institutional arrangements protected judges.
90
The Judges at the SS court in Norway were
not under the jurisdiction of the German authorities in Norway, but rather under the head
office in Munich of the SS judiciary. Terboven could therefore not have the judges dismissed
or removed if they displeased him and instead would have to lodge complaints in Munich.
Even within the SS itself, Konrad Morgen was protected when he was dismissed for failing
to apply the racial laws with sufficient severity in a case. The SS judiciary head office
intervened on his behalf and prevented him from being sent to a concentration camp.
91
There was dissent and argument over issues of policy between different bodies of
government and between the Party and the State at all levels and throughout the rule of the
Nazis.
92
The events surrounding Wilhelm Stuckart from the Ministry of Interior represent
one such example. The struggles that went on between the Ministry of Interior, the SS, and
the Party over the policy toward persons of half-Jewish descent are well known. These
struggles remained unresolved at the end of the war, saving the lives of hundreds of
thousands.
93
The question remains open, however, whether this was thanks to the struggle
of bureaucrats and officials, or whether was due to leading Nazi’s fearing popular reactions
against their policies.
94
The Ministry of Justice was involved in skirmishes with Party officials and Hans Frankthe
leader of the newly established German Law Academyover vitriolic public party criticism
of judicial rulings. The Ministry finally managed to obtain the support of the office of the
Fuhrer and the Ministry of Propaganda in prohibiting the Party press from publishing open
criticisms of court rulings.
95
Similarly less known is the struggle between the Ministry of Justice and Himmler over the
relations between the SS and the judiciary. The SS wanted unfettered power to impose
security measures in individuals, in other words to place them in a concentration camp
without any intervention or review by the courts. This included the incarceration of persons
acquitted by a court or those persons served sentences that the Gestapo considered
insufficient. This was opposed by the Ministry of Justice, and there were struggles over the
90
Kanter, supra note 63.
91
See PAUER-STUDER, supra note 49, at 41.
92
The government in Nazi Germany has been characterized as “chaotic in structure.” See KERSHAW, supra note 13,
at 94.
93
See LEGISLATING THE HOLOCAUST: THE BERNHARD LOESENER MEMOIRS AND SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS (Karl Schleunes ed.,
2001).
94
See the discussion between Natan Stoltzfuss and Wolf Gruner over the demonstrations by German wives of 1,700
Jewish husbands in Rosenstrasse in February 1943 in American Historical Review 2007 pp 16281629.
95
See Reitter supra note 78, at 147.
874 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
right to legal review, the right to legal representation of those arrested by the Gestapo, and
the prohibition of measures against persons that were acquitted or served their sentence.
96
The Ministry lost these battles, but in light of how little opposition these measures received
from the judiciary, it is astonishing that the Ministry could keep up its opposition for so long.
Perhaps they could have been more successful had they received more support from the
judiciary.
Despite the occasional ferocious attacks on judges in the Nazi press and by Nazi ideologists
all the way up to Hitler himselfas well as the total disregard for legality and the rule of law,
Hitler spared the judges. There are many reasons for this. In 1941, the German-Jewish
émigré Ernst Fraenkel introduced his theory on the Dual State based on his experiences as a
lawyer practicing in Germany during the 1930’s.
97
According to Fraenkel, the German State
doubly operated as a normative State and a prerogative State. The normative State operated
under some basic elements of the rule of law, whereas the prerogative State was not
restrained by any rules or subject to any review by courts. The prerogative State also defined
the limits of its own operations. Fraenkel credits the persistence of the normative State to
the relationship between the Nazis and the leaders of the German industry. Some measure
of normality and rule of law was necessary to maintain a functioning market economy.
98
Germany was a modern industrialized economy that probably could not function without a
working legal order. Nevertheless, the situation in present day China shows that it is possible
to protect investments and enforce contracts even without an independent judiciary. The
judges of Germany were intimidated, and many were probably acting out of fear. In this
sense, many judges were not acting independently. Still, the State did not use its force of
terror on judges who chose not to comply with the commands of its executives. The
economy therefore cannot be the whole explanation. The best explanation is most likely the
force of historythat is, the embedment of Western legal tradition into German society.
This is the underlying variable that explains both the economic and the legal orders. People
at the time were probably not aware of the great potential of resistance against the regime
that the legal order represented.
Deeply embedded institutions consist not only of formal rules, but also informal norms and
ways of thinking and the organizational structures built upon them. This makes them difficult
to change, and change is often incremental and path dependent. According to economic
historian Douglass C. North, path dependence is the interaction of beliefs, institutions, and
organizations in the total artefactual structure [which] makes path dependence a
fundamental factor in the continuity of society.
