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Acquittal of Nazi Judge Brings Storm of Criticism; Galinski Calls It ‘atrocious’

A West Berlin court’s acquittal of a former Nazi judge who pronounced death sentences on 250 political prisoners in 1943 and 1944 has aroused a storm of protest in this city. The ex-judge, Hans-Joachim Rehse, who presided over one of Hitler’s notorious Peoples Courts during World War II, was freed by Judge Ernst Jurgen Oske on grounds that he was only carrying out the laws of the time. Heinz Galinski, chairman of the West Berlin Jewish Community, described the judgment as the “most atrocious” to have been delivered by a German court since 1945. An official of the West German Interior Ministry said it would be hard for people abroad to understand why West German courts today were incapable of handling cases involving “a judiciary which had been debased to a point where it was an instrument of terror.” Mayor Karl Schuetz of West Berlin said he hoped that an appeal against the verdict would be allowed and that another court would administer justice. A member of Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger’s Christian Democratic Union, Bert Even, chairman of the Bundestag (Lower House) Interior committee, said the decision was “infuriating because it lacks any trace of legal spirit.”

Judge Oske based his acquittal decision on an earlier ruling by West Germany’s Federal Court that judges could not be convicted of having deliberately manipulated the law “if they were blinded by the Nazi ideology and legal philosophy of the time.” He said that while the verdicts of the Peoples Courts are inhuman by present standards, in wartime Germany the maintenance of security was of highest importance. The victims of Judge Rehse’s sentences and those of other Nazi judges were convicted of making “defeatist” statements and cracking jokes about Nazi leaders or talking to friends critically about the Nazi regime.

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