Protests against the Nazi “Legal System”

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In July and August of 1937, von Pechmann approached the Reich Ministry of Justice on behalf of Richard Dietz (1911–1944), assistant pastor in Hohentrüding. A Special Court in Nuremberg had sentenced Dietz to five months in prison without allowing the Bavarian church government access to the case files. The regional church had pulled strings that enabled von Pechmann to review the indictment. He had discovered discrepancies in the reason for the judgment, which he wanted to discuss with the Reich Minister of Justice. At the same time, he alluded to the adverse consequences for foreign policy from a policy inimical to the Church (F. W. Kantzenbach, Widerstand, 222f.).

Von Pechmann took up Dietz’s cause once again in a second letter to Franz Schlegelberger (1876–1970), State Secretary in the Ministry of Justice. He additionally mentioned the cases of Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a pastor in Berlin-Dahlem, and Rupert Mayer (1876–1945), a Jesuit priest in Munich, who had been arrested shortly before. Von Pechmann argued that Dietz had done very little wrong and the punishment, especially the application of the Treachery Act, was excessive. With the latest information on the Treachery Act in mind, he stressed that the reputation of the German administration of justice would be best served if a way could be found to annul the Nuremberg Special Court’s wrongful conviction, which was difficult to understand and would have disastrous repercussions.

Examining the principle of the Treachery Act and having Niemöller and Mayer in mind, von Pechmann criticized the press’s countless hostile assaults to which the Church was helplessly exposed. He asserted that theologians who defended the Church were beset by spies and informers. Men who had proven their mettle many times in World War I were in peril of falling victim to a law that was already defamatory in its title. He on the other hand would vouch for Niemöller and Mayer. The imprisonment of these oft tested witnesses to Christian truth ran counter to the Treachery Act. The damage to the state in particular was untold (F. W. Kantzenbach, Widerstand, 227).

Von Pechmann stressed the church’s loyalty to the state in principle but warned against continuing or even extending the anti-church policy and against excessively applying the inherently dubious instrument of the “Treachery” Act. This might engender opposition against the state, which, although not be overtly evident since the monopolists of public information would be able to prevent this, would be all the more dangerous as a result (F. W. Kantzenbach, Widerstand, 228). Von Pechmann closed his letter by noting that truthfully applying the word “treachery” to describe an offense would make wrongful convictions such as Pastor Dietz’s, who was anything but treacherous, an impossibility. Even Rupert Mayer or Martin Niemöller would then be safe from the special law.

In the ensuing period, von Pechmann repeatedly brought up the issue of Niemöller’s and Mayer’s illegal detention to government and church authorities. He additionally reviewed Mayer’s case files and sought to have him transferred from Gestapo custody at an undisclosed location (Sachsenhausen concentration camp) to a regular correctional system. Mayer was actually being held in Ettal Abbey in August of 1940.

In a letter to Friedrich von Bodelschwingh’s (1831–1910) son Gustav von Bodelschwingh (1872–1944), based on Niemöller’s and Mayer’s cases, von Pechmann described his view of the National Socialist state as an unjust regime usually only seen in the Soviet Union. Despite harsh criticism of the enemy England, he made reference to its legal system and the still valid Christian foundations of European culture.

Source / title

  • © Landeskirchliches Archiv Nürnberg, NL von Pechmann, Nr. 52/45–48

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