Friday, July 25, 2008

Reich Minister of Justice Gives the Game Away

On August 20, 1942, Otto Georg Thierack assumed the office of Reich Minister of Justice. Over the next two months, he proceeded to hand over criminal proceedings concerning Jews to Himmler's SS. During this process, Thierack made at least three documented statements, preserved in the Nuremberg trial archives, in which he revealed that this measure was enacted in the context of an on-going extermination of the Jews.

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The first statement was a record of a conversation with Goebbels dated 14 September (Nuremberg ref 682-PS; collected in Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, Vol III, p.496). Two themes are notable. Firstly, it clearly specifies the categories earmarked for genocide. Secondly, it reveals that forced labour was a form of extermination, not an alternative to extermination:
TRANSLATION OF DOCUMENT 682-PS

DISCUSSION OF THIERACK WITH DR. GOEBBELS ON SEPT. 14, 1942 IN BERLIN 1-2.15 p.m.

2. With regard to the destruction of asocial life, Dr. Goebbels is of the opinion that the following groups should be exterminated : Jews and gypsies unconditionally, Poles who have to serve 3-4 years of penal servitude, and Czechs and Germans who are sentenced to death or penal servitude for life or to security custody [Sicherungsvorwahrung] for life. The idea of exterminating them by labor is the best. For the rest however, except in the aforementioned cases, every case has to be dealt with individually. In this case, of course, Czechs and Germans have to be differently judged. There may be cases where a German sentenced to 15 years of penal servitude is not to be considered asocial, but in contrast to this a person sentenced to penal servitude up to 8 years may be.
These themes were reiterated four days later when Thierack held a conference with Himmler. The memorandum of that conference was Nuremberg document 654-PS and can be found here. The key passage reads:
2. Delivery of asocial elements [asozialer Elemente] while serving penal sentences to the Reich Leader SS to be worked to death [zur Vernichtung durch Arbeit]. Persons under security detention, Jews, gypsies, Russians, and Ukrainians; Poles with more than 3-year sentences; and Czechs and Germans with more than 8-year sentences, will be turned over without exception, according to the decision of the Reich Minister of Justice.
Finally, on 13 October 1942, Thierack wrote to Reichsleiter Bormann a letter that was presented to the The Justice Trial (United States of America v. Alstötter et al.) as NG-558. This read in part as follows:
With a view to freeing the German people of Poles, Russians, Jews, and gypsies and with a view to making the Eastern territories which have been incorporated into the Reich available for settlements for German nationals, I intend to turn over criminal proceedings against Poles, Russians, Jews, and gypsies to the Reichsfuehrer SS. In so doing I base myself on the principle that the administration of justice can only make a small contribution to the extermination of members of these peoples. The Justice Administration undoubtedly pronounces very severe sentences on such persons, but that is not enough to constitute any material contribution towards the realization of the above-mentioned aim.
Thierack's letter, and his earlier statements, may be read as an admission by him that the Nazis were running a criminal state, the aims of which could only be achieved by shedding even the pretence of justice.

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