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The prosecution and punishment of sex offenders in the Wehrmacht, 1939--1945

David Raub Snyder, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Based on the German military's perceived lessons of the First World War and its predictions about total war, the Wehrmacht designed the newly reconstituted military administration of justice to maintain a frictionless Wehrgemeinschaft and prevent a second “stab in the back.” Many Nazi fanatics undoubtedly entered the military judiciary, using the courts as a forum for their National Socialist views and attempting to implement the Führer's will. Yet too many countervailing forces existed, primarily the institution of the Gerichtsherr, the military commander with supreme legal authority over the court attached to his unit, for fanatic jurists to dispense ideologically motivated “justice.” The Gerichtsherren dominated the military judicial system, harnessing the “law” to serve immediate military interests, which changed according to time, location, and the general war situation. ^ The willingness of these commanders to sacrifice thousands of deserters, “subversives,” and other recalcitrant soldiers stands as one more indictment of the Wehrmacht. However, if the Wehrmacht executed unwilling soldiers at an ever-faster pace, it more and more quickly reintegrated rapists, child molesters, and, more often than not, homosexuals back into the regular troops. A brutal penal and parole system, which rechanneled the Wehrmacht's usable human materiel back to the front and channeled those no longer willing to carry a weapon to concentration camps, assisted the military judiciary in maintaining the Wehrgemeinschaft . Based on the perceived lessons of the First World War, the system was refined and brutalized in response to successive military crises and developed relatively independently of the accompanying fascist circumstances. ^ The Gerichtsherren, jurists, and penal institutions largely concerned themselves with three questions: Will this individual carry a weapon in good faith? Will this individual adversely impact discipline? Will this individual hinder the prosecution of the war or occupation policies? Nazi ideology had little influence in the judicial process, and soldiers ensnared in the military judicial machinery could be welcomed back into the Wehrgemeinschaft if they were willing to contribute to the Endsieg, the ultimate victory. ^

Subject Area

History, European|Sociology, Criminology and Penology

Recommended Citation

Snyder, David Raub, "The prosecution and punishment of sex offenders in the Wehrmacht, 1939--1945" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3045535.