Show Summary Details

Page of

 PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, CRIMINOLOGY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 22 February 2018

Nazi Justice in Popular Legal Culture

Summary and Keywords

Stories dealing with the detection of a crime, the hunt of the culprit, and his or her conviction were extremely popular in Nazi Germany. They were the product of an entertainment industry that remained in private hands far into the Second World War. Published as books, dime novels, films, radio plays, and dramas, crime stories were successfully commercialized and marketed through multiple media.

Products of a popular culture must by definition be liked and consumed by the audience. Although this might sound like a tautology, it describes a premise that even the Nazi regime could not totally suspend. The products of popular culture were primarily a means to address the entertainment needs of the audience rather than being an instrument of indoctrination purposefully designed by the Nazi elite. These products could be regarded as the result of a negotiation process for a Nazi mainstream that tried to mediate the intentions of the producers, the interests of the regime, and the expectations of the recipients.

What were the representations of law and order that the popular culture in NS Germany under these premises could offer? Telling about crime and justice in a popular and fictitious way demands a certain grade of reality. Such works result from genre conventions consumers of popular stories expect to be respected. The settings and ingredients in these novels and movies must be from this world. That does not mean realism in a literal sense but a rather realistic setting to make the fiction believable. What the story offers has to match the readers’ expectation at least in part. In a totalitarian society that wants to control potentially every aspect of life, the amount of realism required becomes problematic. As long as there is a gap between ideological theory and reality, any author who wants to incorporate aspects of the reader’s daily life to make the stories work cannot be sure if she or he has incorporated the necessary aspects.

Stories that tell about crimes committed in a NS German society do not fit in this conception because they could create doubt about public security. Telling stories about police forces and a legal system that always acts in total accordance with the rule of law could point out the grotesque discrepancy of these descriptions with the reality of the rogue state of Nazi Germany.

Keywords: fascism and culture, German history, popular culture, popular legal culture, crime genre, literature, films, Nazi propaganda

Justice, like crime, does not exist per se in a society. They are both socially constructed entities. Most people have only a few personal experiences with crime and the legal system of the society of which they are a part. These entities are more often mediated through fictitious and non-fictitious narratives and images mostly told and distributed by mass media. People in modern societies read, hear, and learn about crime and justice in novels, movies, the news and on TV or radio. These products of popular culture shape most people’s everyday concepts of the legal system. They construct the popular legal culture.

This also applies to the Third Reich. Despite their ideological concerns, the people in power did not want to forgo the forms, genres, and topics of modern popular culture. They were interested in having as much effect as possible on the masses using the means and possibilities of the established cultural industry and even by promoting new products and media. So the regime supported the production of cheap radio sets (Volksempfänger, “people’s receiver”), increasing the number of listeners to this at-the-time-new media. In 1935 the first regular TV program began to be broadcast.

The Nazis furthered their ambition of controlling the whole media sector by founding in March 1933 the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (RMVP) (Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda), headed by Joseph Goebbels. Under its umbrella was created the Reichskulturkammer (RKK; Reich Chamber of Culture), consolidating all the creative arts occupations through compulsory membership.

The NS regime drew parts of its legitimation of power from the claim that, unlike the Weimar Republic, it was able to guarantee to Germans security and protection from crime. This image was widely represented in the popular media of that time.

A Popular Stranger with a Bad Influence

Surprisingly enough, this obvious gap between Nazi German realities and the Germany depicted in books and films was of least concern. The NS bureaucrats who were responsible for controlling the popular culture were more afraid that the exciting stories of crime and punishment could have a negative influence on consumers. The depictions of exotic worlds and milieus were feared to glorify a criminal underworld unknown to the ordinary citizen. They were suspected of inciting the youth not yet morally firm to commit criminal offenses. In 1944 the author of a press kit article for the movie Der Täter Ist Unter Uns (The Perpetuator Is Among Us) looked back on the film business before the Nazis had taken control: “The heroizing of the criminal yielded peculiar results in the movies as well as in books, that were under the shady cultural influence of Wallace, Oppenheim and Bran Stocker [sic] and had very little to do with literature but all the more with smut” (Steiner, 1944). Detailed descriptions of criminal deeds, including techniques and tools, were thought to provide a “manual for the perfect bandit” (Steiner, 1944) to commit future crimes. The shining detective—the hero of many of these stories—had almost superhuman mental and physical qualities. He was a traveler between countries and milieus who outsmarted the police and left reality in the dust. He was less loyal to the state and its laws, but followed his own convictions. For Steiner, he was representing an individual who kept his independence from his nation and society and, by doing so, followed a foreign (i.e., Anglo-Saxon) culture and mindset that ran contrary to the ruling ideology (Steiner, 1944).

