The crime of murder 'is still defined in wording that was formulated by Nazi jurists in 1941'

German minister says Nazi-drafted laws still on books, vows to root them out

At Jerusalem conference on anti-Semitism, Heiko Maas says his ministry is taking a ‘self-critical look at the failings of our past’; Bennett praises ‘brave’ speech

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, November 2014. (screen capture: YouTube/UdL Digital)
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, November 2014. (screen capture: YouTube/UdL Digital)

Seven decades after the end of World War II, important parts of Germany’s legal code as they are used today date back to the Nazi era and must be changed, the country’s justice minister said Tuesday in Jerusalem.

Speaking at a conference on anti-Semitism, Heiko Maas called the ongoing reliance on Nazi-era laws “absolutely unacceptable.” He added that he has initiated a process to replace these laws, a declaration which drew praise from a senior Israeli minister.

To better tackle anti-Semitism in the present, the German Justice Ministry is currently taking a “self-critical look at the failings of our past,” Maas said. “Incidentally, one of these failings is the fact that present-day Germany has still laws in force that were drafted by Nazi jurists.”

Murder is a case in point, the minister said. “Absurdly, the very crime that involves the highest degree of guilt and incurs the highest penalty is still defined in wording that was formulated by Nazi jurists in 1941. I find this absolutely unacceptable, which is why I have set up a commission to draw up a new proposal for our criminal law. And I’m hopeful that we will soon be able to root out the last reminiscence of Nazi law from our state books once and for all.”

Speaking right after Maas, the incoming Diaspora affairs minister Naftali Bennett praised the German dignitary for having spoken “bravely and candidly” in addressing his ministry’s past. “I hadn’t been aware of some of the things you talked about. I certainly didn’t know that the penal code of Germany dates back to 1941. But you’re doing something about it,” Bennett said.

Speaking at the opening of the Foreign Ministry’s Fifth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, Maas also spoke about the independent academic commission his ministry created in 2012 to investigate how it dealt with the Nazi past in the 1950s and 60s.

“Among other things, the purpose of the commission will be to find out why Germany’s system allowed so many Nazi criminals to go free,” said Maas, who has been justice minister since 2013.

Maas said he had given researchers access to archives with classified documents and personal records.

“Even though we realized that the results won’t be flattering for the German justice system, we want the historical truth to finally come to light,” he said.

The so-called “Rosenburg Project” (named after the building that housed the Justice Ministry after World War II) was initiated by Maas’ predecessor, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.

His spokesperson Steffen Rülke told the Times of Israel that the minister had “underlined that the project has [the] highest priority.”

“It is one of the most important issues on the agenda of the minister,” he said.

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