99
Path dependence is not only a matter of
96
See id. at 20107. See also KOCH, supra note 5, at 87.
97
See ERNST FRAENKEL, THE DUAL STATE A CONTRIBUTION TO THE THEORY OF DICTATORSHIP (2006).
98
See JENS MEIERHENRICH, THE REMNANTS OF THE RECHTSSTAAT AN ETHNOGRAPHY OF NAZI LAW (2018).
99
DOUGLASS C. NORTH, UNDERSTANDING THE PROCESS OF ECONOMIC CHANGE 51 (2005).
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 875
history influencing the choices of the present but also a much more fundamental
phenomenon: Path dependence is a fact of history and one of the most enduring and
significant lessons to be derived from studying the past. The difficulty of fundamentally
altering the paths is evident and suggests that the learning process by which we arrive at
today’s institutions constrains future choices.”
100
Path dependence is both an effect of
organizations and people brought into an institutional matrix attempt to resist changes that
affect their position and interests. Furthermore, the belief system underlying an institutional
matrix deters radical change. Institutions shape beliefs, values, and the development of
knowledge. According to North, the whole structure that makes up the foundation of
human interaction is a construct of the human mind and has evolved over time in an
incremental process; the culture of a society is the cumulative aggregate of the surviving
beliefs and institutions.
101
Pierre Bourdieu makes the same point with his concept of habitus. Habitus are “systems of
durable, transposable dispositions” produced by the structures of a particular
environment.
102
Habitus is produced by the structures imposing different definitions of the
impossible, possible, and the probable, which “cause one group to experience as natural or
reasonable practices or aspirations [that] another group find[s] unthinkable or scandalous,
and vice versa.”
103
This system of dispositions tends to reproduce itself by presenting itself
in practices that are structured according to its principles. The habitus of German lawyers,
made it unthinkable, even to the Nazi lawyers, to abolish judicial independence completely.
A particular fact of the Nazi and fascist regimes was their tolerance of judicial opposition and
their recognition of the independence of the judge to decide the individual case. In this they
differed from many other authoritarian regimes, notably those dominated by a communist
ideology. One explanation is that such is a function of path dependence within countries of
the Western legal tradition. To the extent that this may be the case, these historical
experiences have particular relevance to judges in Western legal systems, should they be
confronted with authoritarian measures in the future.
The belief in judicial independence prevailed also with those judges deeply embedded in
Nazi ideology. This was clearly an instance of habitus and path dependence. Buchheit writes
of Roland Freisler as a man “with two souls in his chest”.
104
The independence of judges was
seen by central Nazi jurists as one of the central features distinguishing Nazi Germany from
100
See id. at 77.
101
Id. at 83.
102
See PIERRE BOURDIEU, OUTLINE OF A THEORY OF PRACTICE 72 (1977).
103
Id. at 78.
104
See Buchheit, supra note 34, at 49.
876 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
Bolshevism.” Hans Frank, the head of the Nazi Lawyers’ Association and later governor
general of occupied Poland, was of the opinion that the very existence of their bourgeois
culture depended upon the independence of the judges.
105
Even as late as 1944, the
German High Command issued a regulation stating that
[M]ilitary judges [were] not under any orders when it
comes to deciding the facts of the matter and their
exercise of judicial functions. They [were] to decide
according to their conviction based on all that ha[d]
been presented during the case, according to soldierly
values and an interpretation of the law based on the
national socialist view of the world
(Weltanschauung).
106
At least in a rudimentary form, the legacy of the German legal institutions protected the
independence of the judiciary.
This did not mean that there was no interference with the judiciary. Disregarding the fact
that intervention from the Party into the functioning of the judiciary was prohibited,
instances of intimidation and threats against witnesses, prosecutors, and even judges were
common.
107
Party members intervened, particularly in cases where Party members were
involved as defendants or parties in civil cases. When cases involved transgressions by party-
members, the reactions against such conduct was lenient, if at all reacted against. In this
respect, the regime functioned as a dual State where unregulated terror operated alongside
the normative order.
108
But this meant that both the established institutions and the people
within the legal organizations operated to protect the judges from outside interference, and
from sanctions against them because of unpopular or inconvenient judgments.
Most judges, however, exercised their independence in a way that accommodated the
interests of the Nazis.
109
Although independent, they did not act independently. The judges
105
See MARC LIN DER , THE SU PREME LABOR COURT I N NAZI GERMAN Y: A JUR ISPRU DENCIAL ANALY SIS , 15 (1987).
