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Germany Lifts the Statute of Limitations on Murder

Lawrence Bush
July 2, 2017

The West German government lifted the statute of limitations on murder on this date in 1979, making possible the pursuit of Nazi war criminals still in residence in Germany. In fact, according to Der Spiegel, since World War II, some twenty-five cabinet ministers, one president and one chancellor in post-war governments were former Nazis. “For years, the notion that partisans of the Nazi regimes were able to manipulate their way into the top levels of government in the young federal republic, and that former Nazi Party members set the tone in a country governed by the postwar constitution in the 1950s and ’60s, has been a subject for historians,” writes a group of reporters. They noted that about “80 percent of the judges and prosecutors who had served Hitler’s regime of terror” and executed thousands “were soon dispensing justice once again -- but this time in the young Federal Republic.” Although by 1951, the Allies had convicted some five hundred Nazi war criminals, only 25,000 Germans “from an army of millions of yesterday’s collaborators were sentenced by the so-called Spruchkammer (the civilian courts handling denazification). They were fined or banned from their professions, but they were rarely sent to prison.”

“In the end the Americans, as ardent as they had been as first, abandoned their ambitious cleansing plan. The Germans -- all Germans -- were needed as the Cold War intensified. ‘If the nominal party members had not been given back their civil rights and the possibility of leading a normal life,’ the U.S. military governor Lucius D. Clay concluded at the time, ‘a serious source of political unrest would have developed sooner or later.’ ” —Der Spiegel

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.