Hitler and the Law, 1920-1945

Ken Rise explains the process by which Hitler’s will became the law in Nazi Germany.

Adolf Hitler's contempt for traditional German law had been manifest from his earliest days as leader of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP). The NSDAP's Twenty-Five point programme of 1920 proposed that existing law 'be replaced by a German common law'. By implication the NSDAP believed that the primary purpose of law should be to serve a racially defined Aryan national community, enshrined in a 'strong central state power' that would replace the democratic Constitution of 1919. Hitler shared the Party's rejection of the principle of equality for all before the law. However, by 1921 he had confused the exclusivist principles of the Party by imposing one of his own, namely that the 'Leader Principle' (Führerprinzip) should be the law of the Party. It was the 'will' of the Party's Führer, and therefore the 'law' of the NSDAP, that the single-minded, ruthless acquisition of political power should take priority over other considerations.

In his pursuit of power, any deference by Hitler to democratic constitutional practice or to the law and judicial procedures of Germany was as a means to an end. If the Nazi purpose was not served by the constitution or the law, then these could be evaded or broken. Once in power, as we shall see, Hitler continued to undermine a legal system that he distrusted. Crucially, he was prepared to break the law himself in order to promote and sustain his leadership of the NSDAP in German politics.

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