Has an attorney general ever been charged

Mercy for the murderer?

13,000 convictions, 30 executed death sentences: the domestic post-war justice system was not as lenient as it is often claimed. But by 1948 at the latest, Austria wanted to have finally put the legal dispute with the Nazi guilt behind it.

Not to forget the years 1918, 1938, 1968, the fateful year 1848: historical milestones abound. Only the events of 1948, which Austria was supposed to remember, have not yet been mentioned anywhere. Here too, 1948 was a key year: the year in which a new pace of justice announced the change in the political climate. After years of hardship, the dispute in the courts of Nazi guilt has now turned into a farce.

Of the 30 death sentences executed by Austrian courts against Nazi criminals, only one was to come in early 1948. Three convicts were still waiting to be executed: the district leader of Neunkirchen and two of his accomplices in the murder of numerous opponents of the regime or even those who opposed suspects in the last days of the war. The time had come for them on May 15th.

The main culprits in the massacre on April 6, 1945 in the Stein prison (an SA leader and four judicial officers) had already been hanged, as had the commandant of Theresienstadt, Siegfried Seidl, or the nine accomplices in the mass murders during the "Engerau death marches" or the two euthanasia doctors sentenced to death by Austrian courts, plus a number of subordinate manual workers of death.

Some things, however, had already given or should have given pause. For example, the rapid elimination of "Brunner II", who had sent 48,000 Viennese Jews to their deaths and was hanging on a rope in May 1946, exactly two weeks after the verdict. With this record it was ensured that Anton Brunner could no longer testify against the Gestapo officers with whom he had worked closely, but for whose mild treatment, however, prosecutor Lassmann conspicuously advocated a little later.

If one reads the memories of such a committed judge as Wolfgang Aistleitner in the “Spectrum” of April 12, 2008 (“Screaming inside”), one could come to the conclusion that the entire struggle of Austrian courts for fair judgments had to take place in the early post-war years it was a hallucination. Because in his “Canon of Memories” of the Austrian judiciary, whose “collective memory” he wants to give a helping hand, he does include the comparatively very few “trials against Nazi criminals, especially in the sixties and seventies” - the 23,000 Trials with 13,000 guilty verdicts from 1945, however, are hidden. But that's not particularly surprising. In Austria something happened that Sigmund Freud did not anticipate: the gentle gliding of the repressed into the realm of the utterly forgotten.

In 1948 Austria wanted to finally put the legal dispute with the Nazi guilt behind it. This resulted in such an accumulation of important lawsuits that they got in each other's way several times in the grand jury room. The trial for the murder of the mentally ill in Gugging and Mauer-Öhling, for example, had to be interrupted for several days in the summer because the room was opened for the trial for the murder of 200 sick Jews on the night of Palm Sunday in 1945 Bahnhof von Rechnitz remained behind, needed.

The repeal of the people's courts failed because of the Allied Council, which had to unanimously approve constitutional laws, but could only bring down simple federal laws unanimously. The provisional state government under Karl Renner had constitutionally anchored the people's courts, whose senates each had two professional and three lay judges in the first and last instance. Since the Americans, British, French and Russians hardly found a common point of view in 1948, the Federal Government could have recognized that it had no chance with the repeal of the people's courts at the Allied Council. They therefore held office until the end of the state treaty year. The last main hearing of the Vienna People's Court, which was accused of denouncing Erika M., went unnoticed on December 30, 1955 and without a verdict. But the turning point towards political child disconnection took place as early as 1948. From then on, the image of the people's courts, with the strong help of the former Nazi journalists, who were allowed to work again from 1949, rapidly went downhill. Reports on the trials remained in part of the newspapers the reserve of Nazi opponents, but in December 1955 even one of them fell to Josef Sterk, who a few years earlier had railed against some unjustified acquittals and some too mild judgments in the “Arbeiter-Zeitung” In defense of the people's courts, only one thing left: Austria's handling of Nazi legislation was "at least, under the circumstances, one of the mildest and most sensible in comparison to many other countries" and the people's courts were "clean and even very often with genuine Austrian indulgence Rightly spoken. "

The force of the restorative paradigm shift is no longer comprehensible today. Much more thoroughly than the memory of the crimes themselves, it tore the memory of the dispute between the Austrian judiciary and them in the orcus. When, decades later, uncertain of its identity and integrity, the country urgently needed the memory of its post-war justice system to assure itself, none of it was left. With the knowledge of the whole, of course, all details, all starting points for the necessary differentiations, disappeared.

In the spring of 1948, seven senates in Vienna, which tied half of the Viennese judicial staff, dealt exclusively with Nazi crimes every day. As before, severe penalties were imposed if the text of the law offered no chance for “genuinely Austrian forbearance” or if a chairman like Otto Hochmann defying the spirit of the times was able to prevail in the vote on the punishment. In 1948, the Vienna Senate imposed a death sentence that had not been overturned, twice for life, and numerous sentences over ten or 20 years of severe, stricter dungeon. Convictions of ten, 20 years, and life were of course still in place in 1954 and 1955. But 1948 became the year of the scandal trials and thus marked the most important turning point.

The trial of seven former members of the Greater Vienna Army Patrol began on February 16. The Army or Wehrmacht Patrol was a force with police force on an equal footing with the dreaded field gendarmerie, which hunted down deserters, conscripts who had been submerged (like the author of this article) and so-called self-mutilators.

Additional hearing rooms had already been created in the Roßau barracks in mid-December, and the court was now meeting in the rooms in which the accused had tortured suspects and forced confessions. In the so-called laughter room, the existence of which the defendants no longer wanted to remember, the victims were hit with their heads on the wall or dragged around the room by their hair while other members of the police beat them, were handcuffs with internal spikes that stuck into the flesh cut, put on and with fists, kicks, blows of the cane and at gunpoint, signatures under confessions were forced, which meant the own death sentence.

In terms of content, the military patrol process differed little from countless others. But the litigation of chairman Wagner-Löffler ushered in a new era. His sympathy for the defendants could not be overlooked. The "alumni" displayed their self-confidence more brazenly than ever before, and the chairman let the negotiation get out of hand. One defendant commented on the testimony of a witness who was tied up, kicked and beaten in the "Laughing Cabinet" with the sentence: "I think he wants to earn a freedom fighter's patents." He did not even receive a warning.

There were clashes and assaults between the defendant and witnesses, the defendants were cheeky towards the mothers of executed deserters, interfering duels in the audience, public intimidation of witnesses, the repeated evacuation of the hall by force and in the breaks in the corridor to screaming duels between witnesses, Supporters of the accused and anti-Nazi opponents.

A gypsy - nobody had heard of Roma and Sinti in 1948 who did not belong to one of these groups - said that 70 of his relatives had been gassed in Auschwitz. “Thereupon,” a newspaper reported, “there was loud laughter among the Nazi listeners, but the chairman apparently overheard it. But the interjection from a listener: 'Is that so ridiculous? Have the fatalities already been forgotten?, The chairman reprimanded on the spot with: 'Quiet, otherwise I will have the hall cleared! ‘"

Be it that the chairman took the press response to heart, be it that he received a "wave from above": On the seventh of the nine days of the trial, in which the guilt of the accused became increasingly clear, he pulled the reins. Nevertheless, the main culprit got away at the age of six. In the oral grounds for the verdict, the scandalous sentence was used that there was no political hatred because the defendants had dealt with common criminals and not with political opponents. Two years earlier, on January 29, 1946, public prosecutor Mayer-Maly had declared in a plea that a deserter in the German Wehrmacht was not a “deserter” but an Austrian “who refused to fight his fatherland for foreign interests. Whoever betrayed him has also betrayed Austria; he is a war criminal whom we will punish according to the law. ”It was reserved for Wagner-Löffler to declare precisely these Austrians to be common criminals.

The military patrol trial offered a foretaste of the five-week legal process that began on May 10, 1948. The accused were the former blood judge R. and the former attorney general S. as well as a former accountant of the NSDAP. Helping hands had abandoned the trial, which was already indictable in March 1947, until everything was no longer eaten quite so hot. R. was a splendid specimen of love affairs upwards and ruthless hardness downwards. There was, for example, the case of a Rhinelander who had made anti-Nazi speeches in a Salzburg inn. The prosecutor wanted to let the man get away with his life, whereupon the judge looked for a more compliant prosecutor and enforced the death of the man. S. couldn't even roughly remember the number of his death sentences. He also no longer knew whether he had pardoned a convict, but thought it was improbable himself.

