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German States Split on Voiding Death Sentences Ordered by Nazis

The dead cannot be brought back, but the 12,000 death sentences imposed on opponents of the Nazi regime by the regional courts of the Third Reich can be legally voided.

Whether such a gesture to the families of those victims will be made, in the interests of justice and compassion, is up to West Germany’s 10 state governments.

A poll taken last week and published Monday in the Nuernberger Nachrichten reported that three of the states reject the idea of re-examining and eventually revoking the sentences. Five favor the idea and two are undecided.

The poll was taken in connection with this Friday’s 50th anniversary of the start of World War II, on Sept. 1, 1939.

Several years ago, the federal government, responding to a public campaign, nullified the 5,000 death sentences imposed by the notorious “volksgerichtshof,” the Nazi “people’s courts.”

The regional courts, however, are within the jurisdiction of the states, known in German as “laender.”

Observers believe another public campaign could force a review, but so far the Justice Ministries of Baden-Wurtemberg and Bavaria, both states in southern Germany governed by the ruling Christian Democrats, have decided not to review the sentences.

The same position was taken by North Rhine-Westphalia, which is governed by the opposition Social Democrats.

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