106
Detlev Garbe, Im Namen des Volkes?! Die Rechtlichen Grundlagen der Militärjustiz im NS-Staat und ihre
„Bewältigung“ nach 1945 in ERINN ERUNG SARBEI T GRUND LAGE EINER KULTUR DES FR IEDENS , (Nolz, Bernhard und Popp,
Wolfgang Hrsg. 2000), 100 (my translation from German).
107
See REITTER, supra note 78, at 17780.
108
See ERNST FRAENKEL, THE DUAL STATE A CONTRIBUTION TO THE THEORY OF DICTATORSHIP (1941).
109
This is not to say that their approach to law was positivist and that legal positivism can explain the conformity of
the German judiciary with the demands and interests of the Nazi rulers. Nevertheless, the famous article of Gustav
Radbruch in which he proposed legal positivism as the factor that could account for the atrocities of the German
judiciary quickly established itself as a convenient exculpating explanation. For an overview see for an overview
Stanley L. Paulson, Lon L. Fuller, Gustav Radbruch, and the “Positivist” Theses, 13 L. & Philosophy 313 (1994). The
2018 Why Adolf Hitler Spared the Judges 877
in Nazi Germany were confronted with contradictory demands. The central Nazi dogma of
the Fuhrer as the highest source of law and the ultimate judge conflicted directly with the
fundamental notion of the Western legal tradition that law binds the sovereign. The judicial
role itself experienced a basic tension between the requirement that the judge apply the
law of the regime and basic legal principles, such as equality before the law. Most judges
resolved these tensions by offering obedience to the Fuhrer and Nazi ideology and by
applying the law without question. But for some judges, the tensions made them act
differently.
The future is shaped by choices people make, and not by history itself. But what path could
the future have taken beginning in Germany in 1933 had people been aware of the powerful
force they had at hand? The wish to restore German pride was widespread, as was the
resentment of Jews. The future would probably have been pretty grim for many people in
any case. But we may speculate that the worst excesses in giving the SS free reigns could
have been avoided had people within the legal system made different choices. This would
have been no small achievement, and would potentially have changed the path of history,
and not just for people in Germany. The past experiences also have relevance to the future.
There are more options open to people when the first seed of authoritarianism are sown,
before the legal order slides into an extreme condition. That is why it is important to
understand judicial opposition to authoritarian rulers.
positivism thesis also established itself within academic literature on the history of Nazi Germany. See for instance
Koch 1997 p. 247. It has, however, been solidly refuted after careful studies of official and legal material of the time.
See, e.g., BERND RÜTHERS, DIE UNBEGRENZTE AUSLEGUNG, MOHR SIEBECK TÜBINGEN 1968 (7th ed. 2012); HERLINDE
PAUERSTUDER & JULIAN FINK, RECHTFERTIGUNGEN DES UNRECHTS DAS RECHTSDENKEN IM NATIONALSOZIALISMUS IN ORGINALTEXTEN
(Surkamp Berlin 2014). One reason why a positivism explanation may seem compelling is that it may be confused
with psychological factors that place obedience with authority. The German judges were obedient, but this does
not entail that the predominant legal theory and method were positivist. See Graver, supra note 12, at 23951.
878 G e rm an La w J o ur na l Vol. 19 No. 04
... 37 Justice Hercules was said to be "superhuman"-possessing "superhuman skill, patience, learning and acumen" [28,105]. 38 We, of course, make no pretence to such qualities. In a narrow sense, however, we might claim at least to know the statute law (which is the whole of our law), and we instinctively understand that it is law which both creates and reflects the social norms and standards of the Mega-cities (although we would comprehend them within a single concept of maximised social order). ...
... We are not generally concerned with the former sense, insofar as the cases are not remotely similar to the issues before us, but rather how we should approach this more complex issue. 38 For a more detailed consideration of Justice Hercules's qualities in the context of Dredd J's mode of adjudication, see [82]. 39 "The law" in this context, is a far wider and more diffuse concept than the tightly confined limits of law in Mega-city One. ...
... I have therefore sought some guidance from the Archives. While judicial dissent was common in the democracies of the time, for reasons which will become obvious I have looked specifically at the judiciary of mid-twentieth Century Germany, and the role of judicial dissent within the Nazi regime there from 1933 to 1945 [38,39,57]. The primary question which a Judge must ask him/herself when they perceive a fundamental flaw in the regime which they serve is whether they can continue to act in a judicial role, or should resign. ...
