NEW YORK (May. 25)
The acquittal in the West Berlin branch of the Supreme Court of a former Nazi charged with murder has brought protests from two American Jewish organizations. The American Jewish Congress said that the acquittal of Hermann Heinrich, convicted in Kiel last year for having helped shoot prisoners while an officer in the SS (Elite Guard) in Poland in 1942-43, made it “imperative” that the German statute of limitations on genocide and other capital crimes be abolished. He has acted “under orders,” a lower court had said.
Dr. Joachim Prinz of Newark, chairman of the Commission on International Affairs of the AJ Congress, and a rabbi in Berlin until he was expelled by Hitler, declared “the court ruling confirms our worst fear that West German statutes of limitation will exonerate hundreds if not thousands of those directly implicated in Hitler atrocities. Statutes of limitations already in effect in West Germany are now interpreted as granting absolute immunity to supposedly ‘lesser’ war criminals,” said Dr. Prinz. “This formula is further stretched to exempt from prosecution all those who allegedly killed under instructions.” The Jewish Labor Committee protested the court decision in a statement issued by its executive director, Emanuel Muravchik. “The court decision achieves what reactionary legislators have not yet achieved in the Bundestag,” he said, “the exemption from criminal prosecution of those Nazis who acted under orders. World indignation must compel a change in the statute to prevent the arbitrary protection of those guilty of such infamous crimes.”
The high court’s decision held that a 1968 adjustment in the penal code established a 15-year statute of limitations in cases where the murders were committed without “base motives” such as racial hatred. The statute of limitations on murder and genocide, originally scheduled to expire in 1965, was extended to the end of this year after bitter protests. Recently, Horst Ehmke, the Social Democrat Minister of Justice, submitted a draft calling for the abolition of the statute in all cases of murder, Nazi or otherwise. Under rightist pressure. Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger’s Christian Democratic Party has moved for retention of the deadline for those facing prosecution for murdering “under orders.”
The court ruling is expected to affect hundreds of similar cases, including 18 cases in which more than 100 Nazis are under trial in West Berlin for their activities in the Nazi secret police. The Supreme Court decision is final and the prosecution has no further recourse. Justice Werner Sarstedt, court president, said the decision was unanimous. The penal code revision reduced from 20 to 15 years the statute of limitations for prosecution of those who abetted in the murder under orders, and reduced the maximum penalty for conviction from life imprisonment to 15 years. Thus the altered statute, running from the end of World War II, expired in 1960. The Heinrich case was not opened until 1965, a date that would have fallen within the old deadline.