Overcoming the “Glorification of the Criminal”

The first bans on movies by the newly installed regime affected two thrillers: Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse – 1933) by Fritz Lang and Ganovenehre (Honor Among Thieves – 1933) by Richard Oswald. Even if one takes into account that other movies had to cut scenes and opened with delays, these measures did not create a substantial watershed moment in 1933. Most movies continued to be shown uncontested.

Nevertheless, the press was declaring a fundamental break with the past: it said that the movies dealing with crime before 1933 had a “more or less obvious tendency of glorifying the villain” (Haben Kriminalfilme noch ein Lebensrecht?, 1934, p. 4). The new state, it was proudly declared, would put an end to this kind of movie.

This political and social cleanup was made particularly obvious by the ban of the film Ganovenehre, which was publicized widely. This movie became a symbol for the “lack of culture” of Weimar Germany. The undesirable results of this kind of film had had devastating effects, as one author put in a programmatic review in 1944: “The common man in the street got used to seeing the life on the silver screen as part of his real life. For the common man this type of film had quite often the destructive influence intended by the producers of the film” (Dietrich, 1944, p. 4).

Overcoming the “glorification of the criminal” was the first task to be tackled. The “brutality” and “sadistic pleasure” with which criminals’ actions against their victims were shown as well as the “cult of the villain” that had been so voluptuously developed in that “era of exaggerated compassion with the misfits of life” also had to disappear (Kriminalfilm auf neuen Wegen, p. 3). This kind of entertainment was suspected of serving an ideology infected by false sentimentalities and being propaganda for the efforts of liberal and left-wing groups to reform the criminal code of the Weimar Republic.

The film Ganovenehre, one of the first to be banned, gave the impression that the state was not acting firmly enough against this underworld, whose aim it was to destroy society—in the best-case scenario, they might catch and condemn some perpetrators. The preventive function of a police force that can guarantee personal protection for the population was not shown. According to Seeger, “this movie tends to undermine the trust in the power of the state and to threaten public order” (Seeger, 1933, p. 3).

Central for the ban was the relation between the story shown on the screen and the contemporary reality. It was assumed that the audience would see fictitious realities and relate them to their real lives. The head of the censorship board stated that the new regime was trying to eradicate the evil of criminal organizations, depicted in the film as innocuous associations, and would not accept their existence. This film, according to Seeger, did not reflect contemporary reality and could undermine the trust of the audience in the police and its ability to use all means necessary to fight crime (1933, p. 3).

Film critics of the time stressed that previously produced movies lacked seriousness and spirituality. The censorship board justified the ban of the movie Scarface (Narbengesicht) by Howard Hawks by pointing out that the fight between criminals and the police was carried out “in a spirit of sportsmanship.” The killing of a criminal by a police officer is not seen “as a fair and justified atonement for the deeds” but as a kind of “occupational accident” (“Narbengesicht” auch von der Filmoberprüfstelle verboten, 1934, p. 4).

New Directions in the Representation of Crime and Justice

In 1935 an anonymous article published in the journal Film-Kurier stated that “a new, totally different kind of crime movie is on the rise.” It is “full of tension, full of psychological subtleties and human trials and tribulations” (“Der Kriminalfilm Ist Tot,” 1935, p. 2).

In the early years of the Third Reich, the head of the press office of the legal authority in Berlin (Justizpressestelle), Alfred Klütz, became a central figure in the reorientation of movies dealing with legal themes and topics. He not only checked submitted scripts but also formulated general official (or at least officious) guidelines for movies dealing with legal and criminal matters. He even worked on scripts and as an advisor on the set to implement his ideas on the legal system and the movies. His ideas were also published in juridical journals (e.g., Klütz, 1937, 1938).

In May 1935, Klütz published an opinion piece. The ongoing discussion about the representation of crime and legal matters in popular media gave him the occasion to comment on this matter from the point of view of the current administration of law (Klütz, 1935). His point of view, however, was more than just another opinion of a minor bureaucrat, it was the voice of a crucial authority of governmental efforts to steer and control popular culture production in this field

Klütz’s first demand in his blueprint was more closeness to real life—the realities of NS Germany should obviously be taken into consideration: “The greatness of the fight against crime, the importance and difficulties of law enforcement agency’s work and the logical development of its fateful, but for the public vital intervention must be created artistically in sound and vision” (Klütz, 1935, p. 1). The desired realities of a successful work of justice and police should be depicted affirmatively. The normal case should be depicted, not the exception that turns the conditions upside down.

