Hans Merkel (lawyer, 1902)

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Hans Heinrich Wilhelm Merkel (born November 3, 1902 in Fürth , Germany ; died July 14, 1993 in Augsburg , Germany) was a German lawyer in National Socialist Germany and the Federal Republic of Germany.


Hans Merkel's parents were the higher regional judge Hans (Karl Siegmund) Merkel (1867-1940) and Wilhelmine Minna Müller (1873-1945). He had two older brothers: Konrad Johann Christoph Merkel (1897–1974) and Friedrich Siegmund Hans Merkel (1899–1974).

Hans Merkel studied law in Würzburg and Marburg and passed the second state examination with "good" in June 1928. Hans Merkel received his doctorate with a thesis on “The joint testament of the spouses” with the top grade summa cum laude. In 1922 he became a member of the Anthroposophical Society . He was also a member of the strongly anthroposophical evangelical movement Die Christengemeinschaft . The founder of the Christian Community , Friedrich Rittelmeyer , personally converted Hans Merkel. From 1925 to 1930 Merkel headed the branch association of the Anthroposophical Society in Augsburg. He maintained close connections with leading figures in the anthroposophical movement.

1927 to 1934 in Augsburg

From 1927 Hans Merkel worked as a trainee lawyer, then as a lawyer, in the long-established Augsburg commercial law firm of the judicial councilors Arnold Oehler and Adolf Deiler . Despite his good exam grades and his excellent doctorate, Merkel had deliberately not pursued a career as an official. Initially, Hans Merkel dealt with special issues relating to brewery law. From the early 1930s onwards, Merkel focused on questions of general commercial law and agricultural market regulation. Merkel received great recognition in specialist circles when, from 1932 to 1934, he carried out the legally difficult bankruptcy proceedings of the Centralmolkerei Augsburg without losses for the creditors and then took the lead in solving general organizational questions relating to the dairy industry in Augsburg and the surrounding area. Merkel made her first experiences with planned economy regulations with the establishment of the compulsory cartel "Upper Bavarian Milk Supply Association", a central milestone for Merkel's later career in the Reichsnährstand . Merkel characterized the association as "self-government of the economy under state supervision", a formulation that Merkel was later to adopt almost literally for the essence of the Reichsnährstand.

In National Socialism

Due to his role in the reorganization of the Swabian dairy industry, Hans Merkel is said to have attracted the attention of the Reich Minister for Food and Agriculture Walther Darré and his colleague Hermann Reischle . At the end of June or September 1934, Merkel was appointed to the staff office of the Reichsnährstand . He was promised a future position as a professor at the University of Berlin. As the successor to Wilhelm Saure, Hans Merkel headed the department for market law in the main department responsible for legal issues in the staff office of the Reichsnährstand. Organizationally, the staff office was the most important subdivision of the Reichsnährstand, which primarily dealt with the overall political and ideological conception of German agricultural policy in the spirit of Walther Darré. When the staff office was reformed in April 1936, Merkel was promoted to head of the legal and economic departments that were combined in Main Department II (Law and Economics). Since the files of the Reichsnährstand were largely destroyed by the effects of the war, Merkel's role as a lawyer in the Reichsnährstand cannot be reconstructed for the most part. 

Since April 1936, Hans Merkel was a member of the SS as Untersturmführer . In 1939 he became a Sturmbannführer and was assigned to the staff of the Race and Settlement Main Office as SS leader. When Merkel applied to the SS, the examining doctor spoke out against his acceptance into the SS for health reasons. Walther Darré then intervened personally with Heinrich Himmler . Merkel was the only one who could carry out the orientation of the peasantry in the area of ​​law in the interests of the SS. In April 1937 Merkel applied for membership in the NSDAP , which was rejected. Merkel was verbally informed that Merkel's renewed motion was accepted on June 10, 1940. Due to an interrogation by the Gestapo, this verbal promise was revoked because of Merkel's connections to anthroposophy.

In 1936 Hans Merkel denied any connections to anthroposophy in his SS résumé . In reality, however, he campaigned for the recognition of anthroposophical views in the Reichsnährstand and was also able to win Walther Darré for a biodynamic economic method. Together with the farmer Erhard Bartsch , he founded and headed the Demeter House Association as a cover organization for the propagation of the anthroposophical way of life. The association developed intensive training and teaching activities. In 1941, the association was banned as part of an intrigue directed against Walther Darré and numerous close associates of Darré were arrested. Merkel herself was only briefly interrogated by the Gestapo . However, he was no longer allowed to act as editor of the publication organ of the Reichsnährstand

In 1942, as part of a general administrative reorganization and simplification of the Reichsnährstand at the beginning of the 1940s, Hans Merkel was appointed head of the legal department at the Reichsnährstand. In addition, he was personally employed by Walther Darré under the pretext of a war-important assignment as the managing president of the study society for German economic order created for research into agricultural policy measures after the end of the war, with the full remuneration of a main department head and was exempted from military service. When in 1943 all of the former chief department heads of the staff office were finally dismissed by the Reichsnährstand, Merkel was the only one of them to continue working in the Reichsnährstand and, until the end of the war, practiced the same function as before as head of the legal department of the Reichsnährstand.

