Hitler had regrets
How judges from Hamburg ruled during the Nazi era
Hitherto unknown files from the time of National Socialism show how the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court in Hamburg worked at that time. The documents also show how fellow citizens were denounced and how perpetrators continued to live unmolested after 1945.
When Adolf Hitler drove through the center of Eckernförde in an open Mercedes on August 29, 1935, many people cheered him from the roadside. The Fiihrer bends over to a little girl in a light-colored dress, who is held out to him by a woman. The scene is captured in a photo. One was not there that morning: Reepschlägermeister Peter Scheller. "He was already noticed," says his granddaughter Karin Kinkel, born in 1943, who lives in Eckernförde. Scheller was a German national. He didn't like the Nazis.
VIDEO: How Hamburg judges ruled during the Nazi era (11 min)
"A know-it-all and complainer"
"Scheller is a man who to this day refuses the German greeting. He is a know-it-all and complainer. He is typically reactionary and deliberately acts against the National Socialist people's regime. Heil Hitler!" This is what it says in a statement from the district leadership of the NSDAP to the Hamburg public prosecutor's office on January 15, 1945. The regime is on the verge of collapse, but Scheller is still to be tried.
A few days after July 20, 1944, the 60-year-old was serving a customer in his rope shop. He is said to have openly regretted the failure of the assassination attempt on Hitler. "If the attack had gone differently, it wouldn't have been that bad," he is reported to have said. This is what the customer, Irmgard Heldt, reports to the NSDAP Eckernförde. Scheller is arrested, ends up in the Neumünster prison. Scheller had "in no way understood the meaning of the German struggle for fate," notes the Gestapo in Kiel.
"Five meter files" covering 460 criminal cases
Her grandfather's imprisonment in the "Third Reich" was a taboo subject in the family, says granddaughter Karin Kinkel. Her mother only raised the matter decades later. Interesting details about the fate of Eckernförde Reepschläger (Handseiler) under National Socialism can be found in the criminal files of the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court (OLG). These historically important documents slumbered for decades, initially in the attic of the Hamburg public prosecutor's office, then in the basement of the State Archives. Only after Panorama 3 asked several times about such court documents from the Nazi era in autumn 2017 did the State Archives admit the existence of "five meter files". It is a whole bundle of original documents that reflect the activities of the North German Supreme Court during the Nazi era. Papers from 460 criminal proceedings are contained in the find. The Hanseatic Higher Regional Court, based in Hamburg, was responsible for all of northern Germany. The files also contain stories of persecuted people from Schleswig-Holstein, such as that of Reepschläger Peter Scheller.
"Willingness to denounce was overwhelming"
He was the victim of a denunciation. With his inflammatory speeches, Scheller encountered "a staunch National Socialist" who then reported the case, the Gestapo noted in its report with satisfaction. This was Irmgard Heldt, party member since 1931. The Hamburg public prosecutor's office is bringing charges against the detainee for "undermining military strength".
Such proceedings usually only got started through denunciation. "The willingness of the Germans to denounce was overwhelming. The Gestapo used more Germans as informers than they could use," says historian Klaus Bästlein, an expert on justice under National Socialism.
Half a dozen customers were in a shop in Kiel-Pries in October 1943. One of them gives an ironic "grace". A little later, the mocking poem is quoted in an indictment before the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court:
"Fold your hands, lower your head, always think of the Führer, Come on, Rudolf Hess, be our guest, and give us what you promised us. Not jacket potatoes and salted herring, but what you eat and Hermann Göring (... ) even in the toilet the paper is missing, hail, my guide, we thank you! "
Four people who are said to have passed on the poem in Kiel and the surrounding area are charged and sentenced to several years' imprisonment for "treachery" against the most important men in the Reich. The poem "does not even stop at the Fiihrer's person by mocking the people's grateful attitude towards him and rhyming the German greeting in the most tasteless context," it says in the reasoning of the highest North German judges. What happened to the main defendant in these proceedings, the locksmith Karl Linde from Kiel, is not clear from the files. "Linde did not appear" was handwritten on the judgment.
"Justice has legitimized injustice"
Judgments, indictments, interrogation protocols from the Gestapo, all of this can be found in the "five meter files". Historian Bästlein values the historical value of the sources very highly because one learns a lot about society under National Socialism and can understand the activities of judges and public prosecutors. "The judiciary legitimized injustice. It provided the regime with a facade of legality," explains Bästlein. Why have the OLG files remained unexplored to this day? Why did the Hamburg State Archives only record them after Panorama 3 asked? A spokesman for the cultural authority announced that they had not gotten around to it beforehand because they had to work on other "extensive" files. In response to Panorama 3's request, the opening up of the OLG criminal files was "preferred".
The public prosecutor subsequently approved the murder
How far the top North German lawyers went is shown by a letter from the Hamburg public prosecutor's office labeled as a "Secret Reichssache". It is about the murder of Hans Hornberger, Kurt Schill and the married couple Elisabeth and Gustav Bruhn by the Hamburg Gestapo. The four were brought to Neuengamme concentration camp in February 1944 and hanged while the public prosecutor was investigating them for belonging to a communist resistance group. Actually, they should be charged before the OLG. But the chief of the German police Heinrich Himmler personally ordered her execution. This story is well known. The newly emerged files now show that the Gestapo informed the Hamburg public prosecutor's office about the execution. And the prosecution subsequently approved the murder. The "execution of the accused" by the police "did not affect" the work of the public prosecutor's office, writes the Hamburg public prosecutor's office in the "secret Reich case" to the senior Reich attorney in Berlin. "The executed" were "not needed" as witnesses for other trials. "This is an important document," confirms researcher Klaus Bästlein. "It shows how the judiciary is covering a murder. It is guilty of complicity."
Servants of the regime after the war not punished
A public prosecutor named Wilhelm Stegemann emerges in the documents as a particularly relentless criminal prosecutor and loyal servant of the regime. After the Nazis came to power, he was promoted to head of the political criminal affairs department and brought union members, social democrats and communists to justice. He demanded death sentences, which were then also imposed by the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court, for example against the weaver Theodor Müller from Neumünster. The Führer thanked Stegemann. In October 1944 he was promoted to the higher regional judge by Hitler. This promotion was useful to Stegemann after the war. He received the pension of an appellate judge, in 1964 it was 1,557.63 DM. Stegemann was not punished.
The new files of the Gestapo traitor
The Nazi files from the Hamburg State Archives are also an important source for Alfons Pannek's career: As an "undercover agent", he was one of the most influential employees of the Hamburg Gestapo. More on this at taz.de. external
Stegemann also brought charges against the Eckernförde Reepschläger Peter Scheller, as the files show. The hearing takes place on March 13, 1945 before the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court. Scheller is sentenced to four years in prison. His remarks about the unsuccessful assassination attempt against Hitler were "capable of shaking the German people's belief that the war would end well," is the reason for the verdict.
"War important task"
But Scheller is lucky. The district farmers in Eckernförde stand up for him. The Reepschläger is the most important supplier of twine and ropes for agriculture in Schleswig-Holstein. Therefore, it makes an indispensable contribution to the "nutrition of the people", according to a letter of good repute from the peasantry, which is contained in the Scheller file. The convicted person is granted exemption from prison until July 1, 1945, so that he can carry out his war-important task during the harvest season and supply the farmers. This could not avert Germany's defeat. But the reprieve was enough for Scheller. In July the war was over and the Third Reich was history.
Scheller's granddaughter Karin Kinkel does not want to forget this story. She copied her grandfather's files in the Hamburg State Archives, 128 pages. "He was tall, I'm proud of my grandpa," she says.
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