What happen to the regular people who committed crimes in Nazi Germany?

In germany all the “regular” people who were police, enlisted soldiers, and mayb security guards, were they ever charged with war crimes or only their superiors? Is there any laws restricting who you can target for war crimes?

If I lived in nazi germany and I was a police officer or soldier, and I was forced into a situation where If I didn’t shoot somebody in the face or my family would be killed, I’d probably shoot that person in the face and fall in line with the rest of them. Does that mean I should be held responsible for the actions of the higher up? Does following the order make them criminals, or are they victims of circumstance?

The Nuremberg trials were where “Just following orders” was not considered a valid defense against war crimes.

AIUI, that pretty much never happened. The Nazis didn’t need to blackmail German soldiers into committing atrocities. They were able to find sufficient volunteers for that sort of duty, and soldiers who didn’t have the stomach for it were simply rotated into other, less morally compromised positions.

Is just following orders still not a valid defense against crimes or war crimes? Let’s use North Korea as an example here. It’s well documented that in concentration camps NK soldiers regularly torture people in horrific ways such as burning people sticking rods in them and forcing them to reproduce. Let’s say shit hits the fan and the next thing you know a US soldier is opening a building full of starving and half dead torture victims in NK camp, are the regular NK soldiers going to be held accountable for that? Will the police who may enforce laws that send people to these camps be held accountable, will their judges be held accountable? Is everyone across the board going to get either shot in the face or thrown in a prison if they worked for their Gov? To what degree would you following orders to say out of possible persecution from your government hold in a legal battle for war crimes?

This seems a bit barbaric, surely there are real life former Nazi soldiers who are walking around freely. And what about the regular people who weren’t gov officials, say a family was forced to stone some jews. Would that family also be held accountable?

Yes, Germans who simply refused to participate in the atrocities were generally just quietly ignored. As long as you didn’t actively resist or interfere, the government would just find somebody else to do whatever it was you didn’t want to do. The general attitude was that some otherwise loyal Germans were just too “sentimental” and couldn’t bring themselves to do what needed to be done. It was felt that punishing such people would have affected public morale.

This policy was documented after the war and used to refute those people who claimed that they had been forced to participate in atrocities out of fear for their own well-being.

Pick an example and stick with it. You specifically asked about nazis in your OP, and I specifically answered about nazis, now you are moving the goalposts to the other side of the world and through several decades of time.

NK may be a bit different, I don’t know that particulars of their org chart. But it is very rare that any government blackmails their people into positions where they commit atrocities, rather, they let the people who want to commit atrocities (even if it is only for better treatment) commit the atrocities, and the rest of the people perform fairly normal, if authoritarian, duties.

They don’t have a gun to their head, but they do have preferential treatment. If everyone in the country is on starvation rations, but you can get you and your family extra food and care by performing war crimes, then that’s not a defense.

I’m not sure where your accusation of barbarism come from, when the entire point was that they were subject to the legal system, were given due process and a trial, to determine the extent of their involvement and culpability. That is pretty much the diametric opposite of barbarism.

Would you say that they guy who forced a family to stone a jewish family to death should get off because he was just following orders?

Hmm, I though this thread was going to be about ordinary (ie non-political) criminals who were sent to concentration camps, but survived until the end of the war. IIRC most of that group were returned to regular prisons to serve out their sentences, including gay men convicted under Paragraph 175.

Part of the Gestapo’s job was to investigate ordinary crimes like people who robbed banks or murdered their wives or broke the speed limit. The Gestapo had been built up by incorporating a lot of pre-Nazi police agencies under its command. And then Himmler built up the SS by incorporating the Gestapo under its command.

So it was possible that somebody could have taken a job as an ordinary detective in some municipal police department and ten years later found themselves a member of the SS without ever having changed jobs.

It’s not so simple:

I said nothing about it being simple, I just said that it was not a valid defense.

From your cite:

I don’t have a cite, but up until a few years ago, it was not considered a crime to just have been a clerk or a guard at a concentration camp. The government had to prove specific crimes that you had committed. A few years ago, the German courts ruled that simply by belonging to the apparatus of a concentration camp, you were complicit in the murder of every person at that camp.

And by that time, the few that were still alive were decrepit and sick.

Establishing the boundaries between a harsh application of existing rules of war, and the new concept of “crimes against humanity” and “genocide”, was a difficult business (try reading Philippe Sands’s East-West Street for an introduction to the arguments, as well as the personal background).

A fair number of lower-level camp guards met an arbitrary punishment at the hands of troops liberating ther camps, of course, but the due legal process was eventually felt to be at risk of exhausting itself by trying to pursue anybody who might be morally considered to have been guilty of something. Case in point: my father reported on his return from POW camp on an incident when he was working down a coal-mine, where a guard had tried to hurry POWs coming off shift through the showers, with the butt of his rifle, a scuffle had developed, and the guard fired a shot which killed not only the man he was scuffling with, but also a bystander. I followed up the papers in the archives, but the investigators’ summary showed that they doubted if they could find the guard responsible, and even if they did, the evidence of eye-witnesses showed that the dead man had punched the guard, that there would then be an argument about self-defence and, all in all, they had bigger fish to fry.

Nope. The vast majority of Germans were never charged with crimes. Prosecution was mostly limited to the people considered political figures and senior military officers. This decision was mostly driven by practical concerns. Imprisoning every single guilty person would have meant thousands upon thousands of jailed Germans, many of whom we relied upon for (a) running the country and (b) technology. For example, some of the greatest minds in rocket science were guilty of running slave labor operations, but we adopted them for their scientific knowledge because… © the Soviets were a major threat. Imprisoning every single German who was guilty of anything would have been counterproductive at a time when we needed to quickly turn the Germans into our allies.

No, you wouldn’t. It’s a nice fantasy to think that you would be the one person who would rather die a noble death, but literally everything we know about psychology is against you. The vast majority of Germans were indoctrinated by degrees and subject to extreme pressure from peers and authority figures to conform. More importantly, most of them thought the Jews were genuinely evil, and therefore wiping them out was an act of heroism. You are projecting your hindsight and modern values backwards, and underestimating how hard it is to resist these kinds of forces.

Legally, yes. This question was answered pretty definitively at Nuremberg.

Funny how often that happens when you wait sixty years to charge people with a crime.

Huh? Barack Obama said if he had lived in Nazi Germany he probably would have followed orders rather than be killed.

My mistake. I got confused over who he would shoot and which line he would fall into. Words hard. Pronouns bad.

Yet everyone has their breaking points even in totalitarian regimes. For the Nazis it was the Aktion T4 programme of open euthanasia, which did get some open opposition even against the Nazis. For the Soviets it was the exploding anti-tank dogs, although I only know about the pushback against that from the Wikipedia page. But if true, it would gel nicely with the Iraqi anti-insurgent pushback against using exploding dogs against American forces.

The title of the thread made me think this was going to be about how a run of the mill criminal like a thief was treated by the Nazi justice system.

Same here. This summary suggests that ordinary criminals were treated about as they usually were in a criminal justice system, although the Nazis intimidated judges to be harsher than they had been under the Weimar system. The political and security system was outside the normal criminal system, with multiple police forces with overlapping jurisdictions.