They were not charged with their work in Hitler's murder machine, but with high treason as illegals and a typical end-stage crime: the judge had acted as chairman, the attorney general as the prosecutor of a court martial that on April 13, 1945, 24 hours before the city was liberated In St. Pölten the then police chief Otto Kirchl with his wife, Count Trauttmansdorff with his wife and eight other anti-Nazis were victims because they wanted to prevent senseless acts of destruction. The co-accused former party employee had acted as an assessor. Stand trial in April 1945 was called: Blitzverfahren without indictment and protocol. There were no defenders. The verdict was clear before the trial, the great grave had already been dug.

Judges and public prosecutors who acted in accordance with Nazi laws under the Nazi regime were not charged in liberated Austria. The fact that he had the death sentence on his conscience for a homosexual did not stand in the way of the later academic career of the prosecutor in question in another case. The charges against R. and S. were not of murder or participation in or complicity in the murder, but of abuse of official authority and torture under the War Crimes Act with the judge and complicity with the prosecutor: you could have ceded some of the stand trial cases to the ordinary court , which then might have waived one or the other death sentence. Their other inhumanities were, however, relevant in connection with that provision of the Prohibition Act, according to which illegal Nazis without party functions were only to be punished if they had committed acts grossly contradicting the laws of humanity or those of a particularly reprehensible disposition.

S. also “did not prevent” the execution of 44 death row inmates in Stein on April 9, 1945, which was a gross understatement because he had ordered them. He had failed to examine the question of grace. The death row inmates were driven on foot from the Vienna Regional Court to Stein, where they arrived three days after the mass murder of over 200 prisoners. For some, requests for mercy were still pending.

The chairman, Otto Fischer, and public prosecutor Wolfgang Laßmann outbid each other to ask leading questions and intimidate witnesses. “The public prosecutor”, Fischer turned to Lassmann during the testimony of a witness who had dealt with political criminal cases under the ex-public prosecutor general, “will hardly take the position that the German provisions on high treason and the degradation of military strength were illegal provisions.” Lassmanns Answer: “No.” Then the presiding judge: “As a result, you cannot reproach the public prosecutor and the judge who tried it.” Only then was the witness asked whether, according to his experience, the judge “was against his legal convictions and against the law of the time “made convictions. Probably no chairman can put into the mouth of a witness what is to come out of him more bluntly. Of course, the witness said no.

Some witnesses, especially former public prosecutors and judges, were read out the statements they had made to the examining magistrate - with the request for possible corrections and additions. Criminal witnesses were approached and pinned down on every word, every slightest contradiction. A middle school professor who was reprimanded during the Nazi era confirmed the testimony of her sister, a former court secretary, to whom R. had said during the war: "Now we are busy rolling our heads!" Since she had exchanged a few words with her sister in the corridor, she was imprisoned for ten days. Exoneration witnesses were allowed to lie the blue of the sky.

But the testimony of a detective, to whom S. had given the file cards of the 44 inmates with the order that the sentences be carried out, could not be wiped off the table. The attorney general had said to a former regional court president that he did not know whether to execute the 44 prisoners or take them with him to the West, since they had brought appeals for clemency. He, the witness, had persuaded him not to have her executed under any circumstances, since he saw how indecisive S. had been.

Thereupon the sentences were dropped that would have enabled the prosecutor to immediately expand the charge to murder. Defendant: “If I had rebelled against it, then I would have been brought before a court martial and killed. An objection to the Gauleiter jury would have been completely hopeless. "Laßmann:" Did Dr. Jury ever asked you to have these people shot? ”Defendant:“ I don't know, I don't think so. ”The testimony of Section Head Hugo Suchomel, some of those who were shot, three Franciscan Fathers and a direct descendant of Andreas Hofer, would have been very likely Hoping for a pardon put the process in a completely wrong light. The Justice Department had tried in vain to thwart his call to witness. In 1938 he had handed over the Austrian judiciary to the Reich Ministry of Justice and had become ministerial director in Berlin. He had been the direct superior of the accused Nazi Attorney General and had conveyed the Reich Justice Minister's instructions from Berlin (“Sharp, sharp, sharp!”) Until there were so many death sentences that he, as he said, no longer allowed them to do anything wanted to do.

R. and S. were acquitted of the abuse of official authority, all three accused of high treason found guilty, the judge and the attorney general, moreover, of having committed acts of particularly reprehensible convictions. The attorney general got eight years, the blood judge for the time being five, his cleansing was quietly done three years later. The associate judge had already served his two years for high treason. The section head was retired in honor.

