Abstract

Thomas Clausen (University of Cambridge)

The Law of Terror – Roland Freisler and Nazi jurisprudence at War
 
Roland Freisler (1893-1945) is mostly known for his role as president of the National Socialist People’s Court between 1942 and 1945, and in particular for his harrowing performance during the trials against the conspirators of the 20 July plot. However, already in 1940, when he was still a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Justice, Freisler had argued that the judiciary should constitute an “army corps of the inner front.” My paper argues that this view needs to be understood as a response to a subjective experience of war, defeat and revolution at the end of the First World War. In the Weimar Republic, irregular political violence and the perceived failure of the state to impose law and order contributed further to a highly combative understanding of the law. This understanding was carried over into the Third Reich and the Second World War, where it provided the bedrock for an increasingly unscrupulous weaponisation of the law. By using Freisler’s biography as a lens, it becomes possible to understand the radicalisation and degradation of legal procedure during the Second World War as the result of the confluence of a long-term assault on the liberal rule of law and short-term responses to increasingly dire military crises.