People's Court

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The People's Court ( VGH ) was established in Berlin on April 24, 1934 as a special court to try high treason and treason against the Nazi state . In 1936 the VGH became an ordinary court .

The meeting room of the Berlin Court of Appeal , in which the People's Court met after the assassination attempt on July 20, 1944 .

Ideological history

The creation of a national court was a very old demand of the NSDAP : As early as Article 19 of its first party program of February 24, 1920, it called for the “replacement of Roman law serving the materialistic world order with a German common law”, while Article 18 was straightforward described how this right should look, for example: "Common criminals, usurers, smugglers, etc. are to be punished with death."

Consequently, in the course of the short-lived coup of November 1923 , a national tribunal was set up as the Supreme Court , which, without a revision, should only know two verdicts: "guilty" meant the death penalty , "not guilty" meant acquittal. Death sentences were scheduled to be carried out within three hours of the verdict.


Opening of the People's Court in the Prussian Landtag building in Berlin on July 14, 1934 by Reich Justice Minister Franz Gürtner (left at the lectern). Executive President Fritz Rehn and Vice President Wilhelm Bruner on the gallery
Service letter from the senior Reich attorney at the People's Court
Trials (in the courtroom of the Berlin Chamber Court) after the assassination attempt on July 20, 1944

After the alleged perpetrator Marinus van der Lubbe had been sentenced to death in the Reichstag fire trial before the Reichsgericht , three co-accused officials of the Communist Party had been acquitted, Adolf Hitler decided to withdraw political crimes from the independent judiciary and ordered the formation of what he had named "People's Court". This was done through Article III of the Act on the Amendment of Provisions of Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure of April 24, 1934, which came into force on May 2 of that year.

On July 14, 1934, a meeting of high-ranking personalities and Nazi functionaries took place at Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse 5 ; on this proclaimed Nazi Justice Minister Franz Gürtner the People's Court for opened. The People's Court was initially set up as a special court, which began work on August 1, 1934 in Berlin . With the law of April 18, 1936, the People's Court was converted into a so-called ordinary court . In the early days of its existence, high-ranking government representatives tried to have ongoing legal proceedings against opponents of the regime transferred to the People's Court. For example, due to a personal intervention by Hermann Göring, the judicial proceedings initiated at the Reichsgericht Leipzig with the indictment against the leaders of the left-wing socialist resistance group " The Red Shock Troop " have been transferred to the People's Court. This procedure was the second trial of the special court ever.

After Austria's "annexation" to the German Reich, the jurisdiction of the People's Court was extended to Austria on June 20, 1938.

Jurisdiction and Procedure

Its task was initially to convict high treason and treason and was later expanded to include other penal provisions. Arbitration bodies of the court were up to six senates. A senate was composed of two professional judges and three so-called honorary people's judges, usually party functionaries, officers or high officials. The judges were appointed by Adolf Hitler at the suggestion of the Minister of Justice . Only those who were considered reliable in the National Socialist sense were appointed as judges .

The organization and court proceedings - disregarding the rule of law - were geared towards short processes . No appeal was permitted against the decision of the People's Court (Art. III, Section 5, Paragraph 2 of the law of April 24, 1934, see above ).

There was no free choice of defense counsel . The defendant had to have the person of the defense counsel approved by the chairman of the senate (Art. IV § 3 of the law of April 24, 1934). Defense attorneys and defendants often only became aware of the charges a day or even a few hours before the main hearing. Until then, the two of them often did not know each other or were unable to establish contact with each other.

The convict received no copy of the verdict in high treason and treason cases. He was only allowed to inspect it under the supervision of a judicial officer.

The People's Court initially met in the Prussian state parliament at Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse 5 (today the Berlin House of Representatives , Niederkirchnerstrasse  5). In 1935, the People's Court moved to Bellevuestraße  15 to the Königliche Wilhelms-Gymnasium near Potsdamer Platz . Some trials were conducted in the building of the Chamber Court in Berlin-Schöneberg . The show trial on August 8, 1944 against supporters of the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt also took place here. This process was filmed on Hitler's orders.

In addition, increasingly as the war progressed, the People's Court ruled in various cities of the German Reich - not so much to enable the court president Roland Freisler to announce his judgments in a special way in front of the carefully selected and large numbers of the public, but entirely “Practical” considerations: The number of pending proceedings, often directed against a large number of defendants - almost all of whom were detained - increased enormously. The transport of the prisoners, who are usually close to the crime scene and their place of residence (for example in concentration camps ), to the place of the court was undesirable and, above all, would have overburdened the People's Court just as logistically as that of the honorary judges, who, as a rule, also resided locally. For this reason, the People's Court as a whole, and not just the 1st Senate under Freisler's chairmanship, increasingly spoke of “law” while wandering around.