While several chairmen continued to seek fair judgments, others felt that leniency at all costs was the order of the day.Vienna's Nazi Mayor Hans Blaschke got six years for high treason. Clear evidence that he had at least stolen the furniture of a Jewish villa owner was ignored. A sadistic camp commandant got away with one year - without the financial collapse required by law. In the Lackenbach gypsy camp he had forced prisoners to scoop up latrines with their bare hands, and women crawling on their stomachs on the camp street to wipe away a child's excrement with their noses. He had fought orgy and caused a typhus epidemic, which killed 287 people in a short time - the chairman, who was of the opinion that serious health problems had "proven not to arise" as a result, was the same as in the trial against the army patrol: Wagner- Spoonbill. After the neurologist, who led a reign of terror as the head of the “Labor Institute for Asocial Women” (“Women's KZ auf dem Steinhof”), was sentenced to only two years, the case of his predecessor from 1946 was reopened and his sentence reduced from 20 years to six.

In December 1948, however, there was a scandal. In the trial against the deputy head of the Vienna Gestapo, Karl Ebner, Laßmann threw himself so badly on behalf of the defendant that the chairman Bibulowicz reproached him with the fact that he apparently wanted to prove that Ebner had played a less important role in the Gestapo than he himself admitted. Whereupon Laßmann said with a reproachful look at the former Gestapo chief: "If the accused is talking nonsense ..." Bibulowicz must have gotten quite angry: Laßmann had only summoned exonerating witnesses, why he would accuse Ebner at all, if he did not believe in his guilt, whether not maybe he, the chairman, belongs in the dock ...

Wolfgang Laßmann was replaced in the middle of the process. The occupying powers sent observers. Now the witnesses who had reported but had not been summoned by Laßmann also marched. Ebner summed up his 20 years. But one embarrassment of the Austrian judiciary, which was suddenly in the full spotlight, remained to be rectified: the verdict of a ridiculous 18 months, which Laßmann had procured for the former chief Gestapo officer Otmar Trnka a few days before the Ebner trial.

A reason to keep it was found. Trnka, under whose responsibility prisoners were tortured and sent to the concentration camp and who even defended the “intensified interrogation” in court, got off cheaply in the second trial at the age of five. On October 22, 1949, when the new verdict was announced, the second elections to the National Council of the Second Republic were barely two weeks ago. The “less polluted” were allowed to vote again for the first time, and the VdU, the reservoir for the more or less former Nazis, won 16 of the 165 national council mandates with 490,000 or eleven percent of the votes.

There were many reasons for the restorative process that soon took hold. The little Nazis who fled in 1945 or had been removed from their offices and who had done nothing gross returned to their old positions and soon got first one finger and then the whole hand on the levers of power. The burdened ones, whose atonement had to come to an end precisely because of their severity, followed them. Even among the established anti-Nazis, some got along well with the old Nazis - especially if you had been an anti-Semite here and there, not so rarely. In the courtrooms, when doctors of both rights were in the dock, the camaraderie of justice always tripped up.

Nevertheless, Austria's post-war justice system is a class better than its reputation. There were wrong judgments, good and bad judges, but what later destroyed the reputation of this judiciary was not the judgments, but the pardons. Political authorities were responsible for them. Within a very short time they sent everyone home, the murderers as well as the misguided, and thus ruined all efforts by so many decent judges to differentiate. Political interventions, either directly or via the public prosecutors bound by instructions, are, of course, like the entire history of this judiciary, still a historical minefield. You don't like to walk into minefields. That is why this minefield has remained terra incognita to this day.

Squinting at the “alumni”, a potential of around 800,000 voters, became a basic motive of Austrian politics in the run-up to the elections of 1949 and even more afterwards. It was a matter of courting for them. Anything against it was silenced.

In this dull climate a special kind of refusal arose, an intellectual ghetto with traits of inner emigration, which is typical for the self-image of a large part of the artists and intellectuals in this country to this day. But there was also the impression that dominates to this day that the overwhelming majority of the country fell into the hands of the Nazis and has not learned anything. The 23,000 processes of the post-war period are no longer part of the “collective memory”, the “canon of memories”, as has the large but also the everyday minor resistance to Nazi rule that was reflected in many of these processes. They have been repressed and are now forgotten like the struggles of the post-war period over another past as the basis of another present. And where there is no more knowledge, no questions and no differentiations are possible. ■

("Die Presse", print edition, June 14, 2008)