After the offer to take over the chair of the economist Othmar Spann at the University of Vienna in 1938 was rejected due to a lack of approval by the Reichsnährstand, the University of Berlin awarded him the title “jur. habil ”and appointed him lecturer for peasant, land and commercial law. However, due to the heavy bombing raids on Berlin, Merkel's academic activity was limited to just a few hours of lectures.

post war period

Shortly before the end of the war in 1945, Hans Merkel fled to his family in the " Reichsbauernstadt " Goslar . From December 1945 to February 1947 he was interned in various prison camps in the British zone. Thanks to several statements by Walther Darré and other former employees, Merkel went through the verdict court and the subsequent denazification proceedings in Goslar without any problems . Only the verdict court emphasized in an internal note that the classification as “exonerated” was “very generous” in view of Merkel's high position in the Reichsnährstand. The denazification committee of the city of Goslar, on the other hand, had access to various new materials from Hans Merkel's abandoned apartment in Berlin, such as a group picture with Walther Darré and Heinrich Himmler. The Goslar-Stadt district denazification committee did not see itself prompted by the material to conduct new investigations. With the approval of the British military government, Merkel was classified as “exonerated” for his “persecution” as an anthroposophist.

Legal representation of National Socialists

Although plagued by hunger edema as a result of internment, Merkel immediately volunteered in March 1948 to defend the former Reich Minister for Food and Agriculture, Walther Darré, in the Wilhelmstrasse Trial . In defense, Merkel was only concerned to a lesser extent with Walther Darré, but rather with defending German agricultural policy in the Third Reich. In his opening speech in the Wilhelmstrasse Trial, Merkel emphasized that she was on a historical mission. In the closing argument, Merkel played down Walther Darrés anti-Semitism and the blood and soil ideology as ideas based on old traditions. Merkel defended the market order in detail and, by referring to similar controls of the economy in other countries, presented this as the usual measure at the time. With detailed quoting of grain statistics from the Reich Food Ministry, he wanted to show that German grain imports were far behind those of the war opponents no preparation for a war of aggression could be seen in the market organization. Hans Merkel used over two-thirds of his closing argument to defend the Reichsnährstand and the market organization. Merkel dealt with the actually dangerous points of the indictment against Walther Darré relatively quickly with reference to Darré's disempowerment as minister and head of the Reichsnährstand. The policy of Germanization in Poland and the deportation of forced laborers can be attributed solely to Himmler and Göring; Darré had no influence in occupied Poland. It was not so much Merkel's defense of the Reichsnährstand as the weak indictment against the client that ultimately brought Darré a relatively mild verdict. The prosecution had not been able to produce any evidence that Darré had participated in the so-called key conferences before the outbreak of war. The court only found a crime against humanity and Darré's involvement in resettlement programs in Poland in an order dated December 23, 1938 by Walther Darrés, which forced Jewish owners of land and forests to sell well below market prices. Darré was sentenced to seven years in prison. Since his internment was credited since 1945, he was only to spend four years in prison in Landsberg.

In 1949, Hans Merkel represented the physician Hermann Pfannmüller who had been accused of euthanasia crimes in the Eglfing-Haar sanatorium and nursing home before the Munich I Regional Court .

From November 1952 Hans Merkel represented the widow of SS General Otto Ohlendorf , who was executed in June 1951, in her lawsuit for a survivor's pension. Merkel, however, was completely shipwrecked with his argument.

Like other former lawyers for the Nuremberg trials, including Rudolf Aschenauer and Ernst Achenbach , Hans Merkel had to recognize the failure of his public advocacy for their high-ranking clients from the Nazi party leadership and the SS in 1952/1953. Unlike these fellow lawyers, however, Merkel subsequently did not seek proximity to right-wing extremist groups.

In 1970 Merkel took over the representation of a defendant of the so-called “People's Protection Krčedin” because of the alleged killing of several Yugoslav women during the German occupation. However, the proceedings were discontinued in October 1970 before the main hearing was opened due to the statute of limitations.

Engagement in German Bar Association

Already in November 1947 there were considerations to use Hans Merkel in the agricultural administration of the state of Lower Saxony; however, he went to Nuremberg for Walther Darré. After the trial, Merkel returned to his old office in Augsburg and re-associated with Adolf Deiler.