Klütz wanted the agencies of law and order to be described as the true heroes. Instead of being depicted as a “soulless machinery of justice,” it should be shown as a machine of defense that serves the public. For this defense force, every testimony, every file sheet or piece of evidence could be the last and decisive link in a chain (Klütz, 1935, p. 1).

For Klütz, the popular genre that dealt with crime and legal affairs was an ideal vehicle of propaganda. Especially because it was so popular with the audience, it was most suitable to familiarize the people with the judiciary and could become “bearer and herald of ideas that were artistically and politically valuable” (Klütz, 1935, p. 1).

Klütz’s ideas to steer the production bore at least some fruits. The Reichskriminalpolizeiamt, as of 1939 the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Criminal Police Department), documented the collaboration between the criminal investigators and the film industry in their yearly reports. For 1937 they noted that the film industry was using the advice of the investigators to depict their work correctly (Jahresbericht des Reichskriminalpolizeiamtes für das Jahr 1937, 1938, p. 18).

In the following years they also reported that the collaboration was running smoothly. (Jahrbuch des Reichskriminalpolizeiamtes für das Jahr 1938, 1939, p. 14). According to these reports a constant process of advice and control was in place, as envisioned by Klütz. The script writers or directors had talked with the Reich’s criminal police department to let the authorities check whether the planned plot was fit for a movie. In cases where the police recommended against it, their advice was followed.

In many cases the filmmakers asked for advice for the shooting of scenes, and the collaboration was successful. Sometimes the Reich’s criminal police were even consulted when the setting of the movie was in a foreign or an imagined country so that they were following the “right principle, that also these images of the police had to be correct and unobjectionable, because the audience would transfer these scenes and their realities to the daily life of their own country” (Jahrbuch des Reichskriminalpolizeiamtes für das Jahr 1938, 1939, p. 15).

In 1940 the Reichssicherheitshauptamt announced the success of this collaboration: because of their advisory activities, the replacement of bad crime films by new ones that came much closer to the actual circumstances had been achieved. “The purpose must always be to avoid that the work of the police, especially of the criminal police, is shown in a way that does not meet the requirements of reality” (Jahrbuch Amt 5 (Reichskriminalpolizeiamt) des Reichssicherheitshauptamte 1940, p. 40).

“Good Crime Literature Is Still Welcome”

Compared to film production, it is apparent how little the regime at first cared about popular literature. It was not until 1939 that the bureaucrats in Goebbels’s Ministry of Propaganda took serious action to direct and control the production of popular stories around legal issues. It was then that they drafted concrete expectations and requirements that were similar to the policy toward movies. Certain standards of literal quality were to be observed. The authors had to restrict themselves to certain crimes and to concentrate on a positive and affirmative depiction of the German police to “support the hard and responsible work of our security agencies” (Langenbucher, 1939, p. 41). The ban of several hundred crime and other popular novels in 1939 and 1940 sent a clear signal about the seriousness of these new directives to the authors and publishers.

But the great popularity of the genre made it possible that at that very moment, when many crime novels were banned as ideologically untrustworthy, the genre was declared strategic for the efforts to keep up the spirit of a nation at war; however, it remained under close surveillance. A directive from the Ministry of Propaganda on September 29, 1939, emphasized that “good crime literature like Wild West and adventure literature is still welcome” (Anweisung des Reichsministeriums für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda, 1939).

But the authorities did not want to rely on pressure and censorship alone to produce the right kind of literature. The Yearbook of the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt reported: “The newly installed advisory board for crime literature has finished the preliminary studies and together with the ministry of propaganda started to look for suitable authors, and the needed suitable files have been requisitioned” (Jahrbuch des Reichskriminalpolizeiamtes für das Jahr 1938, 1939, p. 16).

From the point of view of the criminal police, these measures were a kind of PR move to show their department in a true light. The purpose of the advisory boards was to educate the best known crime novel writers to “achieve . . . that their literary products represented the duties of the new German criminal police and its organizations as well as to reflect the policy on crime of the government” (Jahrbuch des Reichskriminalpolizeiamtes für das Jahr 1938, 1939, p. 16).

