The University Record, April 1, 1997


Murder was crime under German Law, too

In a letter to The University Record (Record, March 18, 1997) Prof. John Griffith states that "the Holocaust . . . was in perfect compliance with existing German law." I have no idea where this information comes from, but I can assure him and all readers of the Record that murder has been a crime according to the German criminal code (Strafgesetzbuch) both before the Nazi assumption of power and during the Third Reich. The fact that the wholesale murder of Jews was government policy and was carried out by government functionaries, including members of the armed forces and security services, does not imply that these acts were in compliance with then-existing German law. Other murderers were tried and convicted during the Nazi time, and a few perpetrators of the Holocaust were prosecuted and convicted as murderers by German courts during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s on the basis of laws that were in existence during the Nazi era. The vast majority of the perpetrators, however, literally got away with murder not because the Holocaust was in compliance with German law but because much of the German judiciary was opposed to such trials since many of its members were holdovers from the Nazi era and often were unrepentant Nazis themselves.


Ernest G. Fontheim, research scientist emeritus, Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences