Manfred Roeder (judge)

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Prosecution witness Manfred Roeder sits on the witness stand at the Nuremberg Trials (1947).

Manfred Roeder (August 20, 1900 – October 18, 1971) was a military judge in Nazi Germany. Serving on the highest wartime court, he led the investigation and examinations and later the prosecution of the German Resistance group, the Red Orchestra. He shared responsibility for the dozens of death sentences handed down by the Reich court martial to Red Orchestra members. After Germany's defeat in World War II, there were attempts by survivors, family and the U.S. Army to investigate the prosecutions of Red Orchestra members and others, but Roeder was never convicted of any malfeasance or crime because the Allies thought it more expedient to use his 'expertise' to hunt down the Red Orchestra members a second time than to mete out justice for victims of the Nazis; this time to aid the Western Allies with information about the Russians in the nascent cold war.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Roeder, the son of a Landgericht director from Kiel, served in World War I[2] in the 83rd Field Artillery as a lieutenant. He was later awarded an Iron Cross (2nd Class) for having been gassed.[2] Following the war, Roeder joined the Freikorps and later went to university to pursue a law degree.[2]

He became a judge in 1934 and soon after, was made a military judge[3] in the legal services of the Luftwaffe in April 1935.[2] Roeder was the original investigating Nazi attorney in the Red Orchestra case[4] and he later became the prosecuting attorney.[2]

Roeder was known to Hitler and Göring as one of the hardest and most loyal military judges; prisoners nicknamed him "Hitler's blood judge",[3] a name also given to Roland Freisler.

Postwar investigations and legal battle[edit]

On September 15, 1945, former Prussian Culture Minister Adolf Grimme, a friend of the executed Adam Kuckhoff and himself a former member of the Red Orchestra, filed a complaint against Roeder for perversion of justice in his role as investigating attorney and prosecutor of the case. A few months later, the U.S. Army began investigating the case of Mildred Harnack, an American citizen[5] and wife of one of the Red Orchestra's leading members. She had met and married Arvid Harnack in Wisconsin, then followed him back to Germany in 1929. They were both arrested in connection with the Red Orchestra and accused by the Nazis of being spies for the Soviet Union.[note 1]

The U.S. Army War Crimes Group began investigating Mildred Harnack's case for denial of due process in February 1946.[5] Though her arrest had been kept secret and she had been denied the right to hear or confront her accusers and the U.S. Army determined that she and her husband had been tortured,[8] in November 1946, the War Crimes Group determined her case had been properly handled. On January 15, 1947, with the cold war in full swing and Mildred Harnack's CIC file stamped "SECRET" (see photo), the case was closed with the note that it "should not have been referred for investigation" and ordering the office to halt its investigation.[5][note 2]

In 1951, the case being pursued in the German legal system was similarly halted by the state's attorney in Lüneburg for lack of reasonable suspicion. The final report came to the conclusion that the trials before the Reich court martial were not objectionable and the accused were rightly sentenced to death, since in every age treason has been treated as the "most ignominous crime" and the participants in the July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler were driven in broad measure by treason and espionage.[9] During the early 1950s Roeder unabashedly continued his public attacks on, and defamation of, the surviving members of the 'Rote Kapelle'. He cited the cost of their 'treason' in terms of German military losses while glossing over the millions of deaths caused by the Nazi regime he himself was still defending.[10]

Adolf Grimme, Günther Weisenborn, and particularly Greta Kuckhoff, tried to file a lawsuit against Roeder for "crimes against humanity" for having used torture,[11] but the case was delayed by the state's attorney in Lüneburg until the end of the 1960s, at which point it was closed and dropped.[12] No case was never brought against Roeder to determine if his method of using torture to obtain information or the sentences he pursued in court constituted crimes.[11]

After the war, Roeder was a visible and active member of the CDU, serving in a number of capacities, including deputy mayor in his community, Glashütten, in Taunus.

Manfred Roeder had a son in 1937 who was named after him, but is not related to Manfred Roeder the right-wing extremist, who was born in 1929.


  • Helmut Kramer: "Als hätten sie nie das Recht gebeugt." In: Ossietzky. 23/2002. Verlag Ossietzky (see external link)
  • Hiska D. Bergander: Die Ermittlungen gegen Dr. jur. et rer. pol. Manfred Roeder, einen „Generalrichter“ Hitlers – Eine Untersuchung zur unbewältigten Rechtsgeschichte der NS-Justiz, Doctoral dissertation, Bremen, 2006
  • Elke Endrass: Bonhoeffer und seine Richter. Ein Prozess und sein Nachspiel Stuttgart: Kreuz, 2006, ISBN 3-7831-2745-9
  • Heinrich Grosse: Niemand kann zwei Herren dienen - Zur Geschichte der evangelischen Kirche im Nationalsozialismus und in der Nachkriegszeit" Blumhardt Verlag, Hannover, 2nd edition 2010. ISBN 978-3-932011-77-1
  • Lower Saxony state capital archive: 56 volumes from preliminary proceedings of the Lüneburg state's attorney, fully available at Der Spiegel house archive, Hamburg
  • Stefan Roloff, Die Rote Kapelle, Ullstein Verlag, München 2002, ISBN 9783550075438
  • Stefan Roloff, "The Red Orchestra" documentary with survivors


  1. ^ The Nazis held the Red Orchestra responsible for the Nazi defeat at Stalingrad[6] and determined to punish them. In total, 50 women and 70 men were arrested; of those, 77 were tried at the Reich Court Martial and 45 were executed, including 19 women.[7]
  2. ^ Author Shareen Blair Brysac found a document dated November 21, 1946 that stated the Harnacks were "very deeply involved in anti-Nazi underground activities in Germany" and noted that "both were tried and found guilty of high treason and executed." Further indicating the U.S. Army's position, a letter to a captain in the War Crimes Group stated, "While Mildred HARNACK's actions are laudable and while she was an American citizen, she was plotting against the German government, was given a trial and there appears to be sufficient justification for imposition of the death sentence. Your advice is requested whether War Crimes Group has jurisdiction to try such a case. Upon receipt of your reply we will either forward our already rather extensive file to you or continue with the investigation." The reply from the chief of the evidence branch was unambiguous and ended the investigation. "This case is classified S/R [special reference] and should not have been referred for investigation. Withdraw case from Detachment 'D' and do not continue the investigation".[5]


  1. ^ Nelson, Anne: Red Orchestra: the Story of the Berlin Underground, chpt. 22
  2. ^ a b c d e Shareen Blair Brysac, Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra Oxford University Press (2000), p. 350. ISBN 0-19-513269-6
  3. ^ a b Heinz von Höhne, "Die Geschichte des Spionageringes 'Rote Kapelle'" Der Spiegel (July 8, 1968). Retrieved January 30, 2012 (in German)
  4. ^ Brysac (2000), p. 449 Retrieved February 18, 2012
  5. ^ a b c d Brysac (2000) p. 14 Retrieved February 18, 2012
  6. ^ Brysac (2000), p. 349 Retrieved February 18, 2012
  7. ^ Hans Coppi, "Mit Gnade hat sie nie gerechnet" Berliner Zeitung (August 5, 2003). Retrieved February 18, 2012 (in German)
  8. ^ "Reality, Fiction Blur In Mildred Fish-Harnack's Story" WISC-TV Channel 3000, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (November 16, 2007). Retrieved February 18, 2012
  9. ^ Helmut Kramer, "Als hätten sie nie das Recht gebeugt" Ossietzky No. 23 (2002). Retrieved January 29, 2012 (in German)
  10. ^ Nelson, Anne: Red Orchestra: the Story of the Berlin Underground
  11. ^ a b "Hitler Ordered Death Of Wisconsin Woman Who Led Nazi Resistance" WISC-TV Channel 3000 (November 15, 2007). Retrieved February 18, 2012
  12. ^ Eva Liebchen, "Günther und Joy Weisenborn" Friedenau Netzwerk. Retrieved January 28, 2012 (in German)

External links[edit]