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Franz Gürtner with Golden Party Badge (Goldenes Parteiabzeichen), 1938
|Reich Minister of Justice
1 June 1932 – 29 January 1941
|President||Paul von Hindenburg (1932–1934)
|Chancellor||Franz von Papen (1932)
Kurt von Schleicher (1932–1933)
Adolf Hitler (1933–1941)
|Preceded by||Curt Joël|
|Succeeded by||Franz Schlegelberger (acting)|
26 August 1881|
Regensburg, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire
|Died||29 January 1941
Berlin, Nazi Germany
|Political party||German National People's Party (DNVP) until 1933
Nazi Party (NSDAP) from 1937
|Spouse(s)||Luise Stoffel (m. 1920)|
|Alma mater||University of Munich|
Franz Gürtner (26 August 1881 – 29 January 1941) was a German Minister of Justice in Adolf Hitler's cabinet, responsible for coordinating jurisprudence in the Third Reich. He provided official sanction and legal grounds for a series of criminal actions under the Hitler administration.
After the war, Gürtner pursued a successful legal career, being appointed Bavarian Minister of Justice on 8 November 1922, a position he held until his nomination by Franz von Papen as Reich Minister of Justice on 2 June 1932.
A member of the German National People's Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei, DNVP) and an old-school bureaucrat, Gürtner was sympathetic to right-wing extremists such as Hitler. During the 1924 Beer Hall Putsch trial, Hitler was allowed to interrupt the proceedings as often as he wished, to cross-examine witnesses at will, and to speak on his own behalf at almost any length. Gürtner obtained Hitler's early release from Landsberg Prison, and later persuaded the Bavarian government to legalize the banned NSDAP, and allow Hitler to speak again in public.
After serving as Minister of Justice in the cabinets of Papen and Kurt von Schleicher, Gürtner was retained by Hitler in his post, and made responsible for coordinating jurisprudence in the Third Reich. Although Gürtner was no Nazi, he was an authoritarian by inclination (as were many of his DNVP colleagues by this time). He fully supported the Reichstag Fire Decree, which effectively wiped out civil liberties in Germany. Indeed, on the day before the Reichstag fire, he proposed a bill that was almost as heavy-handed as the Reichstag Fire Decree; it would have instituted severe restrictions on civil liberties under the pretense of keeping the Communists from launching a general strike. He also merged the German judges' association with the new National Socialist Lawyers Association (Nationalsozialistischer Rechtswahrerbund), and provided a veil of constitutional legality for the Nazi State.
At first, Gürtner also tried to protect the independence of the judiciary and at least a facade of legal norms. The ill-treatment of prisoners at concentration camps in Wuppertal (Kemna), Bredow and Hohnstein (in Saxony), under the jurisdiction of local SA leaders, provoked a sharp protest from the Ministry of Justice. Gürtner observed that prisoners were being beaten to the point of unconsciousness with whips and blunt instruments, commenting that such treatment
"reveals a brutality and cruelty in the perpetrators which are totally alien to German sentiment and feeling. Such cruelty, reminiscent of oriental sadism cannot be explained or excused by militant bitterness however great."
In 1933, Gürtner came into conflict with one of his subordinates, Roland Freisler, over the issues of Rassenschande (literally: "racial disgrace"), or sexual relationship between an "Aryan" and a "non-Aryan", which Freisler wanted immediately criminalized. Gürtner, in a meeting, pointed out many practical difficulties with Freisler's proposal. This did not, however, stop the passing of the Nuremberg Laws two years later, criminalizing it.
In the weeks following the Night of the Long Knives, a purge of SA officers and conservative critics of the regime that resulted in perhaps hundreds of executions, he demonstrated his loyalty to the Nazi regime by writing a law that added a legal veneer to the purge. Signed into law by both Hitler and Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick, the "Law Regarding Measures of State Self-Defense" retrospectively legalized the murders committed during the purge. Gürtner even quashed some initial efforts by local prosecutors to take legal action against those who carried out the murders.
By the end of 1935, it was already apparent that neither Gürtner nor Frick would be able to impose limitations on the power of the Gestapo, or control the SS camps where thousands of detainees were being held without judicial review. During World War II, the feeble protestation of the Ministry of Justice was weakened still further, as alleged criminals were increasingly 'dealt with' by the Gestapo and SA, without recourse to any court of law.
Instead of resigning, Gürtner stayed on, even going as far as joining the Nazi Party in 1937. He provided official sanction and legal grounds for a series of criminal actions, beginning with the institution of Ständegerichte (drumhead courts-martial) that tried Poles and Jews in the occupied eastern territories, and later for decrees that opened the way for implementing the Final Solution. A district judge and member of the Confessing Church, Lothar Kreyssig, wrote to Gürtner protesting (correctly) that the T4 program was illegal (since no law or formal decree from Hitler had authorised it); Gürtner promptly dismissed Kreyssig from his post, telling him, "If you cannot recognise the will of the Führer as a source of law, then you cannot remain a judge."
Gürtner died on 29 January 1941 in Berlin.
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- David Nicholls, Adolf Hitler: a biographical companion ABC-Clio, Inc. (10/2000) ISBN 0-87436-965-7 Retrieved 12 May 2010
- William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich Touchstone Edition, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990
- Evans, Richard J. (2003). The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Press. ISBN 978-0141009759.
- Austin Cline, "When National Interests Take Precedence Over the Rule of Law" (PDF) Website on the rule of law. Retrieved 12 May 2010
- Wistrich 2002, p. 92-93.
- Claudia Koonz, The Nazi Conscience, p. 173 ISBN 0-674-01172-4
- Claudia Koonz, The Nazi Conscience, pp. 175–6 ISBN 0-674-01172-4
- Evans (2005), p. 72. "After the 'Night of the Long Knives,' [Reich Minister for Justice Franz Gürtner] nipped in the bud the attempts of some local state prosecutors to initiate proceedings against the killers."
- Charles W. Sydnor, Jr., Soldiers of destruction: the SS Death's Head Division, 1933–1945" See footnote, p. 20. Princeton University Press (1977) ISBN 0-691-05255-7
- "Concentration Camps 1933–1939" United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, official website. Retrieved 13 May 2010
- Kershaw, II, 254
- Wistrich, Robert S. (2002). Who's Who in Nazi Germany. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-26038-1. Retrieved 2014-01-20.