Though little known, the name of the judge Roland Freisler is inextricably linked to the judiciary in Nazi Germany. As well as serving as the State Secretary of the Reich Ministry of Justice, he was the notorious president of the “People’s Court,” a man directly responsible for more than 2,200 death sentences; with almost no exceptions, cases in the “People’s Court” had predetermined guilty verdicts.
It was Freisler, for example, who tried three activists of the White Rose resistance movement in February 1943. He found them guilty of treason and sentenced the trio to death by beheading; a sentence carried out the same day by guillotine. In August 1944, Freisler played a central role in the show trials that followed the failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler on 20 July that year—a plot known more commonly as Operation Valkyrie. Many of the ringleaders were tried by Freisler in the “People’s Court.” Nearly all of those found guilty were sentenced to death by hanging, the sentences being carried out within two hours of the verdicts being passed.
Roland Freisler’s mastery of legal texts and dramatic courtroom verbal dexterity made him the most feared judge in the Third Reich. In this in-depth examination, Helmut Ortner not only investigates the development and judgments of the Nazi tribunal, but the career of Freisler, a man who was killed in February 1945 during an Allied air raid.