Dr. William Meinecke, with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, spoke about the role of World War II German courts at a Forum on the Law program titled "How the Courts Failed Germany." The Jewish Federation of Cleveland hosted the forum, which addresses contemporary or historic legal topics, in collaboration with the Ohio Supreme Court.
"You cannot say the judges did not know what they were doing because here they are applying, conscientiously, elements of Nazi racial ideology and altering the law in order to fit it," Dr. William Meinecke said.
The lecture outlined how the Nazis could not have succeeded in their plans without the complicit participation of the German legal establishment.
Dr. Meinecke spoke about the Nuremberg Laws, anti-Semitic laws introduced in 1935 that defined who was Jewish and excluded them from marrying "German or related blood." Dr. Meinecke said the jurist who wrote the laws reminded judges to apply them without question.
He also talked about how judges were able to disregard sentencing guidelines when another series of anti-Semitic legislation passed after the Nuremberg Laws.
"It empowers judges to ignore sentencing guidelines in the law and now to increase criminal penalties for any crime, any crime whatsoever in Germany, up to and including the death penalty," Dr. Meinecke said.
While some jurists were unwilling to give extreme punishments for minor crimes, Dr. Meinecke defined the courts as an assembly line for murder as more than 15,000 death sentences were passed down in courts between 1941 and 1945.
He added that no judges or lawyers were removed from their position because of decisions they made in court.
This is the second time Dr. Meinecke has presented this topic for the Ohio Supreme Court's Forum on the Law program. He also spoke about the courts' role in Nazi Germany in November 2010.