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Tuesday August 6th 2019Tim Candler9

 

    In 1934 the German State was pretty much dominated by members of one particular party. In the Civil Service you couldn't get a job or keep your job if you weren't a member of the party, to get ahead you had to be more than just a member of the party you had to be committed to the party, and to really get ahead you had to do things like come up with ways to pursue the party's less traditional policies. An area of particular concern for party leaders was the justice system and the courts, where old habits about the law as serving justice are kind of difficult to change. And it was in 1934 that The People's Court was created, it's task was to try political crimes. These courts had three judges, there was no appeal, court procedures were modified to reduce a defendants access to legal representation, kind of like the television program of the same name where litigants don't bring a lawyer along with them, and a trial was a splendid opportunity for judges to demonstrate their commitment to the cause. In the television program the cause was or is ratings, in 1930's Germany the cause was basically to replace law and long years of legal study with what was called "Good Common Sense" do away with political discourse altogether and rid society of the unlike in appearance, sexual persuasion, racial origin and anyone who held a dissident or slightly suspect opinion. By 1938, the year in the fall of which Kristallnacht "spontaneously" erupted, all the Courts in Germany whatever their purview had become People's Courts. The other thing about People's Courts they didn't really believe in jail sentences, after 1938 most who were found guilty were shot.

 

Past

    In our generations here in the United States there are a decreasing number of memories that experienced the 1930's in Germany. Many of those who did, or have family members with accounts of those days, you'll find that Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, was a turning point for the German people's relationship with the dominant, actually it was the only political party, in their country. From the accounts, the general sense is "we thought things were going to work themselves out, our lives were improving, lots of food on the table, and then we realized we were stuck with these dreadful people, and too late to do anything about it."  I once worked a garden for a little old lady, who was maybe lonely with her memories. Her house was on the market, her children had decided she'd be better off in an old people's home. The task I was assigned to by the estate agent took much longer than it might have done. Midmorning break at that job was a cup of tea and biscuit, and a couple of hours of chatting, a lot of it about young people today and how lucky they are. I certainly must have looked older than I thought I was. "Yes," she said, "it was like if you woke up and found that you're government was run by football hooligans." Recently I was reminded of that little old lady when I read about a former Watergate Prosecutor who had described our president's 1918 Helsinki meeting with the Russian president. "It was a Kristallnacht Moment" was how she explained her own reaction to the meeting. "We know what we got."

 

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