Germany Mulls Cleansing Law of Nazi-inspired Language, Report Says

The Central Council of Jews in Germany agrees it's time to officially erase Nazi terminology from German laws.

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Roland Freisler (center, in hat) presiding over the People's Court.
Roland Freisler (center, in hat) presiding over the People's Court.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas is drafting a new law to overhaul the country's criminal code, primarily by getting rid of holdovers from the Nazi era, the Global Post website reports.

One of his prime targets is the section about murder, which was written by Nazi lawyer (and later notorious head of the People's Court) Roland Freisler.

As the code still stands, a murderer is defined as someone who kills "because of bloodlust, sexual gratification from killing, greed, or otherwise base motives."

That wording is "typical of Nazi ideology," said Hamburg criminal law attorney Pinar Gul.

"Unlike other sections of Germany's criminal code, the paragraph on murder does not describe the deed and what should be protected, namely life. Instead, it illustrates the type of person who could kill."

The Central Council of Jews in Germany agrees it's time to officially erase Nazi terminology from German laws. "Formulations introduced into our codes of law by the Nazis should certainly have no place there," said council President Josef Schuster.

But not everybody is happy with the proposed change. Conservative politicians have warned that questioning the definition of murder would send the wrong signal to terrorists.

"When I see these days the terrible dimension that terrorist violence has taken on, I think we have much more important issues to solve," parliamentarian Wolfgang Strobl, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat Union, told Die Welt.

Legal analysts point out that there is more to the proposed change than simply cleansing German law of Nazi-inspired language.

The justice minister's proposed reforms would allow judges to consider extenuating circumstances when sentencing convicted murderers, according to Dieter Dolling, director of Heidelberg University's Criminology Institute.

Currently, the law compels judges to issue life sentences to those convicted of succumbing to "bloodlust" and committing murder. But a life sentence is not always appropriate, compelling judges to find creative ways of flouting the law.

Dolling gave the example of a case in the 1980s, in which a man murdered his wife's rapist who had been making fun of him.

"Here, the German Supreme Court decided that a life sentence was excessive because the perpetrator had been so humiliated by the victim," Dolling said. "So the court then invented a new reason to justify a lighter sentence."

Amending the law to reflect how judges mete out justice is crucial to avoiding future legal problems, Dolling added.

"While German courts have found ways to issue reasonably just sentences in murder convictions, there is legal uncertainty if those solutions aren't compatible with the law," he said. "That's why we really need reform."

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