Nazi Justice in Popular Legal Culture
- Carsten WürmannCarsten WürmannCenter for School and Education Research, Martin Luther University Halle Wittenberg
Stories dealing with the detection of a crime, the hunt of the culprit, and his or her conviction were extremely popular in Nazi Germany. They were the product of an entertainment industry that remained in private hands far into the Second World War. Published as books, dime novels, films, radio plays, and dramas, crime stories were successfully commercialized and marketed through multiple media.
Products of a popular culture must by definition be liked and consumed by the audience. Although this might sound like a tautology, it describes a premise that even the Nazi regime could not totally suspend. The products of popular culture were primarily a means to address the entertainment needs of the audience rather than being an instrument of indoctrination purposefully designed by the Nazi elite. These products could be regarded as the result of a negotiation process for a Nazi mainstream that tried to mediate the intentions of the producers, the interests of the regime, and the expectations of the recipients.
What were the representations of law and order that the popular culture in NS Germany under these premises could offer? Telling about crime and justice in a popular and fictitious way demands a certain grade of reality. Such works result from genre conventions consumers of popular stories expect to be respected. The settings and ingredients in these novels and movies must be from this world. That does not mean realism in a literal sense but a rather realistic setting to make the fiction believable. What the story offers has to match the readers’ expectation at least in part. In a totalitarian society that wants to control potentially every aspect of life, the amount of realism required becomes problematic. As long as there is a gap between ideological theory and reality, any author who wants to incorporate aspects of the reader’s daily life to make the stories work cannot be sure if she or he has incorporated the necessary aspects.
Stories that tell about crimes committed in a NS German society do not fit in this conception because they could create doubt about public security. Telling stories about police forces and a legal system that always acts in total accordance with the rule of law could point out the grotesque discrepancy of these descriptions with the reality of the rogue state of Nazi Germany.