Death of Ronald Freisler

The vivid personification of the life and death of the People’s Court was Dr. Roland Freisler – the flamboyant (to put it mildly) Judge President of the court in 1942-45. A born showman, he made just about every session of the court a show which got more and more depraved (and even disgusting) every month.

Even Dr. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of the RSHA (and a lawyer himself), complained in a memorandum that Freisler’s “cheap manner did not “correspond entirely to the dignity of the highest German court of justice”.

By that time there was no dignity left. On the morning of February 3rd, 1945, Freisler was conducting a Saturday session of the People’s Court when USAAF strategic bombers attacked Berlin (which they did on an almost daily basis).

Hearing the air-raid sirens, Freisler hastily adjourned the court and ordered that the prisoners before him be taken to an air-raid shelter, but stayed behind to gather apparently important files before leaving. A sudden direct hit on the court-building at 11:08 caused a partial internal collapse, with Freisler being crushed by a masonry column and killed while still in the courtroom.

Apparently nobody regretted his death. Luise Jodl, then the wife of General Alfred Jodl, recounted more than 25 years later that she had been working at the Lützow Hospital when Freisler’s body was brought in, and that a worker commented, “It is God’s verdict.” According to Mrs. Jodl, “Not one person said a word in reply.

Freisler’s death saved one Fabian von Schlabrendorff, a July 20th Plot member who was on trial that day and was facing a certain death sentence and almost immediate death by hanging on a piano wire (a cruel method of executing traitors designed by Adolf Hitler himself). Ironically, after the war von Schlabrendorff became… a judge of the Constitutional Court of the Federal Republic of Germany.

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