In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the common understanding was that the Nazi regime had been maintained by a combination of instruments of terror, such as the Gestapo, the SS, and concentration camps, combined with a sophisticated propaganda campaign. Modern historiography, however, has revealed the critical importance of the judiciary, the Justice Ministry, and the legal profession to maintaining the stability of the regime.
As an example, although the number of persons confined to concentration camps from 1933 to 1934 rose to as many as 100,000 people, most were quickly released. The number of concentration camp inmates thereafter fell to 4,000–5,000 persons at any given time during the 1930s. However, the number of political prisoners sentenced by the civilian courts had risen to 23,000 by the mid-1930s. What is most striking about this phenomenon is that most judges and lawyers in 1933 were not in fact members of the Nazi Party, and, as the Nazi regime lasted only for twelve years (1933– 1945), the great majority of the legal profession up to the very end of the regime had been trained prior to the Nazi accession to power.
As the legal profession loomed large in the operation of the regime, it also loomed large in the post-war war crime trials at Nuremberg. Five of the twenty-two defendants in the International Military Tribunal (IMT), were lawyers, including: Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the head of the Reich Security Office (the Gestapo, the SD, and the concentration camps); Hans Frank, general counsel to the Nazi Party, and later head of the Government General of Poland; Arthur Seyss-Inquart, who as chancellor of Austria for a short time, signed the agreement by which Austria was annexed by Germany, and later was head of the occupation of the Netherlands; Wilhelm Frick, who was Minister of the Interior until 1943 when he became the governor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic), from 1943 to 1945;11 and Constantin Von Neurath, Foreign Minister of Germany from 1932–1938, and governor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia from 1939 to 1943. All five of the IMT lawyer defendants were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Sfekas, Stephen J.
"A Court Pure and Unsullied: Justice in the Justice Trial at Nuremberg,"
University of Baltimore Law Review: Vol. 46:
3, Article 4.
Available at: https://scholarworks.law.ubalt.edu/ublr/vol46/iss3/4