Was it Legal for Private Citizens to Murder Jews in Nazi Germany?

Of course, we all know that Jews (and many others) were murdered ruthlessly by the German Army and other government agents throughout the Holocaust. What I’m asking, though, is what would have happened if, say, a civilian citizen of Nazi Germany himself flagrantly murdered an innocent Jew in cold blood. Was that even illegal? Or would he have gotten arrested, been given a show trial, and then immediately acquitted?

The Nazis had no problems with lawlessness, provided they controlled it. Freelance lawlessness was not encouraged. If someone murdered a neighbour in some private grudge or dispute, and the neighbour just happened to be Jewish, my guess is that the murderer would have been treated like any other; there would have been nothing token about the trial , and the verdict would not have been acquittal if the evidence pointed to a conviction. No doubt the defendant would have tried to make some mileage out of the victim’s jewishness, but it was never the legal position in the German civilian courts that Jews were outlaws who could be murdered with impunity.

Violence was a monopoly of the party and of the state, controlled by the party. Uncontrolled private violence was a threat to this, and it didn’t cease to be a threat just because it happened to be directed against a Jew.

Hmmm, I’m surprised by this answer. I thought that it would probably end up in a show trial that everyone secretly accepted as merely a perfunctory measure that would conclude with the acquittal that everyone expected, probably on the grounds of “self-defense,” or something. Interesting response.

Remember that for the Nazis to do what they were doing, “ordinary decent Germans” had to be able to tell themselves with some degree of plausibility that, no, they didn’t know what their Government was doing to their Jewish neighbours. If the Nazi authorities were perceived by ODGs to adopt the stance that Jews were completely disposable, and could be destroyed at will for any reason or none without any repercussions, it would have been more difficult to sustain this degree of self-delusion.

Thus sanctioning freelance Jew-murdering, as well as threatening the Nazi monopoly on violence, would have presented a practical threat to the strategy of exporting Jews before murdering them so that everybody at home could pretend they weren’t being murdered.

None of that is to say that murdering Jews might have been more lightly treated in practice, especially if antisemitic propaganda tended to support whatever defence/justification the defendant offered.

I stand to be corrected and genuinely hope someone else can confirm or refute this, but I read that in Nazi Germany, it was impossible to commit a crime against a Jew. As Jews, and untermenschen, not only did they (the Jews) not have any rights, but, from a legal perspective, they weren’t even human. And how can you “murder” something that isn’t human? Obviously, this same “logic” applies to assault, extortion, etc.

Not so, as far as I’m aware. Jews were stripped of many rights (not least citizenship) but they retained legal personality. Jews could enter into contracts of employment for example, subject to specific prohibitions (i.e. there were certain jobs they couldn’t take). Only legal persons can enter into contracts; therefore they were legal persons. Jews could not marry non-Jews, but they could marry one another; only human persons can marry, so Jews were at least to that extent human persons in the eyes of Nazi law. Jews could apply for and get passports - endorsed to show their Jewishness, to be sure, and valid for departing Germany but not for returning, but the right to get a passport of any sort at all again points to a degree of personhood in the eyes of the law. And so forth.

I feel that it should be worth noting that the Jews in Germany did not go from free citizens to Holocaust victims overnight. Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, the situation for Jews in Germany got gradually worse until it culminated with the death camps in 1942. As far I know the formal decision to systematically kill all Jews wasn’t made until after the war started, prior to that the Nazis’ idea seems to have been to make living in the Reich so unpleasant that the Jews would pack up and move somewhere else.

So you would probably be in a lot more trouble if you murdered a Jew in 1934 than if you did it in 1943.

The Nazi government did not even bother legislating to legalize murder by agencies of the government (as far as I know the only instance was the law of 3 July 1934 to retroactively legalize the killings of the Night of Long Knives).

If they had done so it would have been a nice problem for postwar courts - one that did not in fact occur.

The main reasons would have been
[li]no need - if you control the public prosecutors you can thumb your nose at the law (it seems that in 1934 the Nazis were not yet that sure of their control).[/li][li]loss of deniability - the practice that laws only entered into force on being published in the official gazette (Reichsgesetzblatt) continued to be adhered to during the Third Reich.[/li][/ul]

While discrimination against Jews was publicly avowed and legislated for, their extermination was not publicly avowed and done by executive acts.

