Dr. Albert Rosenfelder, who was the prosecutor in this case, was later sent to Dachau

 

Jews, Nazis, and the Law:
The Case of Julius Streicher
by Dennis E. Showalter

 

"The Great Nuremberg Ritual Murder Trial" began on 29 October 1929. The Centralverein's lawyers had built a case in two areas. The first charged Streicher, his associate Karl Holz, and Der Sturmer with presenting certain unsolved deaths as possible ritual murders. The tone of the articles in question, the plaintiffs declared, attacked all Jews through misinterpreted or misapplied Talmudic quotations - a clear attack on Judaism as a religion. The second category of charges involved the repeated assertions in Der Sturmer that Jews could commit perjury in gentile courts and were not required to respect gentile laws concerning property.


Expert Centralverein witnesses traced the origins of both lines of argument, demonstrating that they were purely theoretical legal devices dating from previous millennia. On the other hand, it was possible to cite quotation after quotation from Jewish law prohibiting perjury and dishonesty under any circumstances, condemning such behavior as punishable before God and threatening one's place in the World to Come. Streicher countered with his own stable of witnesses and citations, making a surprising amount of the defense presentation himself, without the frenzy that usually accompanied his public presentations.


In its decision, the court stressed the difficulty of evaluating exact meanings of certain sections of Jewish law, particularly when presented in translation. The judges agreed that it was difficult to determine the exact extent to which specific arguments in the Zohar, the Talmud, or the Torah might be considered valid in contemporary German society. They also conceded that the defendants gave the impression of being extraordinarily well-read in Jewish law and its esoterica. These very facts, however, worked to their condemnation. A man with the specific knowledge Streicher had manifested day after day in court should be well aware that he could not hope to use material dating from the Middle Ages to describe behavior patterns in the Weimar Republic. He should also be aware that the meanings of the passages cited were by no means as plain as Der Sturmer asserted week after week.


The accused were, in short, guilty as charged of libeling the Jewish religion under Paragraph 166 of the Weimar Penal Code. Streicher and Holz might leave the court to the accompaniment of a cheering, singing crowd of over 400 people, but the original verdict stood on appeal. Streicher was sentenced to two months in prison, Holz to three and a half months. The sentences represented a sharp reduction from the prosecution's recommendation of eight months for Streicher and ten for Holz. The court justified its decision on the grounds that the defendants had not acted from the "dishonorable" motive of personal gain. As was the case in earlier, similar decisions, the lighter sentences were not meant to suggest that Jews were fair game, but to indicate the political nature of Streicher's anti Semitism. In effect, it was possible, the court ruled, to punish him for going too far in specific instances. The validity and the acceptability of his general political position, however, were not appropriate matters for the law to settle.

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