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Judge Freisler notorious Nazi judge

Judge Freisler was a prominent and notorious Nazi German judge
Judge Freisler was a prominent and notorious Nazi German judge

Roland Freisler (October 30, 1893 - February 3, 1945) was a prominent and notorious Nazi German judge. He became State Secretary of Adolf Hitler's Reich Ministry of Justice and President of the Volksgerichtshof, a court set up outside constitutional authority. This court handled political crimes against Adolf Hitler's dictatorial regime.

Early life

In contrast to most of the Nazi leadership, little beyond basic details is known about Freisler. He was born in Celle, the son of an engineer, and saw active service during World War I. He was an officer cadet in 1914, and by 1915 he was a Lieutenant and was decorated before becoming a prisoner of war in the Russian Empire in October 1915.

While interned in Russia, Freisler learned the Russian language, and after the Russian Revolution of 1917, developed an interest in Marxism. He returned to Germany in 1920 as a fanatical Communist to study law at University of Jena, becoming a Doctor of Law in 1922. From 1924 he worked as a lawyer in Kassel and also as a city councilor for the Völkisch-Soziale Block.

Involvement with the Nazi Party

Even though the Nazis declared themselves arch-enemies of Marxism, Freisler joined the Nazi Party in July 1925. During this period, he served as defense counsel for members of the nascent Party who got into trouble with the law. He was also a delegate to the Prussian Landtag, or state legislature, and later he became a member of the Reichstag.

In 1927 the Gauleiter of Kurhessen characterized Freisler in the following manner: "Rhetorically he is equal to our best speakers, if not superior to them. Particularly on the broad masses, he has influence, but thinking people mostly reject him deep down. Party Comrade Freisler is only usable as a speaker. He is unsuitable for any leadership post, since he is unreliable and is a moody person."

In 1933 and 1934 Freisler was State Secretary in the Prussian Ministry of Justice, and in the Reich Ministry of Justice between 1934 and 1942; he represented the latter at the Wannsee Conference, where he stood in for Franz Schlegelberger as regarding the details of the "Final Solution", the murder of the European Jewish peoples.

Freisler's mastery of legal texts, mental agility and overwhelming verbal force combined well with strict adherence to the party line and the corresponding ideology, so that he became the most feared judge and the personification of the Nazis' "blood justice." Despite his undisputed legal competence, he could not rise farther. According to Uwe Wesel, this can be attributed to two factors:

  • Freisler was regarded as a lone fighter and had no influential patron at his disposal who could have championed him.
  • In the eyes of the Nazi German elite, Freisler was compromised by his brother Oswald's rise to prominence. Oswald Freisler committed offense against the party line by appearing as defense counsel in politically significant trials which the Nazi German regime sought to debase for propaganda purposes. In so doing, he wore his Nazi Party badge in a clearly visible way, which made an unambiguous interpretation of the party's position more difficult. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels accordingly reproved Roland Freisler and reported the incident to Hitler, who, for his part, decreed the immediate exclusion of Oswald Freisler from the party.

Presidency of the People's Court

On August 20, 1942, Hitler promoted Otto Thierack to Reich Justice Minister and named Freisler to succeed Thierack as president of the Volksgerichtshof ("People's Court"). This court, set up outside the operations of the constitutional frame of law, had jurisdiction over a rather broad array of "political offenses", which included crimes like black marketeering, work slowdowns, and defeatism. These crimes were viewed by Freisler's court as Wehrkraftzersetzung ("disintegration of defensive capability") and were accordingly punished severely, the death penalty being meted out in numerous cases.

Freisler chaired the First Senate of the People's Court, and acted as judge, jury and prosecution embodied into one man. He also acted as court recorder; that way, he was responsible for the composition of written grounds for the sentences, that he wrote up in his own unique fashion, namely in accordance with his own notions of a "National Socialist criminal court." Meanwhile, he introduced judgment advisories with remarks like "Off with his head," and "The beet must be uprooted," and so forth.

The number of death sentences rose sharply under Freisler's stewardship. Approximately 90% of all proceedings ended with sentences of death or life imprisonment, the sentences frequently having been determined before the trial. Between 1942 and 1945 more than 5,000 death sentences were handed out, and of these, 2,600 through the court's First Senate, which Freisler headed. Thus, Freisler alone was responsible, in his three years on the court, for as many death sentences as all other senate sessions of the court together in the entire time the court existed, between 1934 and 1945.

Freisler was particularly known for humiliating defendants and shouting loudly at them. A number of the trials for defendants in the July 20 Plot before the People's Court were filmed and recorded. In the 1944 trial against Ulrich Wilhelm Graf Schwerin von Schwanenfeld, for example, Freisler screamed so loudly, the technicians who were filming the proceeding had major problems making the defendants' words audible. Count Schwerin, like many other defendants in the plot, was sentenced to death by hanging. Among this and other show trials, Freisler headed the 1943 proceedings against the members of the "White Rose" resistance group, and ordered many of its members to be executed by guillotine.


During an Allied air raid on Berlin on February 3, 1945, Freisler was fatally struck down by a beam in the cellar of the courthouse. His body was found crushed beneath a fallen masonry column, clutching the file of an anti-Hitler conspirator, Adjutant Fabian von Schlabrendorff.


Freisler is held up as a notorious and despicable abuser of judicial authority whereas his victims are honored for their role in attempting to uphold decency during a brutal and dictatorial regime. In Munich, several of his victims are honored:

  • Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans Scholl are honored by the naming of the main square in front of the University, Geschwister Scholl Platz
  • Their friend, Christoph Probst is honored by the naming of a street, Christoph Probst Strasse
  • Their Professor is honored by the naming of another University square, Professor Huber Platz


Freisler has been portrayed by screen actors at least four times: by Rainer Steffen in the 1984 German television movie Wannseekonferenz, by Brian Cox in the British 1996 television movie Witness Against Hitler, by Owen Teale in the 2001 BBC/HBO film Conspiracy, and by André Hennicke in the 2005 film Sophie Scholl - The Final Days.


Guido Knopp, "The Hanging Judge", in Hitler's Hitmen, Sutton Publishing, 2000, p. 213-251.

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