There were criminal acts ostensibly done by private citizens out of ‘popular outrage’ and not really prosecuted, but those were really organized by functionaries of the Nazi party. Examples were murder and arson on 9 November 1938, and the murder of a number of Allied bomber aircrew.

Keep in mind that the Nazis wanted the appearance of law and order, even if they choose to bend the rules themselves. This was important for both their own population, and that of the international community.

And as noted earlier, there was a gradual shift in almost every facet of life under the Nazi regime, from 1933 though the war. You didn’t just wake up one day and arrest 200,000 people or close all Catholic schools.

This is correct, the Nazis didn’t encourage lawlessness. They weren’t that stupid, if you get people riled enough they may turn against you as well. They did have trials and rules, bu these were usually not fair trials, but for the sake of appearence.

It depends. There were two kinds of criminal courts in Nazi Germany, the old criminal courts and the People’s Court. The people’s court trials weren’t fair, but as far as I know, the regular criminal courts generally were.

What did the city police force do during “kristallnacht” (the night when Nazi-led rioters smashed the windows of Jewish-owned shops and businesses"?
I remember reading that some guy in the government (Himmler) was furious about the riots, because german-owned insurance companies had to pay out on the damage claims.

Watched, mostly. Made sure that the property of non-Jews wasn’t damaged. Here were the instructions to the police regarding their orders that night (just as notes, the Gestapo (Gehime Statspolitzei-Secret State Police) was the German Secret Police, the OrdungsPolitzei (Order Police) were the uniformed police, the SD (Sicherheitsdienst-Security Service) was the SS intelligence service), and the SS-Verfügungstruppe was the military wing of the SS):

However, the Jewish citizens of affected areas were compelled to pay for the damages (and the clean-up, IIRC). Indeed, at a meeting chaired by Goering shortly after Kristallnacht, it was determined:

The above and the following are from here: “Accordingly, a fine of 1 billion marks* was levied for the slaying of Vom Rath” (the diplomat whose assassination provided a pretext for Kristallnacht), . . . (Snyder, Louis L.* Encyclopedia of the Third Reich*. New York: Paragon House, 1989:201)."

*compare this to the 6 million mark total paid for insurance claims on broken glass

One thing I recall was that there was a law that allowed the Gestapo to take people into custody and hold them indefinitely without allowing any outside contact. I remember reading that some people would be exonerated by the court system and then as they were leaving the courthouse, supposedly having been found innocent, the Gestapo would grab them and the person would disappear.

Another case I remember was an SS officer who was in charge of a concentration camp. He was abusing his prisoners in various ways - and doing so for his own personal enjoyment. The SS ended up arresting him. They would have had no problem with him torturing or killing thousands of prisoners - but only if he had been doing so in the compliance with SS procedures. The fact that he was abusing some people on his own initiative got him in trouble.

There were two types of orders the police could execute, both of which were outside the regular judicial system, the Schutzhaft (protective detention) order, which allowed the Gestapo to arrest and hold indefinitely in a concentration camp those individuals considered a security risk, and the Vorbeugungshaft (preventative detention) order, which allowed the Kripo to arrest and hold indefinitely in a concentration camp “habitual criminals” and “antisocial individuals”.

The trials were fair in terms of the law. It was the laws that weren’t fair. It’s kind of like the Jim Crow laws we had here in America. Another example was right before the Revolutionary War in America. The colonists would do out and out unlawful things. Then the juries would simply find them “not guilty.”

An interesting note was the Jews captured in WWII (those that were soliders in the armed foreces) that were in the armies of the Western nations, were treated normally. The Germans generally abided by the terms of the Geneva Convention to the armies of the West. And the Jews in those armed forces were treated no different.

But the armed forces of the Soviets and other “East” nations were treated horribly as were the Jews in those armed forces.

So being on the “right” side helped too even if you were a Jew.

I’m pretty sure that’s incorrect, and I think it’s been discussed here before, although I couldn’t find the thread. See Soldiers and Slaves by Roger Cohen.

I’ve heard enough stories to think that it was common practice for Jewish American soldiers to throw away their dog tags when facing capture, since the Germans tried to separate Jewish POW’s and subject them to far harsher treatment.

I will answer the OP with a quote from Top Gear’s James May “This is Germany, there are procedures to go through”.

The Germans took the position that the Geneva Convention protection didn’t apply to Soviet prisoners, because the Soviet Union didn’t sign the Geneva Convention.