In 1950 Merkel was involved in the founding of the Augsburg Lawyers' Association and from 1950 to 1963 took over the post of first post-war chairman. Also in 1950 he joined the advisory board of the re-established German Lawyers' Association (DAV). In 1952 Merkel was appointed as an assessor in the legislative committee of the DAV for land law and was elected to the board of the DAV the following year. At the Lawyers' Day in Mannheim in 1955, Merkel caused a sensation with a lecture on "Overcoming the fragmentation of judicial power". His presentation had far-reaching consequences and led to the establishment of justice ministries in the federal and state levels. In the same year Merkel was appointed as the second representative of the DAV to the commission of the Federal Ministry of Justice for the reform of civil justice and from 1960 to 1963 was an attorney assessor in the Bar Senate of the Federal Court of Justice. The high point of his legal career was Merkel's election as President of the German Lawyers' Association in 1963; an office he held until 1970. Merkel's past in the Third Reich was not addressed by the DAV in the post-war period. Even the obituary of the then DAV President Günter Schardey in 1993 in the Neue Juristische Wochenschrift only spoke cryptically of the fact that Merkel “was not far removed from the then prevailing agricultural policy ideas and objectives”.

Hans Merkel's second career was also possible because he did not appear as a radical anti-Semite. Anti-Semitism was always packaged indirectly in his writings, letting literary key witnesses such as William Shakespeare or Ernst Moritz Arndt do the talking. Merkel made the transition from “ blood and soil ” ideologue to a promoter of Jewish life in his hometown of Augsburg. In 1985, Julius Spokojny, President of the Jewish Community, invited him to join the founding advisory board of the Jewish Culture Museum in Augsburg-Swabia . Merkel was then a member of the museum's advisory board as secretary, after having counted the Augsburg Israelitische Kultusgemeinde among his clients for many years.


Hans Merkel married Irmela Boës (1913–2009) in Goslar on August 2, 1938, with whom he had two daughters and two sons.


Hans Merkel's role as a National Socialist economic theorist can be easily understood thanks to his numerous writings. According to his former colleague in the Reichsnährstand Heinz Haushofer , Hans Merkel's main merit was the journalistic emphasis on the "overall responsibility of the Reichsnährstand in terms of the food industry". Merkel was particularly effective through numerous lectures and lectures, such as at the Reich Farmers' Days in 1935 and 1936. There were also books and essays. Between March 1933 and March 1936 alone, Merkel published 44 articles.

Merkel's scientific work lagged behind these central essays and lectures on ideological-propagandistic goals and fundamental questions of the Reichsnährstand. His book “Der Reichsnährstand und die Marktordnung” was merely a compilation of various essays by Merkel on special topics of market regulation. At the same time, he was co-editor of the loose-leaf collection for business law, which was popular among practitioners at the time, and published the commented loose-leaf collection, “The Law of the Agricultural Market Organization”. Many of his book publications were intended for beginners, such as the "Deutsche Bauernrecht" published in six editions or his major work on "National Socialist Economic Design", which was published in two editions, and which was intended to provide an introduction to the basics of the Nazi economic order. His books were praised in professional circles as publications written by a competent specialist. The reviewers did not allow Merkel's books to be anything more than introductions or compendia. Hans Merkel was completely forgotten as an economic theorist in the post-war period. Its effect in the Third Reich was therefore primarily in the public propagation of the “life-philosophical” image of a corporate-peasant society with the “ market order ” as a counter-concept to the liberal economic conception .

  • War economy, planned economy, orderly market economy. In: Odal. Monthly journal for blood and soil , vol. 2, issue 10, April 1934, pp. 747-758.
  • National Socialist economic development. Introduction to their scientific foundations . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1936.
  • The Reichsnährstand and the market organization . Teaching material center of the Office for Work Management and Vocational Education of the German Labor Front, 1936
  • Georg Reichart, Hans Merkel, Oswalt Vopelius: The German dairy industry in the present . Deutsche Molkerei-Zeitung, Kempten 1937.
  • The market organization and its law . Reichsnährstand Verlags-Ges.mbH, 1942.
  • German peasant law . Kohlhammer, Leipzig 1944.


  • Hubert Seliger: How a DAV president dealt with his and the Nazi past. Attorney Dr. jur. habil. Hans Merkel (1902–1993) and the Nuremberg Trials . In: Deutscher Anwaltsverein (Ed.): Lawyers' Journal . 2015, p. 906–916 ( juris.de [accessed January 14, 2018]).
  • CV Dr. Hans Merkel . In: Federal Archives Koblenz (BAK) . Collection Z42 (Merkel, Hans).
  • CV Hans Merkel . In: Bundesarchiv Berlin (BAB) . Holdings formerly BDC, SS personnel file Hans Merkel.

Individual evidence

  1. The milk supply association . In: Legal weekly . No. 62 , 1933, pp. 657-660 .
  2. ^ Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals . tape 14 . Washington DC 1949, p. 556 f . (English, loc.gov [PDF; 56.7 MB ; accessed on January 14, 2018]).
  3. ^ Heinz Haushofer: History of ideas in agriculture and agricultural policy. tape 2 . Bayrischer Landwirtschaftsverlag, Munich 1958, p. 126, 217, 221 .