In the following year they advanced one step further. The yearbook reported that this advisory board, in conjunction with the propaganda ministry, had started to train and align ideologically six authors, who visited several federal departments and the Berlin criminal police. In this way they got to know the “real work and importance of the German criminal police to secure the public order (“Sicherung des Volksfriedens”)” (Jahrbuch Amt 5 (Reichskriminalpolizeiamt) des Reichssicherheitshauptamtes, 1940, p. 47)

The authors’ files of the Reichskulturkammer indicate that some of them wrote crime novels based on actual criminal files in agreement with the criminal police. In their correspondence with the Reichsschrifttumskammer (RSK, Nazi Chamber of Literature), these authors stress the importance of their work for the war effort (Kriegswichtigkeit). For this reason, they were relieved from military and other duties and were allocated paper and other working material, which was difficult to get the longer the war lasted. The lawyer for the writer Kurt W. Roecken, who under his alias of C. V. Rock was one of the most productive crime novel writers of the ’30s and ’40s, wrote to the RSK to ask them to relieve him of the duty of working in a special workforce battalion. He backed this request by stating that “Herr Röcken works with the press office of the Reich criminal police and has therefore a key position between police and literature to guarantee that the publisher he is working with only publishes stories that the authorities are pleased with.” Schreiben von Carl Hensel, 1942) Furthermore, he mentioned that Roecken was preparing together with the head of the press office a film script dealing with fraud based on a soon to be published book that has the special support and authorization of this office (Schreiben von Carl Hensel, 1942).

Being More True to Life

Less exaggeration and fewer impossible situations—being more true to life—this was one of the core demands of crime stories in the Reich. The annual reports show that the police tried their best to provide files on crime cases and other factual information to establish a base for this demand. Indeed, after 1937, film credits quite often mentioned that the script was based on real files. In this way these stories could lay claim to being more authentic and true.

In preparation for “Police Week,” a kind of educational event organized yearly since 1936 to throw light on the work of the police forces, the interior ministry ordered three short films from the UFA, one of the biggest German motion-picture companies. These movies were supposed to combine entertainment and educational advertising.

The Völkischer Beobachter, the newspaper of the NSDAP and therefore a medium of official announcements, had as a headline “The Police File as Script” and continued, “These three short films are exactly following the events in the police files and deal with three criminal cases, which show brutally honest the imminent danger the underworld poses to the general public. They show the thorough work of the criminal police, but are at the same time movies full of excitement that grip the audience” (Schimmel-Falkenau, 1936, p. 16),

Kurt W. Roecken (alias C. V. Rock), who wrote quite a few crime novels that were banned in the autumn of 1939, is a good example of showing that the advisory board did not believe that banning unwanted authors was enough to achieve the desired outcome. Roecken had no problems in adopting the new guidelines. In 1940 Verbrechen lohnt nicht! (Crime Does Not Pay) was published by Kulturelle Verlagsanstalt, a well-established publishing house for popular literature. The subtitle does not say crime novel (Kriminalroman), but criminal report (Kriminalbericht). The preface made clear that the publishers had learned their lesson: “The author proves by this publication” it says, “that crime is ‘a bad bargain.” These were reports of facts, it is stressed, and only the names of the persons had been changed. To emphasize their quasi-official security clearance, author and publisher thank the police authorities for the support, which was bestowed on them in the “kindest way” (Rock, 1940, p. 4). The case of Roecken shows that the banning of titles did not need to have further personal negative consequences for the author.

In the Line of Duty for State and the Community

Stressing authenticity and contemporaneity for works of popular culture was not at all the norm for NS popular culture policies and actual production. Here one can find some drastic examples of how stories about crimes were used and exploited ideologically—even displaying the NS insignia, which was usually avoided and tightly controlled and restricted by the regime (see Delabar, 2008).

The 1939 movie Im Namen des Volkes (In the Name of the People) quite obviously indicated a film with political message. It shows the criminal acts of a carjacker. The term Autoräuber means someone who steals cars; however, in Germany in the ’30s this word meant someone who robs people in cars, a kind of modern stagecoach robber. With the increase of cars and drivers on German roads, this kind of crime, too, was increasing. Although these new crimes were not statistically significant, they were a media phenomenon and of big interest for the press. At the center of this coverage were the deeds of the Goetze brothers. Since 1934 these two were robbing drivers in and around Berlin. They ambushed them in remote localities or stopped them with roadblocks. They were caught after a year-long search in 1938 and, in a trial widely covered by the press, convicted of these crimes and sentenced to death. The NS government enacted a new law against this kind of robbery (Reichsautofallengesetz), which was retroactively put into effect from January 1936. This case was mentioned in reviews and articles when the movie had its premiere in January 1939 on “Police Day.” The popular representation of this case served explicitly to help introduce the official new order.

