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Munro, Tom --- "Hitler's Justice: The Courts of the Third Reich by Ingo Muller" [2000] AltLawJl 20; (2000) 25(1) Alternative Law Journal 48


Hitler's Justice
The Courts of the Third Reich

by lngo Muller; Translated by Deborah Lucas Schnieder; Har­ vard University Press 1994.

This book is written in a slightly dry way and is probably meant for an audience of lawyers. It is, however, written with passion and fire.

Prior to the First World War, the German judiciary had been a servant of the monarchy. Muller describes how between the wars it was hostile to the Weimar Republic and gave very light sentences to right wing groups which tried to overthrow the democratic government. Left wing dissidents were by contrast given draconian sentences.

Following the take over of power, the courts became the willing servants of the Nazi regime. Muller notes that all but a tiny percentage of judges and prosecutors had joined the Nazi party. The removal of Jews and former communists from the German bar and courts was accomplished without a whimper of protest. In fact German bar associations supported such moves by making it an ethical offence to practice with a Jew.

With the promulgation of laws aimed at removing the civil rights of Jews and protecting the German race, the courts bent over backwards to increase the scope and effectiveness of such laws. Muller quotes countless examples but one relates to dealing with 'Jews' convicted of having sexual relations with 'Germans'. The existing laws allowed only for a term of imprisonment in such cases. Courts, however, on their own initiative would use provisions that applied the death penalty to repeat offenders to condemn Jews and Poles who had sex with Germans. Muller quotes one example of a young man who was unaware that he was in fact Jewish. He had a number of liaisons and it came to light that his birth records showed that his grandparents were 'Israelites'. The court hearing the matter decided that as he had had a number of relations he should be sentenced to death. Muller quotes a number of examples where the courts were criticised by the Nazi party itself for being overly harsh. The language of the judges was filled with the invective of anti-Semitism and the racism of the time.

After the war some judges tried to excuse their behaviour by suggesting that if they had failed to co-operate with the government they would have faced serious consequences. Muller in fact examined the record of all judges and found one who refused to impose the Nazi laws. He was simply retired. Muller has convincingly argued that members of the German judicial system were enthusiastic supporters of National Socialism.

The book is enthralling reading, and is strong evidence for the proposition that what happened in Germany was not because of the Nazi Party alone. What happened under the Nazis was the result of a coalition of right wing parties with a common perception of the world. This perception included anti-Semitism and a belief that the major challenge for Germany was the destruction of 'bolshevism' even if, in reality, what was being destroyed was democracy and the rule of law. The judges indeed were some of Hitler's willing executioners, and the Nazi party became the alibi of a nation.


Tom Munro is Principal Legal Officer at the Aboriginal Legal Service, Melbourne.

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