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Chief Judge Achilles and Judge Hera – uniqueness of proceedings – the nature of judicial decision-making – the judicial order of Mega-city One – source of judicial power – judicial styles – qualities required for judicial office – context of judicial action – requirement of reflection – interpretation and meaning in enforcement of law – adjudicative models – law as horrific – legal theories – Hans Kelsen – Justice Hercules – Jacques Derrida Judge Howard (dissent) – critical assessment of judicial order of Mega-city One – Hans Kelsen, positivism and democracy – merging of law fondatrice and law conservatrice – the “soul of the law” – fracture of the Rule of Law – fascism – comparisons with fascist regimes of twentieth Century Europe – signifiers in judicial uniform – consequences of dissent – reasons for, and consequences of, resignation Chief Judge Achilles Judge Hera (judgement redacted from published report) Judgement delivered 3 March 2138. Grand Hall of Justice, Mega-city One.
... Graver's work on judges' opposition towards the transformation into totalitarian states is a case in point. 73 Graver analysed German judges' resistance towards the Nazi regime and found that the judiciary's embeddedness in the tradition of autonomy to some extent secured deference from the totalitarian regime. He argues that although opposition often were isolated instances, they still serve an important source of knowledge to enhance the possibility of future opposition. ...
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The independence of the judiciary is challenged in several ways. One is the populist narrative of the judges as elitist, another is artificial intelligence being introduced into judicial evaluation. The traditional ideal of positivistic objectivity underpins both these narratives, even though research has shown that emotions are a crucial part of rational decision making. By scrutinising legal decision making from a sociology of emotions perspective, the authors offer a new understanding of how emotions function in court and how they can be used to safeguard judicial independence. The chapter shows the importance of the use of empathy and emotions in court to diminish the gap between the judge and participants in the courtroom process, and argues that the universalist claim and quantifying base of AI hide the importance of the judge to understand the specificities of each individual case, including contextual and relational aspects.. In contrast, emotions and empathy can be a means to legitimate the judiciary, and hence highlight the specific human aspects of judging.
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This article focuses on the issue of applicability of virtue theory to legal theory in civil-law (statutory) jurisdictions and suggests research areas and problems in that respect. The author starts with an assumption that the notion of “virtue” and virtue ethics should be used for the purposes of legal theory starting from references to judicial ethics and normative theory of judicial decision-making. This approach looks especially promising for the purpose of systematizing the chaotic moral language that is being currently used in Poland in reference to judges, their skills, and qualities of their character, which in turn may lead to formulating an explanatory and normative theory of the judicial role that better addresses the observable deficiencies of legal deontology. The author suggests research that could proceed from interpretatively uncovering what are believed to be specific judicial virtues and vices, considering different aspects of the wider Polish and European legal culture of civil law countries (included but not limited to legal and ethical standards, public discourse, legal and other literature, historical and fictional examples, and role models). With respect to judicial ethics, existing virtue theories, including non-eudaimonistic ones, may be examined for the purpose of identifying the model of virtue best suited to the particular nature of the judicial profession. The aretaic (rather than deontological or consequentialist) perspective may enable legal scholarship to take a new path in the debate on the status and qualities of the judiciary, including the problems relating to judicial independence and the selection of candidates for judicial offices.
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Cambridge Core - Constitutional and Administrative Law - Constitutional Transition and the Travail of Judges - by Marie Seong-Hak Kim
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The autonomy of legal institutions is put on the most severe test when they are under attack by other organs of the state. The article discusses the Western legal tradition from an institutional perspective and the concepts of ‘institutions’, ‘path dependence’ and ‘rule of law’. Under this perspective, legal institutions have an autonomous development with characteristics that must be explained by their evolutionary origins. The article seeks to demonstrate that institutional theory deserves closer attention when studying law and political power and to place more the refined notions of the Western legal tradition and the Rule of law from legal research into the theoretical approach of institutional theory. Based on the example of judicial independence in Nazi Germany it seeks to test the explanatory power of institutional theory to legal phenomena.
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The purpose of this article is to examine how far, with due respect for the rule of law, criminal sanctions could be applied to judges for the exercise of their judicial functions. The main focus is on judges in authoritarian regimes, situations where judges are employed by the holders of power in the realisation of political oppression. The article presents the normative basis for holding judges accountable in some different examples of national laws, and looks into the few historical examples of judges that have been held accountable under criminal law. The article concludes that there exists a core of justice, present in the minds of ‘all civilized people’, and that to this core belong substantial and manifest human rights violations, intolerable disproportionate punishments and substantial violations of the right to a fair trial. Judges who disregard this core of justice may be held accountable for their judicial rulings, even when this formally entails applying laws retroactively. Criminal guilt can be established by the objective facts, together with the fact that no judge can claim with credibility that he was unaware of doing something wrong. A positive basis for this approach may be found in the statutes of the International Criminal Court
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This study offers a theoretical framework for understanding how institutional instability affects judicial behavior under dictatorship and democracy. In stark contrast to conventional wisdom, the central findings of the book contradict some assumptions that only independent judges rule against the government of the day. Set in the context of Argentina, the study uses the tools of positive political theory to explore the conditions under which courts rule against the government. In addition to shedding light on the dynamics of court-executive relations in Argentina, the study provides general lessons about institutions, instability, and the rule of law. In the process, the study builds a set of connections among diverse bodies of scholarship, including US judicial politics, comparative institutional analysis, positive political theory, and Latin American politics.
