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Hitler's Justice: The Courts of the Third Reich Paperback – February 1, 1992

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (February 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067440419X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674404199
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Muller, a former professor of law at Bremen University in Germany who now works in the Bremen justice department, argues that German lawyers and jurists willingly cooperated with the draconian regime of the Nazis and leapt to the task of providing the regulations that spelled out Nazi policies. The racial laws, defining Aryans and Jews and restricting the latter by ever-harsher measures, generated a detailed body of legal precedent. Judges enforced the Nazi euthanasia program and made no attempt to interfere with concentration camps. Peoples' Courts and Special Courts were formed so that sentences even more brutal than usual could be imposed. Muller further contends that the postwar West German government failed to make a complete break with Nazi "justice," e.g., judges, lawyers, and law professors under the old system often retained their offices; his indictment of the West German system is largely anecdotal, however. Nevertheless, the book is indispensable for specialists and of interest to informed lay readers.
- David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., Ohio
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Written by a German lawyer, published in Germany four years ago, and now expertly translated into English...Hitler's Justice tells an ugly story of moral corruption and professional degradation...Müller's book can in any event help us to see that judges should not be eager enlisters in popular movements of the day, or allow themselves to become so immersed in a professional culture that they are oblivious to the human consequences of their decisions. (Richard A. Posner New Republic)

By presenting one horrific perversion of justice after the other, Müller effectively destroys one pious myth to be found in post-war legal literature--that judges never wavered from the positivistic tradition of German law and did no more than apply existing codes. (V. R. Berghahn New York Times Book Review)

Hitler's Justice was designed to accomplish two important goals: first, to bring before the German public evidence establishing the utter failure of the vast majority of the German legal profession during the Third Reich; and second, to expose the unwillingness of the German legal profession after 1945 to acknowledge and remedy its earlier failure. Müller deserves praise for setting himself these goals, as well as for accomplishing them...Today, Hitler's Justice speaks with particular power to those judges who struggle with the most acute clashes between their sense of justice and the law. (Markus Dirk Dubber Columbia Law Review)

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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See all 9 customer reviews
This book is a heavily researched piece of scholarship.
A fascinating read for general readers and also those interested in either history, ethics and the law.
Chris Hugill
This book is written in a slightly dry way and is probably meant for an audience of lawyers.
Tom Munro

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Tom Munro on January 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is written in a slightly dry way and is probably meant for an audience of lawyers. It is however written with passion and fire.
The German Judiciary, prior to the First World War, had been a servant of the monarchy. Muller describes how between the wars, the judiciary was hostile to the Weimar Republic, and gave very light sentences to right-wing groups who were charged with treason, following attempts to overthrow the democratic government.
After the Nazi party took power the courts became the willing servants of the regime. Muller notes that all but a tiny percentage of Judges and prosecutors had joined the Nazi party. The removal of Jews and former communists from the German bar and courts was accomplished without a whimper of protest. In fact German bar associations supported such moves by making it an ethical crime to practice with a Jew.
With the promulgation of laws aimed at removing the civil rights of Jews and protecting the German race, the courts bent over backwoods to increase the scope and effectiveness of such laws. Muller quotes countless examples. One case relates to the court's approach to dealing with "Jews" convicted of having sexual relations with "Germans". The existing laws allowed only for a term of imprisonment is such cases. However, courts on their own initiative, would use provisions which allowed the death penalty to apply to repeat offenders to condemn Jews and Poles who had sex with Germans. Muller quotes one example of a young man who was unaware that he was in fact Jewish. He had a number of liaisons and it came to light that his birth records showed that his grand parents were "Israelites".
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By George L. Mertens on July 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Due to my interest in the history of Europe in the first half of the last century, I have read quite a number of the standard histories through the second world war. As an attorney, I have also had a keen interest in legal theory over this same period of time. As to Germany, from the mid-1920's through the end of the war, I have generally run into two types of approaches on legal theory, both generally comprising a chapter or two of a larger history. Usually, the author either explained how judges had been "entangled" in the system and gave an almost sympathetic view of their position under the regime. These authors had the tendency to distinguish the more notorious judges from the judges in the lower courts. The other approach has generally cited a few outrageous rulings of courts during the period and leave the analysis at that. Muller has broken through these shallow approaches and finally given the insight into the courts that one would need to understand what conduct brought a citizen into the courts, what precisely happened to the citizen in the court and dynamic between the courts, law professors and the party in this context.

Muller cites to a breath-taking number of primary sources. I can only wonder how he could find the time to digest all those case records and case decisions. Indeed, I can't imagine how he found them. Regardless, as an attorney, I found his analysis totally objective and somewhat frightening.

As to legal theory, he is the first author I have run across who even tries to explain the transition of German constitutional law from the level directly tied to the age of the enlightenment in Europe to the Nazi regime.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Robert D. Harmon VINE VOICE on October 10, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
How the German legal profession abandoned the rule of law, notably in the special tribunals (Special Courts and People's Courts) in Weimar and Nazi Germany. Muller notes that this trend pre-dated Hitler, that the laws enabling it were in the name of national security, that it followed the replacement of liberal with conservative judges over several decades, pre-Hitler, and that the judges had come to accept public affairs as a "friend or foe" paradigm with no room for loyal opposition.

1933 and post-9/11 are not identical, of course. The 1933 Reichstag Fire Decree suspended numerous civil-liberty sections of the republic's constitution itself, and for all citizens of the republic, while the current U.S. military tribunals simply remove a class of enemy combatants from normal criminal or military jurisdiction. However, the Weimar courts had created courts of special jurisdiction, and types of national-security offenses, long before 1933. Hitler merely took this trend, and the state-necessity doctrine, to its next logical level, and Mr. Muller is very good at putting this in its context. The injustices pre- and post-dated Hitler.

U.S. readers should remember that the German legal system had considerable differences with Anglo-American jurisprudence, with the latter's greater reliance on precedential case law, neutral judges, and independent defense counsel. Still, here we see how a once-proud legal system turned rule of law into a blood-stained rule of force, dressed in legal robes. A valuable, if chilling, work.
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