Roland Freisler

Roland Freisler (30 October 1893 – 3 February 1945) was a jurist and judge of Nazi Germany. He was State Secretary of the Reich Ministry of Justice, and President of the People's Court. He was also an attendee at the Wannsee Conference in 1942, which set in motion the Holocaust.

Roland Freisler
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J03238, Roland Freisler
Judge President of the People's Court
In office
20 August 1942 – 3 February 1945
Nominated byAdolf Hitler
Appointed byHeinrich Himmler
Preceded byOtto Thierack
Succeeded byHarry Haffner
Personal details
Born30 October 1893
Celle, Lower Saxony, German Empire
Died3 February 1945 (aged 51)
Berlin, Nazi Germany
Political partyNational Socialist German Workers' Party
Other political
Völkisch-Sozialer Block
Marion Russegger (m. 1928)
RelationsOswald Freisler (brother)
Alma materUniversity of Jena
AwardsIron Cross 1st Class & 2nd Class
Military service
Allegiance German Empire
Branch/servicePrussian Army
Years of service1914–1918
Battles/warsWorld War I

Early life

Roland Freisler was born in Celle, Lower Saxony, on 30 October 1893. He was the son of Julius Freisler (born 20 August 1862 in Klantendorf, Moravia), an engineer and teacher, and Charlotte Auguste Florentine Schwerdtfeger (born 30 April 1863 in Celle – died 20 March 1932 in Kassel).[1] He was baptised as a Protestant on 13 December 1893.[2] He had a younger brother, Oswald. In 1914 he was at law school when the outbreak of war interrupted his studies.[3]

World War I

Freisler saw active service during World War I. He enlisted as an officer cadet in 1914 with the Ober-Elsässisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr.167 in Kassel,[4] and by 1915 he was a lieutenant.[1] Whilst in the front-line with the German Imperial Army's 22nd Division he was awarded the Iron Cross both 2nd and 1st Class for heroism in action.[4] In October 1915 he was wounded in action on the Eastern Front and taken prisoner of war by Russian forces.[5]

Whilst a prisoner Freisler learned to speak Russian, and developed an interest in Marxism after the Russian Revolution had commenced. The Bolshevik provisional authority which took over responsibility for Freisler's prisoner of war camp made use of him as a 'Commissar' (as he was described by them in his repatriated prisoner of war paperwork in 1918) administratively organising the camp's food supplies in 1917-1918.[6] It is possible that after the Russian prisoner of war camps were emptying in 1918, with their internees being repatriated to Germany after the Armistice between Russia and the Central Powers had been signed, Freisler for a brief period became attached in some way to the Red Guards, though this is not supported by any known documentary evidence.[7] Another possibility is that after the Russian Revolution the description "Commissar" was merely an administrative title given by the Bolshevik authority for anyone employed in an administrative post in the prison camps without the political connotations that the title later acquired. However, in the early days of his National Socialist German Workers' Party career in the 1920s, Freisler was a part of the movement's left wing,[8] and in the late 1930s he attended the Soviet Moscow Trials to watch the proceedings. Freisler later rejected any insinuation that he had ever co-operated with the Nazi regime's ideological enemy, but his subsequent career as a political official in Germany was overshadowed by rumours about his time as a "Commissar" with the "Reds".[6]

Post-war legal career

Freisler returned to Germany in 1919 to complete his law studies at the University of Jena, and qualified as a Doctor of Law in 1922. From 1924 he worked as a solicitor in Kassel. He was also elected a city councillor as a member of the Völkisch-Sozialer Block ("People's Social Block"), an extreme nationalist splinter party.[9] Freisler joined the National Socialist German Workers' Party in July 1925 as Member #9679,[6] and gained authority immediately within the organisation by using his legal training to defend members of it who were regularly facing prosecutions for acts of political violence. As the Party transitioned from a fringe political beer-hall and street fighting movement into a political one, Freisler was elected to the Prussian Landtag, and later he became a Member of the Reichstag.

In 1927 Karl Weinrich, a Nazi member of the Prussian Landtag along with Freisler, characterised his then reputation in the rapidly expanding Nazi movement in the late 1920s: "Rhetorically Freisler is equal to our best speakers, if not superior; particularly on the broad masses he has influence, but thinking people mostly reject him. Party Comrade Freisler is only usable as a speaker though and is unsuitable for any position of authority because of his unreliablity and moodiness." [10]

Career in Nazi Germany

In February 1933, after Adolf Hitler had seized power over the German state, Freisler was appointed Director of the Prussian Ministry of Justice. He was Secretary of State in the Prussian Ministry of Justice in 1933–1934, and in the Reich Ministry of Justice from 1934 to 1942.

Freisler's mastery of legal texts, mental agility, dramatic courtroom verbal dexterity and verbal force, in combination with his zealous conversion to National Socialist ideology, made him the most feared judge in Germany during the Third Reich, and the personification of Nazism in domestic law. However, despite his talents and loyalty, Adolf Hitler never appointed him to any post beyond the legal system. That might have been because he was a lone figure, lacking support within the senior echelons of the Nazi hierarchy, but he had also been politically compromised by his brother, Oswald Freisler, also a lawyer. Oswald had acted as a defence counsel against the regime's authority several times during the increasingly politically-driven trials by which the Nazis sought to enforce their tyrannical control of German society, and he had the habit of wearing his Nazi Party membership badge in court whilst doing so. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels reproached Oswald Freisler and reported his actions to Adolf Hitler who, in response, ordered Freisler's expulsion from the Party. (Oswald Freisler died, allegedly by committing suicide, in 1939.)[7] In 1941 in a discussion at the "Führer Headquarters" about whom to appoint to replace Franz Gürtner, the Reich Justice Minister, who had died, Goebbels suggested Roland Freisler as an option; Hitler's reply, referring to Freisler's alleged "Red" past, was: "That old Bolshevik? No!"[6][7]

Contribution to the Nazification of the law

Freisler was a committed National Socialist ideologist, and used his legal skills to adapt its theories into practical law-making and judicature. He published a paper entitled "Die rassebiologische Aufgabe bei der Neugestaltung des Jugendstrafrechts ("The racial-biological task involved in the reform of juvenile criminal law").[11] In this document he argued that "racially foreign, racially degenerate, racially incurable or seriously defective juveniles" should be sent to juvenile centres or correctional education centres and segregated from those who are "German and racially valuable."[12]

He strongly advocated the creation of laws to punish Rassenschande ("race defilement", the Nazi term for sexual relations between "Aryans" and "inferior races"), to be classed as "racial treason." Friesler looked to racist laws in the United States as a model for Nazi legislation targeting Jewish people in Germany.[13] Friesler considered American Jim Crow racist legislation "primitive" for failing to provide a legal definition of the term black or negro person. Nevertheless, while some more conservative Nazi lawyers objected to the lack of precision with which a person could be defined as a "Jew," Friesler argued that American judges were able to identify black people for purposes of laws in American states that prohibited "miscegenation" between black and white people, and laws that otherwise codified racial segregation, and, therefore, German laws could similarly target Jews even if the term "Jew" could not be given a precise legal definition.[14]

In 1933 he published a pamphlet calling for the legal prohibition of "mixed-blood" sexual intercourse, which met with expressions of public unease in the dying elements of the German free press and non-Nazi political classes and, at the time, lacked public authorization from the policy of the Nazi Party, which had only just obtained dictatorial control of the state. It also led to a clash with his superior Franz Gürtner,[15] but Freisler's ideological views reflected things to come, as was shown by the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws within two years.

In October 1939, Freisler introduced the concept of 'precocious juvenile criminal' in the "Juvenile Felons Decree". This "provided the legal basis for imposing the death penalty and penitentiary terms on juveniles for the first time in German legal history."[16] Between 1933 and 1945 the Reich's Courts sentenced at least 72 German juveniles to death, among them 17-year-old Helmuth Hübener, found guilty of high treason for distributing anti-war leaflets in 1942.

On the outbreak of World War II Freisler issued a legal "Decree against National Parasites" (September 1939) introducing the term perpetrator type, which was used in combination with another National Socialist ideological term, parasite. The adoption of racial biological terminology into law portrayed juvenile criminality as 'parasitical', implying the need for harsher sentences to remedy it. He justified the new concept with: "in times of war, breaches of loyalty and baseness cannot find any leniency and must be met with the full force of the law."[16]

Wannsee Conference

On 20 January 1942 Freisler, representing the Reich Minister Franz Schlegelberger, attended the Wannsee Conference of senior governmental officials in a villa on the southwestern outskirts of Berlin to provide expert legal advice for the planning of the destruction of European Jewry.[17]

Presidency of the People's Court

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J03166, Berlin, Amtsübernahme Dr. Thierack
A meeting of the four Nazis who imposed Nazi ideology on the legal system of Germany. From left to right: Roland Freisler, Franz Schlegelberger, Otto Georg Thierack and Curt Rothenberger.

On 20 August 1942, Hitler promoted Otto Georg Thierack to Reich Justice Minister, replacing the retiring Schlegelberger, and named Freisler to succeed Thierack as president of the People's Court (Volksgerichtshof). This court had jurisdiction over a broad array of political offences, including black marketeering, work slowdowns and defeatism. These actions were viewed by Freisler as Wehrkraftzersetzung (undermining defensive capability) and were punished severely, with many death sentences. The People's Court under Freisler's domination almost always sided with the prosecuting authority, to the point that being brought before it was tantamount to a capital charge. Its separate administrative existence beyond the ordinary judicial system increased its notoriety, and despite its judicial trappings it rapidly turned into an executive execution arm and psychological domestic terror weapon of Nazi Germany's totalitarian regime, in the tradition of a revolutionary tribunal more than a court of law.[18]

Bundesarchiv Bild 151-17-15, Volksgerichtshof, Roland Freisler
Roland Freisler, 1944

Freisler chaired the First Senate of the People's Court wearing a blood scarlet judicial robe, in a hearing chamber bedecked with scarlet swastika-draped banners and a large black sculpted bust of Adolf Hitler's head upon a high pedestal behind his chair, opening each hearing session with the Nazi salute from the bench.[19] He acted as prosecutor, judge and jury all in one, and his own recorder as well, thereby controlling the record of the written grounds for the sentences that he passed.

The number of death sentences rose sharply under Freisler's rule. Approximately 90% of all proceedings that came before him received sentences of death or life imprisonment, the sentences frequently having been determined before the trial. Between 1942 and 1945, more than 5,000 death sentences were decreed by him, 2,600 of these through the court's First Senate, which Freisler controlled. He was responsible in his three years on the court for as many death sentences as all other senate sessions of the court combined in the court's existence between 1934 and 1945.[20]

Freisler became notorious during this period for berating each member of the steady stream of defendants passing before him, in a personalized injudicial manner from the bench on their way to their deaths, often shouting and occasionally yelling at them – particularly in cases of resistance to the authority of the Nazi state – in an enraged, glaringly clarion but dramatically controlled harsh voice, using a mastery of the craft of artifically professional legal courtroom "performance". He was known to be interested in Andrei Vyshinsky, the Chief Prosecutor of the Soviet purge trials, and had attended those show-trials to watch Vyshinsky's courtroom performances in a similar capacity in Moscow in 1938.[21][22]

White Rose show-trials

In 1943, Freisler punished several members of the White Rose resistance group the Gestapo had brought before him by ordering their executions by beheading by the guillotine (Fallbeil).

20th July Plot show-trials

Bundesarchiv Bild 151-39-23, Volksgerichtshof, Reinecke, Freisler, Lautz
1944 Freisler presiding over the German People's Court with Hermann Reinecke at left and at right, Oberreichsanwalt Ernst Lautz
Anklage Trott
Criminal case against six defendants in the 20 July 1944 plot in the German People's Court, presided over by Judge Roland Freisler, who were tried and executed 15 August 1944

In August 1944, some of the arrested perpetrators of the failed assassination of Adolf Hitler were taken before Freisler for punishment. The proceedings were filmed to be seen by the German public in cinema newsreels, portraying how Freisler ran his court, showing him alternating between cerebral questioning of the defendants, with clinical interrogations to prove their guilt of the charges, and verbally and psychologically toying with them to the point of enraged yelling of personal abuse at them from the bench. At one point he yelled at Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, who was trying to hold his trousers up after being given old, oversized and beltless clothing, "You dirty old man, why do you keep fiddling with your trousers?" Nearly all were sentenced to death by hanging, the sentences being carried out within two hours of the verdicts.[23]


On the morning of 3 February 1945, Freisler was conducting a Saturday session of the People's Court when United States Army Air Forces bombers attacked Berlin, led by the B-17 of USAAF Lt. Colonel Robert Rosenthal.[24] Government and Nazi Party buildings were hit, including the Reich Chancellery, the Gestapo headquarters, the Party Chancellery and the People's Court. Hearing the air-raid sirens, Freisler hastily adjourned the court and ordered that the prisoners before him be taken to an air-raid shelter, but stayed behind to gather files before leaving. A sudden direct hit on the court-building at 11:08[25] caused a partial internal collapse, with Freisler being crushed by a masonry column and killed while still in the courtroom.[26] Among the files was that of Fabian von Schlabrendorff, a 20 July Plot member who was on trial that day and was facing execution.[27] Freisler's body was found beneath the rubble still clutching the files he had stopped to retrieve.[6] A differing account stated that Freisler "was killed by a bomb fragment while trying to escape from his law court to the air-raid shelter," and "bled to death on the pavement outside the People's Court at Bellevuestrasse 15 in Berlin". Fabian von Schlabrendorff was "standing near Freisler when the latter met his end".[6] Freisler's death saved Schlabrendorff, who after the war became a judge of the Constitutional Court of the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesverfassungsgericht). Another version of Freisler's death states that he was killed by a British bomb that came through the ceiling of his courtroom as he was trying two women, who survived the explosion.[28]

A foreign correspondent reported, "Apparently nobody regretted his death."[26] Luise Jodl, then the wife of General Alfred Jodl, recounted more than 25 years later that she had been working at the Lützow Hospital when Freisler's body was brought in, and that a worker commented, "It is God's verdict." According to Mrs. Jodl, "Not one person said a word in reply."[29]

Freisler's body was buried in the grave of his wife's family at the Waldfriedhof Dahlem Cemetery in Berlin.[30] His name is not recorded on the gravestone.[31]

Personal life

Freisler married Marion Russegger on 24 March 1928; the marriage produced two sons, Harald and Roland.[32]

Freisler in film and fiction

Freisler appears in fictionalised form in the 1947 Hans Fallada novel Every Man Dies Alone. In 1943 he tried and handed down death penalties to Otto and Elise Hampel, whose true story inspired Fallada's novel.

In the novel Fatherland, which takes place in an alternate 1964 in which Nazi Germany won World War II, Freisler is mentioned as having survived until winter 1954, when he is killed by a maniac with a knife on the steps of the Berlin People's Court. It is implied that his death was actually caused by the Gestapo, to ensure that the Wannsee Conference and the Holocaust remained a secret.

Freisler has been portrayed by screen actors at least six times: by Rainer Steffen in the 1984 German television film Wannseekonferenz, by Roland Schäfer in the 1989 Anglo-French-German film Reunion, by Brian Cox in the British 1996 television film Witness Against Hitler, by Owen Teale in the 2001 BBC/HBO film Conspiracy, by André Hennicke in the 2005 film Sophie Scholl – The Final Days, and by Helmut Stauss in the 2008 film Valkyrie.

See also


  1. ^ a b ""Freisler, Karl Roland", in: Hessische Biografie". 2012-09-07. Retrieved 2013-09-29.
  2. ^ Koch, H. W. (15 November 1997). In the Name of the Volk: Political Justice in Hitler's Germany. p. 28. ISBN 1860641741. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  3. ^ 'Hitler's Hilfer - Roland Freisler' ('Hitler's Henchmen') television documentary series, by Guido Knopp, ZDF Enterprizes (1998).
  4. ^ a b 'Hitler's Helfer' by Guido Knopp (Pub. Goldmann, 1998).
  5. ^ 'Richter in Roter Robe - Freisler, Prasident des Volkgerichtshofes' (Judge in a Red Robe - Freisler, President of the People's Court) by Gert Buchheit (Pub. Paul List, 1968).
  6. ^ a b c d e f Knopp, Guido. Hitler's Hitmen, Sutton Publishing, 2000, pp. 216, 220–222, 228, 250.
  7. ^ a b c Wesel, Uwe. "Drei Todesurteile pro Tag" (Three death sentences per day), Die Zeit, 3 February 2005. Text in German Uwe Wesel is professor emeritus of Legal History in Berlin's Free University.
  8. ^ Koch, H. W. In the Name of the Volk: Political Justice in Hitler's Germany, Barnes & Noble, New York, 1997, p. 29.
  9. ^ 'Freisler, Political Soldier,' 'Der Spiegel' 23.9.1968, review of 'Judge in a Red Robe - Freisler, President of the People's Court' by Gert Buchheit (Pub. Paul List, 1968)
  10. ^ 'The Nazi Party 1919 to 1945: A Complete History' by Dietrich Orlow (Pub. Enigmas Books, 2007)
  11. ^ In Monatsschrift für Kriminalbiologie und Strafrechtsreform, 1939, p. 209.
  12. ^ Cited by Wayne Geerling, see below in the Bibliography.
  13. ^ James Whitman "Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law" ( Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2017), pp. 103-106
  14. ^ James Whitman "Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law" ( Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2017), pp. 106-110
  15. ^ Koonz, Claudia The Nazi Conscience pp 173-174 ISBN 0-674-01172-4
  16. ^ a b Wayne Geerling, Id.
  17. ^ 'Hitler's Helfer - Roland Freisler' ('Hitler's Henchmen'), television documentary by Guido Knopp (ZDF Enterprizes, 1998).
  18. ^ 'Judge in a Red Robe - Freisler, President of the People's Court', by Gert Buchheit (Paul List, 1968).
  19. ^ 'Hitlers Helfer - Ronald Freisler der Hinrichter' (Hitler's Henchmen - Roland Freisler), ZDF Enterprizes (1998) television documentary series, by Guido Knopp.
  20. ^ 'The Hitler Virus' by Peter Wyden (Pub. Arcade Publishing, 2002).
  21. ^ 'Hitler's Helfer - Roland Freisler' (Hitler's Henchmen - Roland Freisler), television documentary series by Guido Knopp, ZDF Enterprizes (1998).
  22. ^ Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Touchstone Edition) (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990)
  23. ^ 'Hitlers Helfer - Roland Freisler', television documentary, by Guido Knopp, ZDF Enterprizes (1998).
  24. ^ "100th Bomb Group Foundation - Personnel - LT COL Robert ROSENTHAL". 100th Bomb Group Foundation. Retrieved December 5, 2016. Dec 1, 1944-Feb 3, 1945 - 418th BS, 100th BG (H) ETOUSAAF (8AF) Squadron Commander, 55 hours, B-17 Air Leader 5 c/m (combat missions) 45 c/hrs (combat hours) 1 Division Lead (Berlin Feb 3, 1945, shot down, picked up by Russians and returned to England) Acting Command 4 Wing Leads, Pilot Feb 3, 1945 - BERLIN - MACR #12046, - A/C#44 8379
  25. ^ 'Hitler's Helfer - Roland Freisler' (Hitler's Henchmen - Roland Freisler) television documentary, by Guido Knopp, (ZDF Enterprizes, 1998)
  26. ^ a b Granberg, Jerje. AP dispatch from Stockholm, reprinted as "Berlin, Nerves Racked By Air Raids, Fears Russian Army Most," Oakland Tribune, 23 February 1945, p. 1.
  27. ^ Will, George F. , "Plot failed, but the spirit lived," reprinted in The Anniston Star, 19 July 1974, p. 4.
  28. ^ Davies, Norman. Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory (New York: Viking Penguin, 2007), p. 308.
  29. ^ Buchanan, William, "Nazi War Criminal's Widow Recalls Nuremberg," Boston Globe report reprinted in The Daily Times-News (Burlington, N.C.), 20 December 1972, p. 1.
  30. ^ In the same cemetery lies the grave of Ulrich Wilhelm Graf Schwerin von Schwanenfeld, a 20 July conspiracy member executed upon Freisler's court order a few months earlier for the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler.
  31. ^ 'Hitlers Helfer - Roland Freisler', television documentary by Guido Knopp (1998).
  32. ^ Jonas Hubner: 'Unrechtspflege. Roland Freisler und die hessische justiz'.


  • Breuning, Stephan. Roland Freisler: Rechtsideologien im III. Reich. Neuhegelianismus kontra Hegel ("Legal ideologies in the Third Reich. Neo-Hegelianism contra Hegel") Hamburg, Kovac 2002, ISBN 3-8300-0667-5.
  • Buchheit, Gert. Richter in roter Robe. Freisler, Präsident des Volksgerichtshofes ("Judges in red robes. Freisler, president of the People's Court") München, 1968.
  • Geerling, Wayne. "Protecting the National Community From Juvenile Delinquency: Nazification of Juvenile Criminal Law in the Third Reich", a chapter from the author's dissertation Resistance as High Treason: Juvenile Resistance in the Third Reich, Melbourne University, 2001. Read it here
  • Knopp, Guido. Hitler's Hitmen (Chp. 4, "The Hanging Judge"). Stroud, UK: Sutton Publishing, 2002.
  • Koch, H. W. In the Name of the Volk: Political Justice in Hitler's Germany London, 1989.
  • Ortner, Helmut. Der Hinrichter. Roland Freisler, Mörder im Dienste Hitlers ("The executioner. Roland Freisler, Assassin in Hitler's service") Wien, Zsolnay 1993, ISBN 3-552-04504-X.

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Otto Thierack
Judge President of the People's Court
20 August 1942 – 3 February 1945
Succeeded by
Harry Haffner
Alfred Kranzfelder

Alfred Kranzfelder (10 February 1908 – 10 August 1944) was a German naval officer and a member of the German resistance against Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime.

He was born in Kempten im Allgäu, Bavaria and joined the Reichsmarine in 1927. In 1933 he was promoted to Leutnant zur See and in 1937 as a member of the Kriegsmarine he served on the battleship Admiral Scheer. He was transferred to Berlin for health reasons in February 1940, where he worked in the Operations Department of the 1st Sea War Branch of the Naval High Command as liaison officer to the Foreign Ministry.

He met fellow naval officer Berthold Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg in 1943 and became active in the resistance against the Nazi regime. His opportunities to actively participate in the 20 July plot were limited but he was asked to find further potential resistance members in the navy.

He was arrested shortly after Berthold von Stauffenburg on 24 July 1944 and tried by the People's Court on 10 August 1944 with Erich Fellgiebel, Georg Hansen, Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg and Berthold Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. He was sentenced to death by Roland Freisler and executed by hanging on 10 August 1944 at Plötzensee prison, Berlin.

André Hennicke

André Hennicke (born 21 September 1958) is a German actor. He has appeared in more than one hundred films since 1984.

Hennicke was born in Johanngeorgenstadt in Saxony. He was awarded a German television award for best actor for Something to Remind Me in 2002. He has appeared in the 2004 film Downfall as SS General Wilhelm Mohnke, 2005's Sophie Scholl – The Final Days as infamous Nazi judge Roland Freisler, and the 2005 docudrama Speer und Er as Nazi leader Rudolf Hess. In 2009, he appeared as one of the primary antagonists in science-fiction thriller Pandorum, portraying the leader of a group of genetically mutated human-hybrids. In 2015 in Buddha's Little Finger plays role of Vasily Chapayev.

Bernhard Letterhaus

Bernhard Letterhaus (10 July 1894, Barmen – 14 November 1944) was a German Catholic Trade Unionist and member of the resistance to Nazism.

He grew up in Barmen, Wuppertal and after an apprenticeship in a textile factory, he was an active member of the Association of Christian textile workers. He served in World War I and was then secretary of the Catholic Labour Movement in Mönchengladbach. He moved to Cologne where he was in contact with Nikolaus Gross a fellow catholic opponent of the Nazis.

He was conscripted into the Wehrmacht upon the outbreak of World War II. Upon posting to the OKW in Berlin he developed contacts with the 20 July plot conspirators including Carl Goerdeler's group. If the attempt to assassinate Hitler had succeeded he was earmarked to be the Reconstruction Minister. He was arrested in its aftermath, tried by the People's Court, sentenced to death by Roland Freisler and executed at Plötzensee Prison the next day.

Carl Langbehn

Carl Langbehn (6 December 1901 – 12 October 1944) was a German lawyer and member of the resistance to Nazism.

He was born in Padang, Dutch East Indies. During the Weimar Republic, he was a member of the German People's Party. In 1933, he joined the Nazi Party, but during the 1930s he began to grow increasingly critical of the regime. He was an acquaintance of Heinrich Himmler as their daughters attended the same school. By 1943, he was aware that Himmler was interested in the idea of negotiating peace behind Adolf Hitler's back. He introduced him to Johannes Popitz who suggested a coup d'état as the war was lost, but Himmler was not interested.

Langbehn was also a friend and adviser to Christabel Bielenberg and her husband Peter. In September 1943, he travelled to Switzerland and met with Allen Welsh Dulles of the Office of Strategic Services to determine the intention of the Allies and learnt that they wanted an unconditional surrender from Germany.

Upon his return, he was arrested by the Gestapo, tried by the People's Court, sentenced to death by Roland Freisler, and hanged at Plötzensee prison, Berlin.

Eberhard Finckh

Eberhard Finckh (7 November 1899 - 30 August 1944) was a German colonel on the general staff of the German Army, a longtime opponent of Nazism and a member of the German resistance to Adolf Hitler’s regime.

Finckh was born in Kupferzell, in the Kingdom of Württemberg. He grew up in Urach and Stuttgart and joined the Imperial Army in 1917 and was then was a member of the Reichswehr. In 1927 he was posted to the War Academy in Berlin-Moabit, where he later met Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg. In World War II he first served in Poland and on the Eastern Front as quartermaster of the 6th Army and in 1943 for Army Group South. He then served under General Günther Blumentritt as the chief quartermaster to the commander in chief in Paris and he was involved in planning the coup attempt in the west linked to the 20 July plot with Colonel-General Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel and his adjutant Lieutenant-Colonel Cäsar von Hofacker.

On 20 July he was notified by telephone from Zossen that Hitler had been assassinated and with other officers he was called to a meeting in von Stülpnagel's office and was issued with prearranged orders for the arrest of senior Gestapo, SS and SD personnel in Paris.After the failure of the coup attempt he was arrested by the Gestapo, interrogated at length and dishonorably discharged from the army by a court of honor. He was then tried by the People's Court on 30 August 1944 with von Stülpnagel who had blinded himself in a suicide attempt, Caesar von Hofacker and Ottfried von Linstow. He was sentenced to death by Roland Freisler and executed by hanging the same day at Plötzensee prison, Berlin.

Erwin von Witzleben

You may hand us over to the executioner, but in three months' time the disgusted and harried people will bring you to book and drag you alive through the dirt in the streets.

Job Wilhelm Georg Erdmann Erwin von Witzleben (4 December 1881 – 8 August 1944) was a German officer, by 1940 in the rank of Generalfeldmarschall (General Field Marshal), and army commander in the Second World War. A leading conspirator in the 20 July plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was designated to become Commander-in-Chief of the Wehrmacht in a post-Nazi regime had the plot succeeded.

Ewald Loeser

Ewald Oskar Ludwig Löser (11 April 1888 – 23 December 1970) was a German lawyer, a board member of Krupp AG and a member of the resistance to Nazism.

He was born in Storkow, Brandenburg and gained a doctorate in Administrative Law from The University of Göttingen in 1911. From 1930 to 1934 he served under Karl Goerdeler as the deputy mayor and treasurer of the city of Leipzig.

He joined board of the Friedrich Krupp AG in 1934 as Director of Administration and Finance. From 1939 he was also on the board of Dresdner Bank. In 1943 Karl Goerdeler

convinced him of the necessity of a coup to overthrow Hitler. If the 20 July Plot assassination attempt had succeeded he was earmarked to be the Minister of Finance. He was arrested in its aftermath and on 20 October 1944 was tried by the People's Court, but he succeeded in convincing Roland Freisler that he was suffering from memory loss. Avoiding conviction he was committed to a sanatorium and survived the war.

In 1947 he was indicted at the Krupp Trial for war crimes, including use of slave labor and plunder of occupied Europe. Following his conviction in 1948 he was imprisoned for seven years. He died in 1970 aged 82.

Freisler (surname)

Freisler or Freissler is a German surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Roland Freisler (1893–1945), Nazi lawyer and judge

Oswald Freisler (1895–1939), German lawyer and brother of Roland Freisler

Marion Freisler (1910–1997), wife of Roland Freisler

Anton Freissler (1838–1916), Austrian elevator manufacturer

Friedrich-Georg Eberhardt

Friedrich-Georg Eberhardt (15 January 1892 – 9 September 1964) was a German Generalleutnant who commanded the following divisions during World War II; the 60th Infantry Division, 38th Infantry Division, 174th Reserve Division, and 286th Security Division.

He was send four times to the Führerreserve.

From December 1944 on, he was judge at the Reichskriegsgericht under Roland Freisler.

He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, the highest award in the military and paramilitary forces of Nazi Germany during World War II.

He commanded the German forces in one of the opening battles of World War II, the Battle of Westerplatte.

Harry Haffner

Harry Haffner (28 May 1900 – 14 October 1969) was a German lawyer and the last Judge-President of the Nazi People's Court.

Haffner was born in Uslar, Lower Saxony. He graduated in law in 1926 and worked as a prosecutor. He joined the Nazi Party and SA on 1 May 1933. Haffner was then Chief of Staff at the National Socialist Association of Legal Professionals and Zellenleiter of the NSV. In 1934, he was appointed a prosecutor in Celle, and in 1936 he was appointed senior prosecutor to the Prosecutor General of Kassel. In 1938, he was a representative of the General Prosecutor in Hamm. On 1 January 1944, Haffner became the General Prosecutor of Katowice in occupied Poland where the Auschwitz concentration camp fell within his remit – he visited the camp on 28 June 1944.

On 12 March 1945, following the death of Roland Freisler in an air raid, he succeeded him as the last Judge-President of the Volksgerichtshof (People's Court). He held this office until 24 April 1945 when the court finally ceased its activity only two weeks before the German surrender.

From 1946 he lived under the name of Heinrich Hartmann in the town of Sontra, where he ran a shop with his wife. In 1953, he turned himself in to the authorities in Kassel and the prosecutor made his past public, but the investigations against him were dismissed. He died in Hornberg, aged 69.

Hilde Benjamin

Hilde Benjamin (née Lange, 5 February 1902 – 18 April 1989) was an East German judge and Minister of Justice. She is best known for presiding over a series of political show trials in the 1950s. She is particularly known as responsible for the politically motivated persecution of Erna Dorn and Ernst Jennrich. Hilde Benjamin was widely compared to the Nazi-era judge Roland Freisler and referred to as the "Red Freisler." In his 1994 inauguration speech German President Roman Herzog referenced Benjamin's status as a symbol of injustice, noting that her name was incompatible with the German constitution and the rule of law.

Joseph Müller (priest)

Joseph Müller (19 August 1894 – 11 September 1944) was a German Catholic priest and critic of the Nazi regime. He was tried by the "People's Court" and executed at Brandenburg-Görden Prison.

Karlrobert Kreiten

Karlrobert Kreiten (26 June 1916, Bonn, Rhine Province - 7 September 1943) was a German pianist, though holding Dutch citizenship his entire life due to his Dutch father.

He was seen by Wilhelm Furtwängler and others as one of the most talented young pianists in Germany. Born in Bonn, his German mother was the classical singer Emmy Kreiten, née Liebergesell, who sang under the stage name Emmy Kreiten-Barido. His Dutch father Theo Kreiten, was a composer, concert pianist, and writer. The Kreiten family originated in the area of the Lower Rhineland, along the current Dutch-German border.

He made his debut at the age of eleven with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Concerto in A major in a live broadcast. He was educated in Berlin by Claudio Arrau.

Kreiten was reported to the Gestapo by Nazi neighbor Ellen Ott-Monecke about making negative remarks about Adolf Hitler and the war effort. He was indicted at the Volksgerichtshof, with Roland Freisler presiding, and condemned to death. Friends and family frantically tried to save his life, but to no avail. The family only accidentally learned that Karlrobert had been executed by hanging, with 185 other inmates, at Plötzensee prison.

His execution triggered a wave of articles in the German press about this "treacherous" artist. Prominent journalist Werner Höfer had to retire in 1987 when his articles about Kreiten became known to a wider public.

Today in Berlin, a memorial of the life and death of Kreiten exists along the "Topography of Terror" outdoor exhibit, which deals with the terror inflicted by the German SS and the Gestapo. The very prison cells that held him and others arrested by the Gestapo have been unearthed and remain laid bare for all to see. Streets in Düsseldorf, Bonn, Hilden and Cologne have been named in his honor. His only sister, Rosemarie von Studnitz, became a book publisher in the United States and died in 1975. In September 2003 the Dutch composer Rudi Martinus van Dijk had his work Kreitens Passion for baritone, full choir and symphony orchestra premiered in Düsseldorf by the Düsseldorf Symfoniker in memoriam of Karlrobert Kreiten.

Marion Freisler

Marion Freisler (10 February 1910 in Hamburg – 21 January 1997 in Munich), née Russegger was the wife of Roland Freisler, the infamous judge and chairman of the Nazi Volksgerichtshof (People's Court), who died in 1945 during an air raid in Berlin. She is sometimes mistakenly referred to as Anna Freisler.

Marion Russegger was born 10 February 1910 in Hamburg, the daughter of Bernhard Adolf Cajetan Russegger, a merchant in Hamburg and Bremen, and Cornelia Pirscher. On 24 March 1928, she married Roland Freisler, who was a lawyer and city councillor of the Nazi Party in Kassel at the time. They had two sons, Harald and Roland, and both were baptized. On 3 February 1945, her husband was killed during an Allied air raid in Berlin. In his will, dated 1 October 1944, Freisler had decreed that their two houses belonged to his wife.

After the war, Marion Freisler resumed her birth name Russegger and moved to Munich.

In 1985 there was a scandal about Russegger. In 1974, her pension was raised by about 400 Deutsche Mark. The explanation given by the pension office was that had her husband survived the war, and not been executed, disbarred, or imprisoned by the military tribunals of the allied countries, he presumably would have had a successful career as a lawyer or a senior judge. This decision was protested by a member of the Bavarian Landtag, but the move was rejected by the state government and there were no consequences for Marion Freisler. This was one of the last incidents connected with the problematic issue of social integration of National Socialist jurists in the Federal Republic of Germany in the early years.In 1997, Marion Freisler was buried in Berlin, in the Russegger family plot, alongside her parents and her husband (Roland Freisler’s name is not on his gravestone).

Oswald Freisler

Oswald Freisler (29 December 1895 in Hamelin – 4 March 1939 in Berlin) was a lawyer in Nazi Germany and the brother of the Judge President of the People's Court, Roland Freisler.

Otto Georg Thierack

Otto Georg Thierack (19 April 1889 – 26 October 1946) was a German Nazi jurist and politician.

Owen Teale

Owen Teale (born 20 May 1961) is a Welsh actor best known for his role as Ser Alliser Thorne in the HBO fantasy TV series Game of Thrones.

People's Court (Germany)

The People's Court (German: Volksgerichtshof) was a Sondergericht ("special court") of Nazi Germany, set up outside the operations of the constitutional frame of law. Its headquarters were originally located in the former Prussian House of Lords in Berlin, later moved to the former Königsberg Wilhelmsgymnasium at Bellevuestrasse 15 in Potsdamer Platz (the location now occupied by the Sony Center; a marker is located on the sidewalk nearby).The court was established in 1934 by order of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, in response to his dissatisfaction at the outcome of the Reichstag fire trial, in which all but one of the defendants was acquitted. The court had jurisdiction over a rather broad array of "political offenses", which included crimes like black marketeering, work slowdowns, defeatism, and treason against the Third Reich. These crimes were viewed by the court as Wehrkraftzersetzung ("disintegration of defensive capability") and were accordingly punished severely; the death penalty was meted out in numerous cases.

The Court handed down an enormous number of death sentences under Judge-President Roland Freisler, including those that followed the plot to kill Hitler on 20 July 1944. Many of those found guilty by the Court were executed in Plötzensee Prison in Berlin. The proceedings of the court were often even less than show trials in that some cases, such as that of Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans Scholl and fellow White Rose activists, trials were concluded in less than an hour without evidence being presented or arguments made by either side. The president of the court often acted as prosecutor, denouncing defendants, then pronouncing his verdict and sentence without objection from defense counsel, who usually remained silent throughout. It almost always sided with the prosecution, to the point that being hauled before it was tantamount to a death sentence. While Nazi Germany was not a rule of law state, the People's Court frequently dispensed with even the nominal laws and procedures of regular German trials, and was thus easily characterized as a kangaroo court.

Sophie Scholl – The Final Days

Sophie Scholl – The Final Days (German: Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage) is a 2005 German historical drama film directed by Marc Rothemund and written by Fred Breinersdorfer. It is about the last days in the life of Sophie Scholl, a 21-year-old member of the anti-Nazi non-violent student resistance group the White Rose, part of the German Resistance movement. She was found guilty of high treason by the People’s Court and executed the same day, 22 February 1943.

The film was presented at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2005 and won Silver Bear awards for Best Director and Best Actress (Julia Jentsch). It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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