After the Allies had held the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, they engaged in increasingly half-hearted attempts at “denazification” which somehow allowed the full panoply of Nazi judges not just to escape punishment, but to remain on the job. And many Nazi-era industrialists, academics, and scientists who had been enthusiastic Nazis nonetheless also ‘scaped whipping, they had little to fear from fellow Germans once those pesky victorious Allies – the U.S., Great Britain, and France – had left, for while those Allies actually believed that Nazi war criminals would be properly punished by the courts of West Germany, the Germans had other ideas. And in some cases, sentences that had been handed down by Allied courts were soon commuted by the Allies themselves.
Take, for example, the war criminal Alfred Krupp, who eagerly employed slave labor in his factories, most of them Jews, who in some cases were “borrowed” from Auschwitz and often worked to death. Offered the chance to employ Germans for some of the work in his factories, he turned the offer down, preferring to have a workforce consisting entirely of slave labor. Krupp worked closely with the SS, which controlled the concentration camps from which forced labor was obtained. In a letter dated 7 September 1943, he wrote: “As regards the cooperation of our technical office in Breslau, I can only say that between that office and Auschwitz the closest understanding exists and is guaranteed for the future.” According to one of his own employees, even when it was clear that the war was lost: “Krupp considered it a duty to make 520 Jewish girls, some of them little more than children, work under the most brutal conditions in the heart of the concern, in Essen.”
The Allies put Krupp on trial just after the war as a war criminal. He of course tried to paint himself as someone uninvolved in politics; he was just a simple factory owner, an innocent businessman trying to keep afloat in trying times. Until the end of his life, he denied all guilt. At his trial in 1947, he stated:
“The economy needed a steady or growing development. Because of the rivalries between the many political parties in Germany and the general disorder there was no opportunity for prosperity. … We thought that Hitler would give us such a healthy environment. Indeed he did do that. … We Krupps never cared much about [political] ideas. We only wanted a system that worked well and allowed us to work unhindered. Politics is not our business.”
Indeed, the Krupp holdings did flourish under the Nazi regime. According to conservative estimates, the Krupp enterprises used nearly 100,000 persons in the slave labor program. Yes, for Krupp “the system [of slave laborers] worked well.”
Many, knowing that he worked many of those slave laborers to death, thought he deserved capital punishment or, at the very least, a life sentence. Instead, he was given a sentence by Allied judges of only twelve years. And in the end, he remained in prison for only three years.
John J. McCloy intervened, and in 1951 reduced Krupp’s sentence to three years. McCloy was at the time the High Commissioner for Germany, and possibly the very worst person to be in that job. It was clear from his actions that McCloy was full of sympathy for the conquered Germans, including some of the worst war criminals, while he had no sympathy at all for the Jews whom they had murdered. No wonder Die Zeit called him “the conscience of America.” He was post-war Germany’s favorite, because most morally corrupt, American. It was McCloy who, as Deputy Secretary of War, had prevented the rail lines to Auschwitz from being bombed by American planes, which might have saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives.
McCloy approved the commutation of the sentences of many convicted war criminals. Among them were the industrialists Friedrich Flick, Alfred Krupp, and Einsatzgruppe commander (and mass murderer) Martin Sandberger, a particularly vicious SS man who lived to the quite unnecessary age of 98. McCloy granted the restitution of Krupp’s entire property, and commuted Krupp’s sentence to three years, which in 1951 meant time served. He commuted the sentence of Ernst von Weizsäcker. Another commutation handed down was for Edmund Veesenmayer, who played a role in mass deportations. The West German public was not satisfied even with this. Hundreds of thousands of them turned out to protest – protest! – that other war criminals had not received similar commutations.
Krupp served three years of his 12-year sentence, after which McCloy allowed him to go free, and to keep all of the property he was supposed to forfeit – property made more valuable by his use of 100,000 slave laborers during the war.
Just to make absolutely sure there would be no further executions of Nazi war criminals, in 1949, the West German government passed a law prohibiting capital punishment. It was, in effect, a way to prevent hundreds of thousands of people involved in mass murder of Jews, prisoners of war, and Resistance fighters all over Europe from ever receiving the punishment they deserved.
Such indulgence brings us to the recent story of three German men who, found guilty of having repeatedly whipped, beaten, and insulted a Jewish man, were nonetheless received suspended sentences. That story is here: “German Elite Fraternity Students Responsible for Antisemitic Assault Receive Suspended Sentences,” by Ben Cohen, Algemeiner, December 8, 2022:
Three German students from an elite fraternity who were charged with beating a Jewish student and subjecting him to antisemitic insults have been handed suspended sentences by a court in the city of Heidelberg.
The three convicted individuals — who all received suspended sentences of eight months and no financial penalties in Thursday’s court verdict — were members the right-wing nationalist Normannia student fraternity. A fourth member of the group accused of involvement in the assault was acquitted.
The incident occurred at a party at the Normannia fraternity’s mansion at the University of Heidelberg on Aug. 29, 2020. A 25-year-old student in attendance who spoke about his Jewish ancestry was berated with antisemitic abuse, whipped with belts and pelted with metal coins by the four assailants.
These students at what is described as “an elite German university fraternity” regularly greeted each other with the words “Heil Hitler” and used the word “Jew” as a pejorative, according to one of the fraternity’s former members, Karl Stockmann, in an article he published in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. That disenchanted former member of the fraternity described the antisemitism and glorification of Germany’s Nazi past that prevailed at the Normannia fraternity. He left the group, “repulsed” by the behavior of fellow members of the fraternity, citing as an example their habit of drinking heavily while listening to recordings of Hitler’s speeches.
“Almost every day, somebody greeted me with ‘Heil Hitler,’” Stockmann revealed.
Stockmann stressed that the attack on the Jewish student at the fraternity party could not be regarded as an isolated incident.
“When I was at Normannia, the word ‘Jew’ was considered a common swear word in the mansion, comparable to ‘asshole’ or ‘motherf*****,’” he said.
Another commonly-heard slogan was, “We are Hitler’s people, then and now,” Stockmann said.
During the trial, the defendants insisted that the assault on the Jewish student had been light-heartedly intended, claiming as well that the victim knew in advance that the practice of “belting” [i.e., whipping with belts]was a fraternity tradition he might be subjected to at the party, according to German media outlets.
The assault was “light-heartedly intended.” Yes, think of just how light-hearted that victim must have felt as he was beaten with belts, pelted with metal coins, and constantly insulted as “a Jew.” All in good fun, or so his three tormentors claimed. What spoilsports these Jews are –can’t they take a little light-hearted fun without making a big deal about it? Always complaining, never willing to join in the merriment. No wonder no one likes them.
Judge Nicole Bargatzky demurred, however, stating that “from fun to bitter seriousness, [the victim] was placed in a corner as a Jew.”
During the proceedings, investigators complained about a “wall of silence” from witnesses who were at the party, with many claiming they were too inebriated to remember clearly what had happened, German broadcaster SWR reported. Lawyers for the accused asserted that while the students on trial had engaged in an “inexcusable act” triggered by a “toxic mixture of worldview and drunkenness,” the lack of reliable witnesses meant that it was impossible to determine who was responsible for the assault.
For god’s sake, all three students were involved in tormenting “the Jew.” It hardly matters which ones took part in whipping him, or who joined in the general hilarity of throwing metal objects at him, or who forced him to stay in a corner to be beaten while everyone watched with amusement; they were all participants, all guilty of this atrocity.
Yet the German court did not punish them for those activities that they engaged in, as they claimed, so “light-heartedly.” They received suspended sentences of eight months. No jail time. No fines for those students, who loved to listen to recordings of Hitler’s speeches, to talk of “motherf***ing Jews,” and proclaim “we are Hitler’s people, then and now.” No justice for “the Jew” they had tormented from this court in Heidelberg. Would it be wrong to draw a line connecting this latest miscarriage of justice, and what went on in German courts after the war, when no war criminals faced the death penalty, and sentences that previously were handed down by Allied courts were so often commuted?