Germany Drafting Legislation to Overturn Nazi-era Verdicts
Menu JTA Search

Germany Drafting Legislation to Overturn Nazi-era Verdicts

Download PDF for this date

Germans convicted of taking up arms against Hitler could have those verdicts overturned.

That’s one of the provisions of a proposed law being drafted by the Bonn government.

The law, which would overturn verdicts imposed by Nazi-era courts, could affect Jews who were victimized by the courts of the Third Reich and who are still seeking rehabilitation.

After World War II, Germany repealed the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, which stripped German citizens of their civil rights and began Germany’s march to the Holocaust.

But World War II-era court verdicts convicting individuals of violating these laws often remain valid.

These verdicts no longer have legal consequences. Still, many victims want the verdicts overturned on moral grounds, as a public recognition of their suffering at the hands of the Nazi court system.

The Nazi courts also punished, with draconian severity, a wide range of acts that included political activities deemed a threat to the Third Reich and jokes about Hitler as well as armed resistance.

Some of the judgments against the hundreds of people arrested and executed after the unsuccessful July 20, 1944, attempt by leading Nazi officers to assassinate Hitler are still on the books.

The proposed legislation was announced earlier this year by the German Justice Ministry.

A spokesman for the ministry first confirmed, then refused to comment, on a recent report that the draft is nearly finished.

Justice Minister Edzard Schmidt-Jortzig said a federal law is necessary because of the lack of consensus on this issue among Germany’s 16 states.

Several states have across-the board regulations repealing most Nazi-era verdicts, but others have lifted the judgments only on a case-by-case basis.

Details of the proposed new law, including the types of verdicts that will be repealed, have not yet been made public.

Parliament member Volker Beck is concerned the law will focus on verdicts against organized political resistance, but will not affect cases of individual resistance.

“There is a danger that acts of resistance by the average person who was not politically active will not be recognized in this wave of rehabilitations.” said Beck, a member of the left-wing Green Party.

Beck added that entire groups of victims of the Nazi court system have never been rehabilitated, such as deserters and homosexuals.

In May, the German Parliament passed a resolution calling the convictions of soldiers who deserted the Wehrmacht, Hitler’s wartime army, an injustice.

But the resolution was watered down.

Ludwig Baumann, a former deserter who heads a group of victims of the Nazis’ military justice system, said the clause was too sweeping, since it was nearly impossible to desert without stealing army materials and food — crimes that may still be deemed punishable.

As a result of the resolution, the several hundred surviving deserters of the Wehrmacht will receive a one-time compensation payment, but not the pensions they have demanded.

The issue is highly controversial in Germany, where conservative politicians claim that honoring army deserters is a slap in the face to those who faithfully served their country.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund