Careers and Continuities: First Findings of the Independent Commission on German Justice Ministry’s Third Reich Past

Last year, the German Ministry of Justice established an independent commission to research its past during the Third Reich. In February 2013, the commission presented its first findings during a symposium which was held at the highly symbolic venue of the Nuremberg trials.

The speakers were, on the one hand, professors Safferling, co-head the independent commission who reported on their findings so far, Thamer and Schumann, who spoke about the judicial legacy of the holocaust and the continuity of Nazi careers in the Federal Republic, respectively. On the other hand, three contemporary witnesses spoke: Gabriel Bach, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Israel and a prosecutor in the Eichmann trial, Heinz Düx, who was the investigating judge (Ermittlungsrichter) in the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial, and Günther Hirsch, the former president of the Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof). Their lectures widen the scope considerably beyond the analysis of the ministry itself.

As far the the topic of careers is concerned, the commission has found that Nazi party members played a leading role in the ministry for much longer than commonly believed. In 1950, 47% of all leading civil servants in the ministry were former party members. Nine years later, the figure was still 45%. The research does not support the assumption that this was just a transitional phenomenon. As late as 1966, 60% of departmental heads (Abteilungsleiter) and 66% of  sub-departmental heads (Unterabteilungsleiter) were former members of the NSDAP. These results should not come as a surprise, if one looks at the findings in the predecessor study conducted in the Foreign Office. And about time that the myths are being dispelled with.


The presentations at the symposium have been recorded and are available on the YouTube – six hours in full. Here is the link to the symposium’s programme, and to the videos:

Safferling, Begrüßung

Küspert, Grußwort

Förther, Grußwort

Leuthheusser-Schnarrenberger, Die Verantwortung der Juristen für die Aufarbeitung des NS-Unrechts

Safferling, Zum Stand der Arbeiten der Unabhängigen Kommission

Bach, Der Holocaust im Gerichtssaal: Das Strafverfahren gegen Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem

Düx, Auschwitz im Gerichtssaal

Hirsch, Die bundesdeutsche Justiz und die Aufarbeitung von Justizunrecht

Thamer, Die juristische Aufarbeitung des Holocaust

Schumann, Fortwirken von NS-Juristen in der Bundesrepublik

Görtemaker, Ausblick auf die weiteren Arbeiten der Unabhängigen Kommission

The proceedings have also just been published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.


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