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July 6: The German Judge Who Challenged Hitler

July 5, 2015

1753German jurist Lothar Kreyssig, the only German judge (not Jewish) who challenged the Nazis’ “euthanasia” program of killing people who were developmentally disabled, died at 87 on this date in 1986. Kreyssig was working as a guardianship judge in a Brandenburg court when he protested the semi-secret euthanasia program to Nazi Minister of Justice Franz Gürtner in 1941. He then filed a charge of murder against the Nazi official in charge of the program, Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler, and filed an injunction against the health institutions transferring disabled children without his own judicial consent. Minister of Justice Gürtner summoned Kreyssig and showed him Hitler’s personal letter that had initiated the killing program. “The Führer’s word does not create a right,” said the judge, which resulted in his suspension from the bench. The Gestapo sought to send Kreyssig to a concentration camp, but he evaded that fate and passed the war doing organic farming and work within the Confessing Church. He also hid two Jewish women on his farm until the end of the war. Living in East Germany, in 1958 he established the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace, which sought atonement for Nazism through volunteer service in Israel and other Jewish communities.

“We Germans started the Second World War and for this reason alone, more than others, became guilty of causing immeasurable suffering to humankind. Germans have in sinful revolt against the will of God exterminated millions of Jews. Those of us who survived and did not want this to happen did not do enough to prevent it.” —Action Reconciliation Service for Peace