On January 1, 1943, the People's Court had 47 professional judges and 95 honorary judges, including 30 officers, four police officers and 48 SA , SS , NSKK and HJ leaders. In 1944 the number of honorary assessors had risen to 173. 179 public prosecutors were active at the VGH .

Propaganda film "Traitors before the People's Court"

The People's Court after July 20, 1944. The center flag had an opening on the right in the swastika for filming the accused. This picture also shows a dark spot on the edge of the swastika.

After the attempted overthrow of the military resistance on July 20, 1944, several trials of the resistance fighters who belonged to the group of conspirators were filmed with hidden cameras in the hearing room of the Prussian Chamber of Commerce. The sound recordings that were also made were judged to be inadequate in terms of film technology, because the court chairman Freisler often yelled at the trial. Nobody could or would strike a balance between his voice and the relatively quiet answers of the accused. In addition to the film recordings, extensive shorthand records were also made.

After the end of the war in 1945 there was a controversial discussion as to whether the verdict against the resistance fighters had already been finalized before the main hearing. In view of the conduct of the negotiations by Freisler, which is understandable in the film and described by many witnesses, it must be assumed that the convictions had already been set as an objective in advance. The film with the recordings from 1944 was first shown publicly in 1979. A previously repeatedly claimed independence of the People's Court was thus refuted for a wider public. The genesis of the film recordings made in 1944 suggests that the verdicts against the resistance fighters of July 20 were largely fixed before the negotiations began. The idea was to show the film in cinemas nationwide as possible under the title Traitor before the People's Court after its completion . The film material was to be prepared for the German newsreel and documentary films. The propaganda material was intended to serve as a deterrent and , as it were, to morally destroy the opposition to Hitler - by presenting a pseudo-legal process. The involuntary farce-like appearance of Freisler thwarted this from the start. Such a scene would not have made an impartial impression in the eyes of the public. With his psychopathically authoritarian conduct, the chairman had given the defendants no opportunity to defend themselves, and his annihilation allegations against the defendants left no doubt about the already established intention to impose the death penalty. In addition, despite all attempts at humiliation, the defendants appeared conscientiously, consistently represented their mostly Christian motives and sometimes openly addressed crimes of the Nazi regime such as mass murders. The film material - immediately declared a " Secret Reich Matter " - was only shown in small, confidential circles in the Nazi state.


Inauguration of Roland Freisler (left) by his predecessor and Reich Justice Minister Otto Georg Thierack

Otto Georg Thierack, Reich Minister of Justice and third President of the People's Court since 1942, certified it as having a "public hygiene task": it was supposed to combat the "risk of epidemics" that came from the accused. On January 5, 1943, when the new President of the Higher Regional Court was introduced in Stettin , Thierack explained in typical National Socialist vocabulary that it was important to “keep the healthy body of our people intact and strong under all circumstances”.


president From To
Fritz Rehn (executive) 0July 1, 1934 September 18, 1934
Wilhelm Bruner (executive) September 19, 1934 April 30, 1936
Otto Georg Thierack 0May 1, 1936 August 19, 1942
Roland Freisler August 20, 1942 0February 3, 1945
Wilhelm Crohne (executive) 0February 4, 1945 March 11, 1945
Harry Haffner March 12, 1945 April 24, 1945

The People's Court as an instrument of justice terror

The number of death sentences skyrocketed when the war began in 1939. In 1936 eleven death sentences were passed, in 1943 there were 1662, about half of the people charged before the People's Court. Around 5,200 death sentences had been carried out by 1945. For a conviction, offenses such as those against the ordinance on extraordinary radio measures , that is, the dissemination of messages from eavesdropped " enemy channels ", derogatory remarks about the Führer (Hitler) or doubts about the so-called " final victory " were sufficient .

In August 1942, Roland Freisler became President of the People's Court. He conducted his negotiations with particular fanaticism and particularly humiliated the accused. Its Senate passed death sentences particularly often - over 5,200. Freisler counted the People's Court among the "armored troops of justice". The building Bellevue Street 15 was in the heavy air attack of the USAAF destroyed on 3 February 1945th On that day, the trial against the future judge at the Federal Constitutional Court, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, took place. As a result of the air attack, Freisler was fatally injured on the way to the nearest air raid shelter . There were very few condolers for the wife at his funeral.

The People's Court sentenced members of the resistance groups Rote Kapelle , Bästlein-Jacob-Abshagen-Gruppe , Weiße Rose , Edelweißpiraten and Kreisau Circle , the Maier-Messner-Caldonazzi group and the conspirators of the assassination attempt of July 20, 1944 around Colonel Graf Stauffenberg .

The (partial) relocation to Bayreuth planned in 1945 and the subsequent end

Bayreuth Palace of Justice

Since autumn 1944, the People's Court has met several times in Room 100 of the Palace of Justice in the then district capital of the Bavarian Ostmark district , Bayreuth . After the VGH building was destroyed after bombing on February 3, 1945, Hitler ordered the People's Court to be relocated to Potsdam two days later and the senates responsible for high treason and treason to be relocated to Bayreuth. The evacuation of the prisoners began on February 6, initially in coal bunkers from barges from Berlin's Westhafen to Coswig for six days . During this trip, as well as during the subsequent transport from February 11 in four overcrowded freight cars , the prisoners were exposed to air raids and inhuman treatment by the accompanying guards of the Gestapo . Several people died, on February 17, 193 male and 28 female prisoners arrived in Bayreuth.

In the 3rd travel report of the First Public Prosecutor Gündner to the Reich Minister of Justice on February 14th, it says: “The place of execution in Frankfurt / Main, which was previously responsible for the special courts of Bamberg, Bayreuth and Würzburg, can no longer be reached for the transport of prisoners. I suggest creating a new place of execution in Bayreuth ... ”However, the intended relocation of the two senates and the establishment of a place of execution no longer came about as a result of the tumultuous events of the war.

The shooting of all political prisoners imprisoned in Bayreuth , scheduled for April 14th because of the approaching front , did not take place any more, as American soldiers reached the city on the same day. The prisoners in the penitentiary , including Eugen Gerstenmaier , who later became President of the Bundestag , were freed that morning by their fellow inmate Karl Ruth who had fled .

The last President of the People's Court, Harry Haffner , finally tried to re-establish the People's Court in Bad Schwartau again without success at the end of April 1945, after the Reich government had been relocated to Schleswig-Holstein . But the Dönitz government moved from the south of Schleswig-Holstein to Flensburg - Mürwik at the beginning of May . The People's Court was apparently not moved with it. The occupation of Bad Schwartau by the English troops also prevented further activities of the People's Court.

On October 20, 1945, the Allied Control Council finally dissolved the People's Court with Proclamation No. 3.

The People's Court and the Post-War Justice

Ruins of the People's Court in Berlin's Bellevuestrasse , 1951
Memorial plaque on the house at Potsdamer Straße  186, in Berlin-Schöneberg
Memorial plaque , Bellevuestraße 3, in Berlin-Tiergarten

On June 29, 1948, four former judges and prosecutors were sentenced to prison terms in the Soviet occupation zone . Five former members of the People's Court were convicted in the GDR : four of them in 1950 before the Chemnitz Regional Court (including a death sentence against Wilhelm Klitzke ) and, most recently, Erich Geißler in 1982.

In 1956, the Federal Court of Justice granted the members of the People's Court the so-called judge's privilege , according to which no one can be convicted of perverting the law or other offenses if they have complied with the then applicable laws or have not recognized the injustice of their actions. Although there was a tentative attempt at the end of the 1960s with the proceedings against the People's Court judge Hans-Joachim Rehse to come to terms with the injustice committed by the People's Court, the accused died before a final judgment.

After the investigation was resumed in 1979, the Berlin public prosecutor brought charges on September 6, 1984 against Paul Reimers , a former assessor of Freisler in the 1st Senate of the People's Court, of committed murder in 62 cases and of attempted murder in 35 cases. In the legal results of her investigations, she found that the People's Court, at least since Freisler took office in August 1942, was no longer to be regarded as an ordinary court, but only as a sham court. In the same year, before the main proceedings were opened, the 82-year-old accused committed suicide. The further investigative proceedings were finally stopped until 1991, as there were no longer any accused persons capable of trial.

