1933 was a good year for German lawyers. Previously, jobs were scarce due to the global economic crisis. Positions have now become available in connection with the forced retirement or emigration of Jewish, liberal or social democratic civil servants, judges and lawyers. New jobs also appeared in many organizations created by the National Socialist Party or significantly increased in size (in the SS alone in 1938 there were 3000 lawyers).
Legal work start
One of those who benefited from the Nazis' rise to power was lawyer Roland Freisler, a party member since 1925, when the National Socialists were a small party representing 3% of voters in parliament. He was rare in his profession because of his early party membership and also because his resume included a short stint in the Communist Party.
Born in 1893, he interrupted his legal education to volunteer in the army in 1914, and was captured by the Russians in 1915. He spoke Russian fluently and when the POW camp became self-governing after the Brest Peace in the spring of 1918, he was promoted to commissar. Whether he received this position for purely administrative purposes or for reasons of conviction is unknown.
In any case, while the other prisoners of war returned, he remained in Soviet Russia until 1920, and only then returned to Germany to continue his legal education, becoming a Doctor of Law in 1922, and began working as a lawyer in Kassel in 1924. ... He became an aggressive advocate for accused Nazi party members (accusations of violence and related crimes were fairly common). He was also a member of the city council.
Freisler became a member of parliament (Reichstag) in 1933. He became responsible for personnel in the Prussian Ministry of Justice, ensuring that civil servants were properly “matched” to the National Socialist regime (the Social Democrats ruled Prussia for a long time, so there was a lot of work to do). Freisler then moved to the position of Secretary of State in the Department of Justice, dealing with law writing and legal theory. He was very productive, paid close attention to the demands of the Nazi state and the wishes of Hitler, ignored all ethical considerations and violated legal principles.
The secretary of state campaigned for laws guaranteeing race separation and punishing interracial sexual relations, using Jim Crow's racist American laws as an example. He also defined "murder", which is still used in German criminal law, and introduced the death penalty for minors. Representing the Justice Department, he attended the infamous Wannsee conference to agree on bureaucratic responsibilities for the deportation (and implicit extermination) of Jews.
Despite all these efforts, his career came to a standstill. He was not popular and his brother's behavior also ruined his career. Oswald Freisler, two years younger than Roland, was also a National Socialist and worked with his brother in Kassel. In 1933, he accompanied Roland to Berlin, often defending people from the National Socialists while wearing a party badge.
His success led to his expulsion from the party in 1937, and in 1939, Oswald allegedly committed suicide.
Then, in 1942, Roland Freisler finally got a promotion - he became president of the Volksgerichshof (people's court), which allowed him to establish his personal kingdom of terror.
The creation of a court with special rights and limited rights for the defendants was an old NSDAP requirement, already included in their 1920 party program. The immediate reason for its creation was the trial against the arsonists of the Reichstag in 1933. Led by Judge Richard Bünger, the trial ended in a public relations failure. The main arsonist - Marinus van der Lubbe - was caught in the act and confessed, but insisted that he acted alone. However, the prosecution insisted on a communist conspiracy. Marinus van der Lubbe was sentenced to death on the basis of a hastily passed law. Nevertheless, although the court upheld the communist conspiracy thesis, three of the accused were acquitted.
At the national and international levels, the impression was that the National Socialists themselves started the fire, using Van der Lubbe's actions as cover. The leaders of the NSDAP wanted to avoid similar failures in the future and created the Volksgerichshof (people's court), which was initially responsible for considering all cases of high treason.
The duties of this court were expanded shortly after the outbreak of the war.
Under Freisler's leadership, this court turned into a killing machine. Between August 1942 and his death in February 1945, he handed down 2600 death sentences, more than half of all death sentences handed down by all branches of the Volksgerichtshof from its foundation in 1934 until its dissolution in 1945.
President of the People's Court
Freisler pursued rapid, frightening processes that spread terror among the population. Even minor offenses were punishable by death.
Freisler also led trials against more serious "traitors" - most notably those against the White Rose (students who distributed anti-war leaflets) and the conspirators who planned to assassinate Hitler in 1944. He directed all these processes, disregarding the law, insulting and humiliating the defendants.
Even the Minister of Justice complained: “The verdict does not explain which laws led to the sentencing”, Worried about the dignity of the court and informed Freisler about rumors that everyone who was tried by his court was automatically sentenced to death.
Freisler was a true adherent of the Nazi ideology, a man who entered it early out of conviction, and not just to make a career or to save his skin.
He liked to humiliate and kill people almost regardless of their guilt. His reign of terror ended only with his death. On February 3, 1945, Freisler was killed in an Allied bombing raid.
You can also read a short Article about the so-called "Eastern Legions", which were part of the Wehrmacht and fought against the USSR.