The Judiciary That Sentenced 50,000 People to Death
Walter Panknin’s Fight for Justice – Part 2
I chose the title from the West German News Magazine as the heading for this post. It confirms what my father-in-law had described in a letter to a friend. The title reveals a dark chapter in the judicial system of postwar West Germany. The article, as quoted in the previous post and continued here, is an eye-opener for the legal battles Herr and Frau Panknin had to fight in their struggle for justice.
“Now the halls of justice were even staffed with judges who had once served on the Nazis’ People’s Court (Volksgerichtshof), which was set up in 1934 to handle “political offenses” and became notorious for the frequency, arbitrariness and severity of its punishments. Nevertheless, the civilian courts handling the de-Nazification process merely classified them as “hangers-on.” In 1953, at least 72 percent of judges on the Federal Supreme Court, Germany’s highest court for criminal and civil law, had former Nazi connections. The number increased to 79 percent by 1956 and, in the criminal division, it was at 80 percent by 1962.”
Now we understand the anger and frustration my in-laws experienced for more than five years. Poor Papa Panknin, having demonstrated and documented through his actions before and during WW2 his anti-fascist position, encountered, in an ironic twist of fate, one humiliating rejection of his applications after another. The former Nazi judges were back, making ideologically motivated decisions. In Papa’s correspondence, I found names such as Franz Schlegelberger – Minister of Justice (1941 and 1942), Hans Globke (he participated in drafting the Nuremberg race laws), and Theodor Oberländer – as an academic laying the foundation of the Final Solution. Many were found guilty in the Nuremberg trials, and some were sentenced to life imprisonment, then released after a few years, going into judiciary service or early retirement with a pension six times higher than the average worker in the Federal republic.