Ethics of a Nazi judge

Roundup
tags: Nazi, Georg Konrad Morgen



Herlinde Pauer-Studer is a professor of philosophy at the University of Vienna. Her latest book, co-authored with J David Velleman, is Konrad Morgen: The Conscience of a Nazi Judge (2015).  J David Velleman is a professor of philosophy and bioethics at New York University. His latest book, co-authored with Herlinde Pauer-Studer, is Konrad Morgen: The Conscience of a Nazi Judge (2015).

Georg Konrad Morgen was the first man to prosecute commandants of the Nazi concentration camps, but he wasn’t an officer of war-crimes tribunals. He was himself a German SS officer, and he prosecuted his fellow SS officers in SS courts during the Second World War. Morgen charged them not with crimes against humanity but with ordinary crimes of corruption and murder. While investigating those crimes, he came upon the machinery of mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau and, recoiling in horror, he asked himself what he could do about it.

But, as he explained after the war, that machinery was set in motion by Hitler, whose will was law in the Führer-State: mass murder had become ‘technically legal’. All he could do, he said, was to forge ahead with prosecuting the perpetrators for ‘illegal’ killings and lesser crimes, in the hope of somehow throwing sand in the works. He even sought an arrest warrant for Adolf Eichmann – but only for embezzling a pouch of diamonds.

Morgen was a judge in the SS Judiciary, a system of courts that tried cases against members of the NaziWaffen-SS, much as military courts try cases against members of the military. In 1941 and the first half of 1942, he investigated financial corruption by members of the SS in occupied Poland. In July 1943, Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the SS, chose Morgen to investigate SS corruption in the concentration camps. The trail of those investigations led him to the threshold of the gas chambers.

Morgen’s first assignment in the SS judiciary in 1941 was in Kraków, the seat of German administration in the portion of occupied Poland not incorporated into the Reich. Shortly after arriving there, Morgen began investigating members of Himmler’s circle, displaying remarkable nerve and perhaps also naivety – qualities that would appear repeatedly throughout his career.

His foremost suspect in Kraków was Hermann Fegelein, who led the mounted regiment of the SS. Fegelein was a favourite of Himmler’s, and later his liaison to Hitler. In 1944, he would marry Gretl Braun, Eva Braun’s sister. A year before coming to Morgen’s attention, Fegelein had been accused of trucking stolen property from Poland to his family’s riding school in Munich. When a search of the school uncovered goods of questionable provenance, Fegelein appealed to Himmler, claiming the property was of legitimate origin and the accusations born of malice. Himmler wrote to the Reich Security Head Office supporting Fegelein’s claims and the investigation was closed. ...




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