Alfred Hübner, the protagonist in this movie by Erich Engels, was the incarnation of a gemeinschaftsfremder Volksschädling (a parasite on the body politic, alien to the community), which means in NS jargon someone who had to be fought and eliminated with maximum severity. In the first scene on a lonely country road, Hübner is seen cutting down a tree during a thunderstorm. A car cannot stop. The driver dies in the accident. Hübner steals the dead person’s clothes, jewelry, and money. After that, in a bar in the next village he seduces a waitress, sets a barn on fire, and, while everyone tries to extinguish the fire, empties the bar’s safe. Back in Berlin he forces his old buddy Bruno Mielke, who makes his livelihood legally as a mechanic, to participate in his attacks on car drivers. During a last holdup Hübner is caught in the act but manages to escape. The police track him down in an attic, where Bruno is killed in the shootout and Hübner is arrested. He is put on trial. Shown in the movie is only the guilty verdict. The chief judge hands down the sentence under a huge swastika. “In the name of the people Alfred Hübner is sentenced to two death penalties for committing a crime against the law of 22 June 1938” (Im Namen des Volkes, 1939).

The quick judgment and carrying out of execution demonstrates once again the speed and pitiless severity of the new NS justice. The camera focuses on a chalk line calendar on the wall of the cell. Just two days have gone by when, in the early morning, Hübner is led to the scaffold. His last cigarette is still glowing on the table after the audience has heard the falling of the guillotine.

The movie does not even try to hide the fundamental break with the legal rule that there can be no penalty without a previous law. This basic maxim in continental European legal thinking prohibits ex post facto laws and the retroactive application of criminal law. The movie more or less represents the official announcement of this new law. While the bill with the new law is publicly posted, a voice from offscreen announces: “Attention, attention, death penalty for car robbers. The government has passed the following law which herewith is proclaimed. Whoever with predatory intent is putting up a road block will be condemned to death.”

Another fictionalized representation of a contemporary crime case appears in the crime novel Der Tod fuhr im Zug (Death Rode on the Train) by Axel Alt. It was first published in installments from December 1943 to February 1944 in the best-selling magazine of the Third Reich, the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung. In this novel the difference between a work of fiction and reportage based on facts is even more blurred. The subtitle read: “How the police found the Berlin S-Bahn [urban railway] killer” and, further, “retold according to real events by Axel Alt” (Alt, 1944). Published in book form in 1944 and almost identical, its claim to authenticity was phrased thus: “retold according to criminal police files.” This novel furthered the pedagogical propagandistic aspiration put forth in the preface: “We want to generate an appreciation for the fight against crime and for the people and institutions, who as a result of their profession wage this fight ruthlessly” (Alt, 1944, pp. 6–7).

This quasi-official statement cannot really be surprising when one knows who the author really is—Wilhelm Ihde, chief executive of the Reichsschrifttumskammer. In the preface, Ihde (alias Alt) points out the consequences of this special approach. In Alt’s interpretation it was not possible to avoid Berlin as a setting, because this would have made the narrative less true to life and as a result would have weakened its pedagogical value. The epilogue takes pains not to leave the slightest doubt as to the abysmal wickedness of the perpetrator. The concluding reflections on the evil in human society culminate in an argument for dictatorship: this form of government would be the only one capable of guiding and protecting society (menschliche Gemeinschaft).

The original case was authentic. In 1940 and 1941 several women were raped and killed on the Berlin S-Bahn. It was only after a search of several months that the offender was arrested. By that time thousands of people had been interrogated. The press was broadly covering the police investigation, and public interest might have been another reason why the propaganda ministry and the police deemed it useful and proper to take this propagandistic approach. Patrick Wagner notes in his study on the criminal police in the Third Reich that the head of the criminal police commissioned the novel (2002, p. 11).

Although we can assume that Alt had the original files, its alleged authenticity has to be qualified. The novel follows the formula of the genre, the figures are stylized and typified, and well-tried literal clichés were used, albeit complemented by a Nazistic stamp.

The German Police as Hero

The successful work of the German authorities was supposed to be the central story regarding crime in the Third Reich. They succeeded in this without fail, and sometimes this included everyday life in Nazi Germany.

The spotlight was on the “heroes in uniform and plain clothes.” Crime stories gave the impression that the “Berlin police from the Alex”—the headquarters of the criminal police in Berlin—were as good “as the guys from Scotland Yard” (Langenbucher, 1939, p. 40).

The well-tuned investigating machinery of the German criminal police dominated the stories. Out of this perfectly working force, some protagonists were singled out: the investigating commissars or chief inspectors—always men, intelligent, handsome, sometimes even with a “Doktor” title.