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Outline of a Theory of Practice is recognized as a major theoretical text on the foundations of anthropology and sociology. Pierre Bourdieu, a distinguished French anthropologist, develops a theory of practice which is simultaneously a critique of the methods and postures of social science and a general account of how human action should be understood. With his central concept of the habitus, the principle which negotiates between objective structures and practices, Bourdieu is able to transcend the dichotomies which have shaped theoretical thinking about the social world. The author draws on his fieldwork in Kabylia (Algeria) to illustrate his theoretical propositions. With detailed study of matrimonial strategies and the role of rite and myth, he analyses the dialectical process of the 'incorporation of structures' and the objectification of habitus, whereby social formations tend to reproduce themselves. A rigorous consistent materialist approach lays the foundations for a theory of symbolic capital and, through analysis of the different modes of domination, a theory of symbolic power.
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This text, first published in 1941, provides a comprehensive analysis of the rise and nature of National-Socialism, and is the only such analysis written from within Hitler’s Germany. Its central thesis is that two states co-existed in National-Socialist Germany—hence, Fraenkel’s invention of the concept of the dual state. This was comprised of a normative state (which protected the legal order as expressed in legislation, decisions of the courts, and decisions of administrative bodies) and a prerogative state (governed by the ruling party, and unrestrained by legal guarantees). The relationship and conflict between these states is analyzed through decisions of the German courts and the development of judicial practice. The book is divided into three parts. The first part describes the existing legal order. The second part attempts to show that the parallel structures within Germany radically affected German politics and society. The third part delves into the relationship between the dual Nazi state and German capitalism. It asks whether the rise of the dual state was a consequence of a crisis in capitalism. While this book is primarily a first-hand account and analysis of the dual state’s operation in National-Socialist Germany, it retains its vital relevance for the theory of democracy in the twenty-first century. This republication of the 1941 English edition includes both Fraenkel’s 1974 introduction to the German second edition, never before published in English, and a new introduction by Professor Jens Meierhenrich of the London School of Economics and Political Science that places the book in theoretical and historical context and assesses its lasting legacy. © Ernst Fraenkel 1941; excluding Introduction and Jens Meierhenrich 2017 and excluding the translation of the 1974 preface and appendices.
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This book provides an intellectual history of Ernst Fraenkel's classic The Dual State (1941), one of the most erudite books on the theory of dictatorship ever written. Fraenkel's was the first comprehensive analysis of the rise and nature of National Socialism, and the only such analysis written from within Hitler's Germany. His sophisticated--not to mention courageous--analysis amounted to an ethnography of Nazi law. Because of its clandestine origins, The Dual State has been hailed as the ultimate piece of intellectual resistance to the racial regime. This book brings Fraenkel's innovative concept of "the dual state" back in, restoring it to its rightful place in the annals of public law scholarship. Uniquely blending insights from legal theory and legal history, it tells in an accessible manner the truly suspenseful gestation of Fraenkel's ethnography of law inside the belly of the behemoth. But this is also a book about the ordering presence of institutions more generally. In addition to upending conventional wisdom about the law of the "Third Reich," it explores the legal origins of dictatorship elsewhere, then and now. It theorizes the idea of an authoritarian rule of law, a cutting edge topic in law-and-society scholarship, and thus also speaks to the topic of democratic backsliding in the twenty-first century.
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The autonomy of legal institutions is put on the most severe test when they are under attack by other organs of the state. The article discusses the Western legal tradition from an institutional perspective and the concepts of ‘institutions’, ‘path dependence’ and ‘rule of law’. Under this perspective, legal institutions have an autonomous development with characteristics that must be explained by their evolutionary origins. The article seeks to demonstrate that institutional theory deserves closer attention when studying law and political power and to place more the refined notions of the Western legal tradition and the Rule of law from legal research into the theoretical approach of institutional theory. Based on the example of judicial independence in Nazi Germany it seeks to test the explanatory power of institutional theory to legal phenomena.