With the exception of senior Reich attorney Ernst Lautz , who was sentenced to ten years in prison by an American military court in 1947 in the Nuremberg legal process , none of the approximately 570 judges and public prosecutors were held criminally accountable by the German post-war justice system. Many remained in judicial service in West Germany during the post-war years:

  • Paul Reimers: District judge in Ravensburg
  • Hans-Dietrich Arndt: President of the Senate at the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz
  • Robert Bandel: Chief magistrate in Kehl
  • Karl-Hermann Bellwinkel : First public prosecutor in Bielefeld
  • Erich Carmine: District Court Councilor in Nuremberg
  • Christian Dede: District Court Director in Hanover
  • Johannes Frankenberg: Chief magistrate in Münnerstadt
  • Andreas Fricke: District judge in Braunschweig
  • Wilhelm Grendel: Higher regional judge in Celle
  • Wilhelm Hegener: District judge in Salzkotten
  • Ferdinand Herrnreiter: District Court Director in Augsburg
  • Konrad Höher: Public Prosecutor in Cologne
  • Rudolf Indra: District judge in Giessen
  • Helmut Jaeger: Higher regional judge in Munich
  • Leo Kraemer: Chief Public Prosecutor in Cologne
  • Hans Werner Lay: Higher Regional Court Councilor in Karlsruhe
  • Heinz Günter Lell: Chief Public Prosecutor
  • Alfred Münich: President of the Senate at the Munich Higher Regional Court

Oberreichsanwalt Lautz was pardoned after less than four years and given a pension in the young Federal Republic of Germany . The widow of Freisler received an increased pension for decades. The responsible pension office claimed that her husband, who died in World War II , had continued his legal career in the Federal Republic. The above cases actually make this plausible.

Arno von Lenski , commander of the 24th Panzer Division , was an honorary member of the People's Court and later a general of the GDR's National People's Army .

Four people were held criminally liable for aiding and abetting and denunciation in connection with proceedings before the People's Court.

Political decisions of the post-war period

Following the last indictment, on January 25, 1985 , the German Bundestag unanimously rated the People's Court in a political, legally non-binding resolution as a "terrorist instrument to enforce arbitrary National Socialist rule " and denied its judgments any legal effect in the Federal Republic of Germany. The judgments of the People's Court and the Special Courts were only overturned in a legally binding manner in 1998 by the law for the repeal of unjust judgments of the National Socialist in the administration of criminal justice .

Victims of the People's Court

Of the approximately 18,000 people convicted by the People's Court (including over 5,000 death sentences), only a small selection can be given here:

Robert Abshagen - Walter Arndt - Hans-Jürgen Graf von Blumenthal - Hasso von Boehmer - Eugen Bolz - Klaus Bonhoeffer - Bruno Binnebesel - Gustav Dahrendorf - Alfred Delp - Erich Fellgiebel - Eberhard Finckh - Maria Fischer - Reinhold Frank - Eugen Gerstenmaier - Carl Friedrich Goerdeler - Willi Graf - Albrecht von Hagen - Nikolaus Christoph von Halem - Elise Hampel - Otto Hermann Hampel - Paul von Hase - Robert Havemann - Andreas Hermes - Erich Hoepner - Caesar von Hofacker - Andreas Hofer - Helmuth Hübener - Kurt Huber - Marie-Luise Jahn - Jens Jessen - Friedrich Karl Klausing - Erich Knauf - Karlrobert Kreiten - Rudolf Kriss - Hermann Lange - Julius Leber - Georg Lehnig - Hans Conrad Leipelt - Franz Leuninger - Wilhelm Leuschner - Hermann Maaß - Heinrich Maier - Max Josef Metzger - Helmuth James Graf von Moltke - Eduard Müller - Thomas Olip - Johannes Prassek - Christoph Probst - Siegfried Rädel - Adolf Reichwein - Fritz Riedel - Josef Römer - Axel Rudolph - Willy Sachse - Karl Schapp he - Alexander Schmorell - Hans Scholl - Sophie Scholl - Friedrich-Werner Graf von der Schulenburg - Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg - Eva Schulze-Knabe - Bernhard Schwentner - Ulrich Wilhelm Graf Schwerin von Schwanenfeld - Werner Seelenbinder - Willi Skamira - Robert Stamm - Berthold Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg - Karl Friedrich Stellbrink - Hellmuth Stieff - Adam von Trott zu Solz - Robert Uhrig - Joseph Wirmer - Eleonore Wolf - Johannes Wüsten - Peter Graf Yorck von Wartenburg - Erwin von Witzleben .

See also


  • Jörg Friedrich : acquittal for the Nazi judiciary. The judgments against Nazi judges since 1948. Documentation. Ullstein, revised and supplemented edition, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-548-26532-4 .
  • Holger Grimm, Edmund Lauf: The people judged by the People's Court. An analysis of social characteristics. In: Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung (HSR) 19 (1994), No. 2 ( full text online on SSOAR (PDF; 968 kB)).
  • Bernhard Jahntz, Volker Kähne: "The People's Court". Presentation of the investigations by the public prosecutor's office at the Berlin Regional Court against former judges and public prosecutors at the People's Court. 3rd edition, Senate Department for Justice (ed.), Berlin 1992, DNB 930310764 .
  • Hannsjoachim W. Koch : People's Court. Political justice in the 3rd Reich. Universitas, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-8004-1152-0 .
  • Klaus Marxen : The people and their court, a study on the National Socialist People's Court. Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 1994, ISBN 3-465-02644-6 (=  legal treatises , volume 25).
  • Klaus Marxen, Holger Schlueter: Terror and "normality". Judgments of the National Socialist People's Court 1934–1945: A Documentation (=  Legal Contemporary History NRW , Vol. 13), 2004, ISSN  1615-5718 .
  • Arnim Ramm: July 20th before the People's Court. Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-86573-264-4 .
  • Holger Schlüter: The Judgment Practice of the National Socialist People's Court. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-428-08283-4 .
  • Walter Wagner : The People's Court in the National Socialist State. Oldenbourg, Munich 1974, ISBN 3-486-54491-8 .
  • Günther Wieland : That was the People's Court: Investigations - facts - documents . State publisher of the German Democratic Republic, Berlin 1989, ISBN 3-329-00483-5 .
  • Justice and National Socialism. Catalog for the exhibition of the Federal Minister of Justice, 1989, ISBN 3-8046-8731-8 , pp. 151–162.
  • Very tempting . In: Der Spiegel . No. 5 , 1980 ( online ).
  • Rolf Lamprecht : The violent criminals in the red robes . In: Der Spiegel . No. 44 , 1986, pp. 35-37 ( online ).
  • Wolfgang Form, Wolfgang Neugebauer , Theo Schiller (eds.): Nazi justice and political persecution in Austria 1938-1945. Analysis of the proceedings before the People's Court and the Higher Regional Court of Vienna. KG Saur Verlag, Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-11-095208-7 .

Web links

Commons : People's Court  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: People's Court  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. See Wieland 1989, p. 15 f.
  2. Law to amend the provisions of criminal law and criminal procedure of April 24, 1934 , RGBl. I 1934, p. 341 (online at ALEX - historical legal and legal texts online ).
  3. See Wieland 1989, p. 12.
  4. Law on the People's Court and on the twenty-fifth amendment to the Salary Act of April 18, 1936 , RGBl. I 1936, p. 369.
  5. Dennis Egginger-Gonzalez: The Red Assault Troop . An early left-wing socialist resistance group against National Socialism . Lukas Verlag, Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-86732-274-4 , pp. 153, 163 ff .
  6. ^ Ordinance on the introduction of the regulations on high treason and treason in Austria from July 20, 1938 , RGBl. I 1938, p. 640.
  7. See Wieland 1989, p. 13.
  8. TV film: Roland Freisler , MDR , 2016 (documentary recordings and cinematic scenes)
  9. ^ MDR time travel: Roland Freisler
  13. rbbKultur: The Rosenburg files - How the NS justice system was (not) processed after 1945. July 17, 2019, accessed on July 18, 2019 (min. 6:15).
  14. ^ A b Helmut Paulus: The gruesome plans of the Nazi justice . In: Heimatkurier - the historical magazine of the North Bavarian Courier , issue 2/2005, pp. 8 and 9.
  15. ^ Werner Meyer: Götterdämmerung - April 1945 in Bayreuth. RS Schulz, Percha am Starnberger See 1975, p. 133.
  16. ^ A b c Friedrich-Wilhelm von Hase (ed.): Hitler's revenge. The Stauffenberg assassination attempt and its consequences for the families of the conspirators , Holzgerlingen 2014, section 2.5.3: “The end of the People's Court” .
  17. ^ Edmund Lauf: The People's Court and its Observer: Conditions and Functions of Court Reporting in National Socialism , Wiesbaden 1994, p. 19 .
  18. ^ Das brown Schleswig-Holstein , Die Zeit dated December 6, 1989, accessed on April 19, 2018.
  19. See Wieland 1989, p. 129.