nazi crimes on trial
(east-german trials)


To date, there exists no reliable overview of the criminal proceedings involving National Socialist homicidal crimes as conducted by the East German judiciary in the former Soviet occupational zone and - as of 1949 - in the former German Democratic Republic. The only survey we possess is the one published by the GDR in 1965 (Die Haltung beider deutschen Staaten zu den Nazi- und Kriegsverbrechen. Berlin, 1965 / The Attitude of both German states towards Nazi Crimes and War Crimes). This publication, however, contains a severely limited selection from the entire body of post-war East German Nazi trials. Of all the criminal proceedings involving NS homicidal crimes more than 80% remain unmentioned. Moreover, the statistics included in the book refer to convictions only. In only one passage (page 27) mention is made of the fact that there were also a substantial number of trials which ended with acquittal, dismissal, etc.

But, until today, it largely remains obscure what was actually prosecuted in East Germany and what the priorities of the East German prosecution policies towards NS homicidal crimes were. Equally unclear is a precise answer to the questions what kind of legal viewpoints were applied in the approximately 1600 judgments which addressed NS homicidal crimes, or how the appreciation of evidence looked like, and what the results of the trial proceedings were. As in West Germany, jurisprudence with regard to NS homicidal crimes - particularly of the lower courts - was only rarely published in East German legal journals and collections of court decisions.

An attempt, made at the end of the 1960s, to publish the East German trial decisions together with the West German ones in the "Justiz und Verbrechen" series failed, as the GDR authorities were not in favor of the idea (probably because of the joint publication with the West German judgments).

Only in the beginning of the 1990s therefore, were we able to start our search for the relevant proceedings and to begin collecting the court judgments. By now, we've been able to identify 933 trial proceedings concerning NS homicidal crimes, involving 1716 court judgments relating to a total of 1637 defendants.

The basis for our research consisted of a variety of sources, including both published and unpublished documentation, such as non-public surveys, reports and studies of government agencies, judicial records, references in East and West German judgments to East German trials. Also, we were able to make use of the expert knowledge of a number of former employees of the East German judiciary.

Most of these sources had serious limitations, however.

First of all, in general, the documents mention only a fraction of the proceedings. Even in the central card-index of the Chief State Attorney of the GDR more than 60 cases concerning NS homicidal crimes are missing, among them the famous so-called Puttfarken case (Cf. Radbruch, "Gesetzliches Unrecht und übergesetzliches Recht", SJZ 1946 p.105 and following), as well as 23 other cases, 14 of which ended with life sentences while 9 resulted in a death sentence.

Secondly, all document sources limit their - more or less correct - registration to the final judgment. References to decisions of appeal courts such as the District Courts of Appeal or the Supreme Court of the GDR are nearly always lacking. This also applies to earlier judgments passed by district courts (Land- bzw. Bezirksgerichte) in the same case, but subsequently annulled - either in part or in whole - by the appeal courts.

And, finally, it turned out that the content descriptions of the cases - if given at all - were often lacking in precision or even plainly wrong.

In order to establish the exact chronology of the proceedings, final judgments, appeal decisions and - if appropriate - previous trial verdicts had to be searched for in no less than 40 former East German archives.

This search was complicated by the fact that the former East German Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit or MfS) had, over time, taken into its custody a substantial number of these judicial records. In one respect, this had the great advantage that these records had been carefully kept and had escaped destruction. However, as the MfS had transformed these judicial records into state security records for its own purposes, it had destroyed the original - i.e. judicial - registration. Thus, instead of cataloging these records by the name of the court, the date of judgment and its corresponding file number - i.e. according to standard judicial registration rules - the MfS had re-registered these files by listing only the names of the defendants. This made it impossible to easily identify the relevant judgments.

This explains why our search for the trials and the corresponding records took such a long time. By now, however, we have collected over 90% of all trial judgments, which were identified in the course of our investigations. On this web-site, you will - ultimately - find a complete and systematic (translated) description of each of these cases.

The trial judgments themselves are published in the series 'DDR-Justiz und NS-Verbrechen'.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.