These police did not bother the audience with explicit Nazi propaganda terms. They were solving crimes by obeying every legal rule with an amazing professional routine and empathy, supported by diligent assistants. They were lenient when confronted with small human weaknesses, like coyly concealing unpleasant details or little white lies. The only one—and this is hammered home—who cannot expect indulgence is the perpetrator.

These police obey the constitutional regulations and follow the rules of law properly, which in the actual Third Reich factually and sometimes legally had ceased to exist. At first glance these men seem worlds apart from the new type of Nazi police officer, which Werner Best, one of the heads of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, had propagated. These new police officers were not bound by any legal rules or procedures. With their absolute power they were supposed to be able to carry out murderous preventive policies based on scientific (meaning genetic) theories (Herbert, 1996, pp. 163–171). These Kommissare from the movies and novels, who acted so übercorrectly, showed “moral maturity” and “temperamental fortitude” and could be trusted, which was demanded in the NS logic to handle this absolute power. Giving these men such power could easily be justified and accepted. Such men did not need an external supervisory authority to defend the society (Volksgemeinschaft) against the internal enemy (innere Feind) (see Herbert, 1996, p. 161).


Following the ideas of the national authorities, stories about crime, punishment, and the legal system would have had to reflect the political and social realities of the Third Reich. However, the stories that dominated the field after the efforts to restructure the genre presented a modern industrial society in accordance with constitutional norms and values with hardly any sign of the ruling Nazi party ideology. In terms of Nazi politics, this might not look very successful. But this may be not an adequate scale of measurement. The ideological expectations were contradictory and, as a whole, impossible to fulfill. The regime was quite successful with its politics of mixing the right dose of propaganda with the required entertainment.

Crime stories produced and reflected an order and helped to create and maintain popular legal culture, which included the image of a secure Nazi Germany which was safe for the German, the Volksgenosse, who was allowed to be part of the Volksgemeinschaft. This image was handed down by many contemporaries. For many, the crime stories were entertaining and offered an escape from a harsh daily life of a country at war, but these stories also reinforced the Nazi propaganda narrative of a safe and secure Germany and its successful and law-abiding police force. The stories supported a view of life in Hitler’s Germany where crime hardly existed.

Review of the Literature and Primary Sources

In spite of the copious research on National Socialism and the Third Reich, there are hardly any studies dealing with the question of popular culture and the representation of crime and justice in the Third Reich. In 1999, Peter Drexler took a closer look at German Gerichtsfilme from 1930 to 1960, a genre that, unlike the courtroom drama, has not really developed a tradition of its own. He sees his article as a first effort to explore the field. His examples give an impression of the various possibilities of how legal issues could be propagandistically exploited. These movies were so attractive, Drexler states, because in them conflicts of norms could be decided and resolved in terms of Nazi ideology.

My first explorative study of crime novels in the Third Reich (1999) showed that they represented a huge and diverse segment of the popular literature market. Copies of such novels were sold in high numbers, and until World War II these titles were published with a surprisingly low level of control by the state. A more in-depth paper followed in 2004, pointing out how the regime tried to steer and control publication, giving examples of typical and non-typical novels. Joachim Linder entered into the dialogue with two papers in 2004. He classified the programmatic discussions on the representations of crime and the legal system in NS Germany as a repetition of older literary arguments. He also claimed that some of the more propagandistic NS novels anticipated features of serial killers who since the 1980s had become such a popular topic of the international cultural industry (Linder, 2004a). He also pointed out that the change of the image of the police contained in the literature started long before 1933 and continued after 1945 and can be understood as a modernization (Linder, 2004b).

Authors, titles, and reprints of crime novel covers can be found in Mirko Schädel’s Illustrierte Bibliographie der Kriminalliteratur im deutschen Sprachraum von 1796 bis 1945 (2006). This two-volume work provides an excellent overview of the quantity and diversity of this genre of literature in Nazi Germany.

Few of these books are collected in libraries. Even the German national library in Leipzig and Frankfurt lacks copies of works from this genre.

Dime novels and other series are special items for collectors who provide useful information in catalogues and on the Internet. Secondhand bookstores sell many of these titles.

The film production of the era is completely catalogued. The Deutsches Filminstitut offers detailed information on the movies such as all credits, synopses, and further links. Some of the movies of that time can be found on video-sharing websites.

The library and text archive of the Deutsches Filminstitut comprise 3,000 censorship cards from the years 1920 to 1945 and a well-rounded inventory of film dramaturgy, in which synopses and treatments share shelf space with revealing original shooting scripts.

Documents on censorship decisions can be found on the Datenbank Schrift und Bild 1900–1960.

