Prof. Musiał: After 1945, the German state did everything to protect German criminals from responsibility

“After 1945, the German state did everything to protect German criminals from responsibility” – the historian, prof. Bogdan Musiał said during the conference “Responsibility for the activities of the German judiciary in occupied Poland (1939-1945)” organized by the Institute of National Remembrance. The remaining experts pointed out that those responsible for the judicial murders of Poles had never been brought to justice.

“I would call this conference a bit differently. I would say about the lack of responsibility for the activities of the German judiciary in occupied Poland, because as we will see in a moment from my short presentation, which is an introduction to this discussion, after 1945 the German judicial system in the Federal Republic of Germany was often involved in phase of renazification, not denazification” – Dr. Karol Nawrocki, president of the Institute of National Remembrance, said in his foreword. He recalled that in German-occupied Poland, German civil courts issued 30,000 death sentences, including 15,000 in the territories incorporated into the Third Reich. “It is worth adding that during World War I there were only 291 such death sentences, which shows the huge scale of anti-Polonism and anti-Slavism emerging in the interwar world” – he said for comparison.

“1,162 judges and prosecutors who worked in the German judiciary in the Polish territories incorporated into the Third Reich were responsible for these judgments in the Polish territories incorporated into the Third Reich. During World War II, 76 of them died, went missing or got killed before the end of the war, and 482 took up work in the judiciary of the Federal Republic of Germany. Those who did not take up this job continued to receive pensions in the Federal Republic of Germany or started new careers as the legal elite, political elite, legal advisors and patrons in the Federal Republic of Germany” – Dr. Nawrocki recalled.

“Only 22 proceedings against judges and prosecutors of the Third Reich were brought before the courts of the Federal Republic of Germany. Please note that no final judgment has been passed against a judge or prosecutor of the Third Reich in the Federal Republic of Germany. Of the 9,000 judges and prosecutors employed in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1953 as many as 6,000, i.e. 2/3 of them, worked in the judiciary of the Third Reich” – he added.

Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro spoke in a similar tone. “Let us remember: these were German Nazis. Let us also remind and say loudly that Poles were also victims of German Nazis. It was not as some would like to imagine that the Germans – if this word appears – committed terrible crimes here, the Holocaust, and next door, as if in an idyllic world, lived Poles who behaved at least indifferently towards their Jewish neighbors and did not solve the problem of the Holocaust” – he said. He emphasized that the German Nazis murdered the Jewish nation on an industrial scale in a very cruel way. “The cruelty of this crime was incredible, but also with extraordinary cruelty, genocidal, using the machinery of their power, they murdered Poles and gave them the same fate as the Jewish nation, only they extended their genocidal plans in a different way. We must speak loudly about this” – the head of the Polish Ministry of Justice noted.

Zbigniew Ziobro said that “it is our duty to defend this truth, not to hide it, to show it in full detail and to remind us that the Federal Republic of Germany, contrary to the declarations, slogans and words we hear from the mouths of German politicians, has not fulfilled its basic obligation and task – getting justice to those who committed these crimes en masse, terrible, genocidal crimes also against Poles”.

“The Federal Republic of Germany cynically and consciously did everything to ensure that none of these criminals were held accountable, so that this responsibility was blurred. It is our duty to remind these facts” – he concluded.

“German courts began to be installed on Polish lands when the Polish Army was fighting against the Wehrmacht, and later also against the Red Army, i.e. in September 1939. They were part of the occupation apparatus, the civil administration apparatus introduced to Polish lands after the Polish Army, Polish administration had been driven out of a given area” – Dr. Konrad Graczyk recalled. As one of the examples of German criminal justice, he mentioned the Gestapo summary court operating in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where hearings lasted about two minutes, the court process was limited to reading the personal data of the defendant and pronouncing him the death penalty. “The sentence was carried out nearby, at the wall. This is a clear example of the fact that these were courts by name, but courts in a formal sense” – the historian noted.

The panelists emphasized that German courts operating in the occupied territories of Poland and those incorporated into the Third Reich had nothing to do with justice and the administration of law. Dr. Konrad Graczyk enumerated the functions of criminal German law as: the function of public terror, the so-called mega-repressive, segregating, legitimizing, eliminating, exploitative, expropriating and exterminating functions. Experts pointed out that German courts punished with death for acts that were not crimes.

Prosecutor Bogusław Czerwiński drew attention to the propaganda usefulness of these “trials”: “Poles were presented as people prone to crimes, as uneducated, as backward, dirty people. All this together, combined with these verdicts, was supposed to give a specific image of Poles, and this was an additional propaganda function, an elimination function – eliminating from social life people who were perceived as enemies of the Reich”.

“There is one more function here – a Germanization function, because German courts often ruled on parental rights and on the dissolution of mixed marriages between Poles and Germans. This Germanization function was expressed in the fact that the image of a Pole that was presented caused many people to ‘of uncertain nationality’ did not want to be perceived as Poles” – he added.

“The goal was to intimidate, create a fear psychosis, and this system became more severe during the occupation” – Prof. Musiał said, recalling that “the source of the law at that time was Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist ideology”. In turn, prosecutor Bogusław Czerwiński emphasized that German judicial crimes had not been settled because the guilty were not punished and the victims did not receive compensation. He added that the victims of these judicial murders, with some exceptions, have not been rehabilitated so far.

“After 1945, the German state did everything to protect German criminals from responsibility” – Prof. Bogdan Musiał confirmed. “The goal of the Federal Republic of Germany since 1945 has not been to prosecute, but to protect criminals” – he lamented. He also pointed out that “as far as the crimes against Poles are concerned, they were secondarily legalized by German post-war courts – a post-war, democratic state. This means that there is no longer any question of Nazi crimes if the German state, in the light of the rule of law, secondarily legalizes these crimes on Poles – this is already a German crime. These sentences were passed in the 1950s and 1960s”.

The historian emphasized that the German state wanted to protect criminals from the very beginning. How did they manage to do this? “Already at the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, the so-called Basic Law was created, the constitution still in force today. There, three articles were introduced that were intended to protect them. At first glance, they sound innocent. Article 16, which prohibits the extradition of German citizens, Art. 102, i.e. the abolition of the death penalty, and Article 20(1) introducing the prohibition of retroactive operation of the law”.

Prof. Musial noted that German law did not punish crimes against humanity, and after the new law was established, German courts found that they had no right to prosecute criminals because the law could not apply retroactively. “Since 1949, all crimes from the period 1933-45 were prosecuted according to German law, criminal law established in 1871. And this was intentional” – he noted. “Why the ban on extradition? Because the Allies decided that criminals would be sentenced where they committed the crime. If Warsaw was destroyed, the criminals should be sentenced in Poland, but the Germans introduced a ban on extradition and the criminals could not be extradited, but they could not be convicted, because it was not in the German criminal code” – he explained. “These articles are still in use today” – he emphasized.

“22 criminal proceedings were conducted in the Federal Republic of Germany and no one was legally convicted. Hans Joachim Rehse, who took part in sentencing over 230 people to death at the People’s Tribunal together with Roland Freisler, was legally convicted. However, this verdict did not stand. He was overturned and Rehse was acquitted” – Dr. Konrad Graczyk said. He pointed out that the convictions of German lawyers took place in the GDR, but these trials were similar to the trials of the Stalinist period in Poland.

“When I read about these cases, it really moved me as a lawyer that the courts of the Federal Republic of Germany fully accepted the arguments of the Nazi courts. Exactly the same arguments were repeated, the most heinous convictions were justified by referring to exactly the same opinions that were expressed by the German judiciary. These arguments were taken straight from German Nazi courts. It shocked me personally. Maybe I’m naive, but I really didn’t expect it. This jurisprudence of the Third Reich directly penetrated the Federal Republic of Germany” – prosecutor Bogusław Czerwiński did not hide his chagrin.

At the same time, the panelists tried to look for ways in which victims and their families could seek compensation.

Anna Wiejak

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