Karl-Heinz Becker: Opposing the Nazi Legal System

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In April of 1944, the Franconian pastor Karl-Heinz Becker (1900–1968) was stationed as a Wehrmacht chaplain in Bucharest where he penned a conciliatory treatise opposing the development of law in the Nazi state. This treatise brought him a trial by court martial.

Becker based his conciliatory treatise on an essay, Über das theologische und politische Problem der Versöhnung (On the Theological and Political Problem of Reconciliation), which he had written earlier in 1935. In it, he had expounded on the insurmountable conflict between Protestant loyalty to the state and the Nazi claim to totality. In his conciliatory treatise, Becker took up a passage he had omitted from the printed version of his essay of 1935, namely a reference to Paul von Hindenburg’s (1847–1934) political testament in which the former President of Germany instructed the Nazi state to reconcile the German nation domestically.

Hindenburg’s political testament played an important role in Becker’s criticism of the Nazi legal system. In his conciliatory treatise, he additionally observed that the Gestapo based its power on the Emergency Decree for the Protection of the Nation and State of 28, February 1933. This decree placed the German people in a legal situation toward its government, which was fully unprecedented in history. It suspended fundamental rights, which in reality are no less than the most primitive foundations of the world of public law valid for all time. Becker therefore raised the question whether this particular development of law with all of its considerable extensions, most notably the police’s power of enforcement, was still consistent with Hindenburg’s legislative will.

Although he believed he discerned a rethinking of the indissoluble relationship of justice and real morality – of law and public honesty in contrast to all Machiavellian practices of governance – in jurisprudence, he felt that there was still insufficient influence to be able to work to benefit our world of government and law.

In his conciliatory treatise, Becker also referred to a courageous correspondence with his military superiors at the beginning of 1944. Becker had asked what legal consequences would result for the Wehrmacht from the crimes of the SS against civilians and against the Jews in particular (K-H. Becker, Siebenkittel, 283–285).

At first, Becker only distributed his treatise to a small group, including, among others, Military Bishop Franz Dohrmann (1881–1969) and a German law school. Given the positive feedback, he intended to have copies made of the text in July of 1944. The news of the attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944 made him briefly have doubts about his project but he carried out his plan from Hungary where he had been transferred as a hospital chaplain. As in other cases, he had his text printed at his own expense. Since he declared the text to be an academic publication, he even withstood the police review demanded by the printer. Afterward, he illegally sent part of the roughly 200 copies with the civilian mail to Sweden and Switzerland in particular.

As of October 1944, Becker was stationed in Vienna where he received approving letters from Regional Bishop Hans Meiser (1881–1956) and the historian Heinrich von Srbik (1878–1951). A German Christian pastor who had received the treatise by mistake reported Becker to the authorities, though. On December 24, 1944, Becker learned that Heinrich Himmler (1900–1945) had ordered the opening of court martial proceedings against him at the on the grounds that he had called the legitimacy and development of the Nazi judicial system into question in his treatise.

During an interrogation on January 16, 1945, a military judge arrived at the conclusion that there was no evidence of the misuse of the pulpit and high treason of which Becker was accused. Himmler took the case away from the military command in Vienna and passed it on to a higher military court. Becker was never arrested. The chaos of war in Vienna ultimately prevented the resumption of the trial.

Source / title

  • © K-H. Becker, Siebenkittel, 287–290

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