Further Reading

Drexler, P. (2001). The German courtroom film during the Nazi period: Ideology, asthetics, historical context. In S. Machura & P. Robson (Eds.), Law and film (pp. 64–78). Oxford: Blackwell.Find this resource:

Isensee, E., & Drexler, P. (2002). Das Bild der Justiz im NS-Film am Beispiel der Filme “Der Verteidiger hat das Wort” und “Der Gasmann.” In S. Machura & S. Ulbrich (Eds.), Recht im Film (pp. 70–88). Baden-Baden, Germany: Nomos.Find this resource:

Platini, V. (2014). Lire, s’évader, résister: Essai sur la culture de masse sous le IIIe Reich. Paris: La Découverte.Find this resource:

Würmann, C. (2013). Zwischen Unterhaltung und Propaganda. Das Krimigenre im Dritten Reich. Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin.Find this resource:

Würmann, C. (2015). “Mehr Lebensnähe im Krimi”: Die Indienstnahme eines populären Genres im Nationalsozialismus. In H.-E. Friedrich & C.-M. Ort (Eds.), Schriften zur Literaturwissenschaft: Band 39. Recht und Moral. Zur gesellschaftlichen Selbstverständigung über “Verbrechen” vom 17. bis zum 21. Jahrhundert (pp. 423–445). Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.Find this resource:


Alt, A. (1944). Der Tod fuhr im Zug. Den Akten der Kriminalpolizei nacherzählt. Berlin‐Grunewald: Verlag Hermann Hillger.Find this resource:

Anweisung des Reichsministeriums für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda. (1939, September 29).Find this resource:

Anweisung – Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda S 8148/28.9.39. S 813 vom 29.9.39. Barch (ehem. BDC), RK/RSK, Kohlhöfer, Paul. Kohlhöfer.Find this resource:

Delabar, W. (2008). NS‐Literatur ohne Nationalsozialismus? Thesen zu einem Ausstattungsphänomen in der Unterhaltungsliteratur des “Dritten Reiches.” In C. Würmann & A. Warner (Eds.), Im Pausenraum des Dritten Reiches. Zur Populärkultur im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland (pp. 161–180). Berlin: Peter Lang.Find this resource:

Dietrich, G. (1944). Zweierlei Kriminalfilm. In Der Täter ist unter uns. Ein Bavaria-Film. Bild und Text-Informationen (p. 4). Berlin: Bavaria Film.Find this resource:

Drexler, P. (1999). Der deutsche Gerichtsfilm 1930–1960: Annäherung an eine problematische Tradition. In J. Linder & C. Ort (Eds.), Verbrechen—Justiz—Medien. Konstellationen in Deutschland von 1900 bis zur Gegenwart (pp. 387–401). Tübingen, Germany: Niemeyer.Find this resource:

Drexler, P. (2001). The German courtroom film during the Nazi period: Ideology, aesthetics, historical context. In S. Machura & P. Robson (Eds.), Law and film (pp. 64–78). Oxford: Blackwell.Find this resource:

Haben Kriminalfilme noch ein Lebensrecht? (1934, May 18). Kinematograph, 28, 4.Find this resource:

Herbert, U. (1996). Best: Biographische Studien über Radikalismus, Weltanschauung und Vernunft 1903–1989. Bonn: Dietz.Find this resource:

Im Namen des Volkes. (1939, January 27). Director: Erich Engels; Screenplay: Erich Engels, Walter Maisch, frei nach den Akten des Falls der Gebrüder Götze; UA.Find this resource:

Jahrbuch Amt 5 (Reichskriminalpolizeiamt) des Reichssicherheitshauptamtes. Die Tätigkeit des Amtes V des RSHA (RKPA) im Jahre 1940 (1940). Berlin: ReichskriminalpolizeiamtFind this resource:

Jahrbuch des Reichskriminalpolizeiamtes für das Jahr 1938. (1939). Berlin: Reichskriminalpolizeiamt.Find this resource:

Jahresbericht des Reichskriminalpolizeiamtes für das Jahr 1937. (1938). Berlin: Reichskriminalpolizeiamt.Find this resource:

Klütz, A. (1935, May 25). Kriminalfilm—so oder so? Die Scheu der Industrie vor Kriminalstoffen ist unbegründet. Film‐Kurier, 1.Find this resource:

Klütz, A. (1936). Der Weg des deutschen Kriminalfilms. Berlin: Vervielfältigtes Typoskript.Find this resource:

Klütz, A. (1937, July 15). Der Weg des deutschen Kriminalfilms. Deutsches Recht. Zentralorgan des National‐Sozialistischen Rechtswahrerbundes, 7, 286–290.Find this resource:

Klütz, A. (1938, January 15). Überspannte Verbrechertricks. Kriminalkurzfilm auf Abwegen. Film‐Kurier, 4.Find this resource:

“Der Kriminalfilm auf neuen Wegen.” (1933, September 29). In Film-Kurier vom 29. September 1933, 5.Find this resource:

“Der Kriminalfilm ist tot. Es lebe der Kriminalfilm. – Ich war Jack Mortimer.” (1935, October 15) Film‐Kurier, 2.Find this resource:

Langenbucher, E. (1939). “Der Teufel spielt Verstecken” oder Einiges zur Frage des gegenwärtigen Kriminalromans. Die Buchbesprechung, 3(2), 37–41.Find this resource:

Linder, J. (2004a). Polizei und Strafverfolgung in deutschen Kriminalromanen der dreißiger und vierziger Jahre. In H.-J. Albrecht, H. Kania, & M. Walter (Eds.), Forschung aktuell: Vol. 11. Alltagsvorstellungen von Kriminalität. Individuelle und gesellschaftliche Bedeutung von Kriminalitätsbildern für die Lebensgestaltung (pp. 87–115). Münster: Lit.Find this resource:

Linder, J. (2004b, June). Feinde im Inneren: Mehrfachtäter in deutschen Kriminalromanen der Jahre 1943/44 und der “Mythos Serienkiller.” Internationales Archiv für Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur, 28(2), 190–227.Find this resource:

“Narbengesicht” auch von der Filmoberprüfstelle verboten. Bedeutsame Zensurentscheidung über Kriminalproblem und ihre Darstellung im Tonfilm. (1934, November 27). Kinematograph, 28, 4.Find this resource:

Platini, V. (2014). Lire, s’évader, résister: Essai sur la culture de masse sous le IIIe Reich. Paris: La Découverte.Find this resource:

Rock, C. V. (1940). Verbrechen lohnt nicht! Berlin: Kulturelle Verlagsanstalt.Find this resource:

Schädel, M. (2006). Illustrierte Bibliographie der Kriminalliteratur im deutschen Sprachraum von 1796 bis 1945. Vols. 2. Butjadingen, Germany: Achilla-Presse.Find this resource:

Schimmel-Falkenau, W. (1936, February 23). Die Polizeiakte als Drehbuch. Besuch in Neubabelsberg. Völkischer Beobachter, 16.Find this resource:

Schreiben von Carl Hensel an Fr. Metzner. (1942, March 5). Reichsschrifttumskammer. Barch (ehem. BDC), RK/RSK, Roecken, Walter Kurt.Find this resource:

Seeger, E. (1933, May 22). Kein Ganovenkult mehr. Gutachten und Entscheidung der Filmoberprüfstelle. Filmkurier, 3.Find this resource:

Steiner, E. (1944). Kriminalfilm einst und jetzt. In Der Täter ist unter uns. Ein Bavaria-Film. Bild und Text-Informationen (p. 10). Berlin: Bavaria-Film.Find this resource:

Wagner, P. (2002). Hitlers Kriminalisten: Die deutsche Kriminalpolizei und der Nationalsozialismus zwischen 1920 und 1960. Munich: C. H. Beck.Find this resource:

Würmann, C. (1999): Deutsche Kommissare ermitteln. Der Kriminalroman im, Dritten Reich‘. In W. Delabar, H. Denkler & E. Schütz, Banalität mit Stil. Zur Widersprüchlichkeit der Literaturproduktion im Nationalsozialismus (pp. 217–240). Bern u.a.: P. Lang.Find this resource:

Würmann, C. (2013). Zwischen Unterhaltung und Propaganda. Das Krimigenre im Dritten Reich. Berlin: Free University of Berlin.Find this resource:

Würmann, C. (2015). “Mehr Lebensnähe im Krimi”: Die Indienstnahme eines populären Genres im Nationalsozialismus. In H.-E. Friedrich & C.-M. Ort (Eds.), Schriften zur Literaturwissenschaft: Vol. 39. Recht und Moral. Zur gesellschaftlichen Selbstverständigung über “Verbrechen” vom 17. bis zum 21. Jahrhundert (pp. 423–445). Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.Find this resource:

Würmann, C., & Warner, A. (2008). Im Pausenraum des “Dritten Reiches”: Zur Populärkultur im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland. In C. Würmann & A. Warner (Eds.), Publikationen zur Zeitschrift für Germanistik (pp. 7–12). Bern: Lang.Find this resource: