Capital punishment in Germany
Capital punishment was abolished in West Germany
West Germany
West Germany is the common English, but not official, name for the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG in the period between its creation in May 1949 to German reunification on 3 October 1990....

 in 1949 and East Germany in 1987.

Legal position

The current Constitution of Germany
Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany is the constitution of Germany. It was formally approved on 8 May 1949, and, with the signature of the Allies of World War II on 12 May, came into effect on 23 May, as the constitution of those states of West Germany that were initially included...

 ("Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland"), which came into effect on 23rd May, 1949, forbids capital punishment
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

. This ban is stated in
  • article 102 GG: "Die Todesstrafe ist abgeschafft" - Capital punishment is abolished.

It is debated among constitutional jurists whether article 2 section 2 GG – "Jeder hat das Recht auf Leben und körperliche Unversehrtheit" (Every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity) or indeed human dignity itself (article 1 section 1 GG) forbids capital punishment; the latter is mentioned by the German wikipedia as reigning opinion, but seems inconsistent with the fact that article 2 allows exceptions by formal law and, in section 1, similarly guarantees personal freedom (without outlawing prisons).

The Penal Code was formally amended in 1951 to conform to the abolition. Previous death penalty was replaced by life imprisonment. As the constitution requires that prisoners have a chance of regaining freedom with other means than extralegal pardon
Clemency means the forgiveness of a crime or the cancellation of the penalty associated with it. It is a general concept that encompasses several related procedures: pardoning, commutation, remission and reprieves...

 only, prisoners are checked for release on parole
Parole may have different meanings depending on the field and judiciary system. All of the meanings originated from the French parole . Following its use in late-resurrected Anglo-French chivalric practice, the term became associated with the release of prisoners based on prisoners giving their...

 after 15 years for regular intervals. Since the introduction of this provision, courts may in extreme cases declare special gravity of guilt which is meant and popularized as kind of life without parole.

Although article 21.1 of the constitution of the German state
States of Germany
Germany is made up of sixteen which are partly sovereign constituent states of the Federal Republic of Germany. Land literally translates as "country", and constitutionally speaking, they are constituent countries...

 of Hesse
Hesse or Hessia is both a cultural region of Germany and the name of an individual German state.* The cultural region of Hesse includes both the State of Hesse and the area known as Rhenish Hesse in the neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate state...

 provides capital punishment for high crimes, this provision is inoperative due to the federal ban on the death penalty ("Bundesrecht bricht Landesrecht" - Federal law overrides state law). The Bavarian Constitution, while not providing death penalty by itself, long time contained a rule of implementation of it which was abrogated in a summary constitutional amendment in 1998.


If the failed German constitution drafted by the Frankfurt Parliament
Frankfurt Parliament
The Frankfurt Assembly was the first freely elected parliament for all of Germany. Session was held from May 18, 1848 to May 31, 1849 in the Paulskirche at Frankfurt am Main...

 in 1849 had come into force, capital punishment would have been abolished in most cases, since Art. III § 139 of the constitution stated: "Die Todesstrafe, ausgenommen wo das Kriegsrecht sie vorschreibt, oder das Seerecht im Fall von Meutereien sie zuläßt, [...], [ist] abgeschafft" ("Capital punishment, except when it is prescribed by martial law or permitted by the law of the seas in cases of mutiny, [...] [is] abolished"). The German Empire quite liberally inflicted the death penalty for some forms of 1. high treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 and for 2. murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

 which was then defined as killing with premeditation; only murder and attempted murder of one's souvereign was capital treason. Under military law, in case of a war only, some other particularly listed forms of 3. treason, some cases of 4. wrongful surrender
Surrender (military)
Surrender is when soldiers, nations or other combatants stop fighting and eventually become prisoners of war, either as individuals or when ordered to by their officers. A white flag is a common symbol of surrender, as is the gesture of raising one's hands empty and open above one's head.When the...

, 5. desertion
In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a "duty" or post without permission and is done with the intention of not returning...

 in the field in case of relapse, if the previous desertion also had taken place in the field, 6. cowardice
Cowardice is the perceived failure to demonstrate sufficient mental robustness and courage in the face of a challenge. Under many military codes of justice, cowardice in the face of combat is a crime punishable by death...

 if it led to a flight with enticing one's comrades to flight, 7. explicit disobeying an order
Insubordination is the act of willfully disobeying an authority. Refusing to perform an action that is unethical or illegal is not insubordination; neither is refusing to perform an action that is not within the scope of authority of the person issuing the order.Insubordination is typically a...

 by word or deed in the face of the enemy, 8. sedition
In law, sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent to lawful authority. Sedition may include any...

 in the face of the enemy, or in the field (only) if done as a ringleader or instigator, or with violence as a leading man. During the German empire 1871-1918, the legal methods were guillotine
The guillotine is a device used for carrying out :executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which an angled blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the head from the body...

 for civilian crimes and firing squad for military crimes. The Weimar Republic
Weimar Republic
The Weimar Republic is the name given by historians to the parliamentary republic established in 1919 in Germany to replace the imperial form of government...

 retained death penalty for murder, and several murderers were guillotined.

As to the National Socialists, the leading Nazi jurist Hans Frank
Hans Frank
Hans Michael Frank was a German lawyer who worked for the Nazi party during the 1920s and 1930s and later became a high-ranking official in Nazi Germany...

 boasted at the 1934 Reichsparteitag of “reckless implementation of the death penalty” as a special acquisition of the Nazi regime. Under Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 nearly 40,000 death sentences were handed down, mainly by the Volksgerichtshof and also by the Reich Military Tribunal
Military tribunal
A military tribunal is a kind of military court designed to try members of enemy forces during wartime, operating outside the scope of conventional criminal and civil proceedings. The judges are military officers and fulfill the role of jurors...

. Executions were carried out most often by beheading using the guillotine
The guillotine is a device used for carrying out :executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which an angled blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the head from the body...

 although from 1942 on hanging
Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain...

 by using the short-drop method became also common. A firing squad was reserved for military offenders.

Additional forms declared treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 could (in some cases, especially for soldiers, mandatorily) be prosecuted with death, as could grave arson
Arson is the crime of intentionally or maliciously setting fire to structures or wildland areas. It may be distinguished from other causes such as spontaneous combustion and natural wildfires...

, aiding and abetting treason, betraying a secret (mandatorily), procuring a secret for the sake of betraying it, insidious publishing or rhetoric, failure to denounce a capital crime, destroying means for military use, sabotage
Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a workplace setting, sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency generally directed at causing some change in workplace conditions. One who engages in sabotage is...

 (mandatorily for soldiers), kidnapping
In criminal law, kidnapping is the taking away or transportation of a person against that person's will, usually to hold the person in false imprisonment, a confinement without legal authority...

 (mandatorily), compassing or imagining the death of a NS or state official for political reasons or the reason of their service, setting a car trap for the means of robbery
Carjacking is a form of hijacking, where the crime is of stealing a motor vehicle and so also armed assault when the vehicle is occupied. Historically, such as in the rash of semi-trailer truck hijackings during the 1960s, the general term hijacking was used for that type of vehicle abduction,...

 (mandatorily), espionage
Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, lest the legitimate holder of the information change plans or take other countermeasures once it...

 (mandatorily), partisan
-Political matters:*Partisan In politics, partisan literally means organized into political parties. The expression "partisan politics" usually refers to fervent, sometimes militant, support of a party, cause, faction, person, or idea...

ry (mandatorily), all cases of desertion, subversion of military strength
Wehrkraftzersetzung is a term from German military law during the Third Reich. In 1938, with Adolf Hitler moving Germany closer to war, the Nazi government issued a decree for the purpose of suppressing any expression or activity opposed to the Nazi regime or the Wehrmacht...

 (mandatorily except for minor cases), looting
Looting —also referred to as sacking, plundering, despoiling, despoliation, and pillaging—is the indiscriminate taking of goods by force as part of a military or political victory, or during a catastrophe, such as during war, natural disaster, or rioting...

 (mandatorily even in cases of smallest amounts), arson which damages the power of defense of the people, crime during danger resulting from enemy aviation (in grave cases), taking advantage of the state of war whilst committing a crime ("if the sound feeling of the people so requires"), publishing foreign radio broadcasts, etc. The definition of murder was changed and, in practice, extended to the rather vague definition still in force
Murder (German law)
In Germany the term Mord is officially used for the intentional killing of another person, but only if the case is especially severe. The requirements can be read in § 211 of the German Criminal Code, Strafgesetzbuch ....

, but now only with life imprisonment. This list is by no means exhaustive, even where laws and decrees are concerned. As an addition to crimes declared capital by law or decree, a "dangerous habitual criminal" or one convicted of rape
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

 could be executed "if the protection of the people or the need for just atonement so demands" , courts (or whatever was in place of a court) sometimes were officially granted the right to inflict the death penalty even where not provided by law, and sometimes did so by their own discretion. Many of the crimes covered a wide and unpredictable range of actions, such as treason, "sabotage" (Kriegsverrat, which was any action pandering the enemy) and subversion of the military strength, which could be interpreted as to cover any critical remark, and even though even it did clearly not cover it was applied to execute any conscientous objector. To quote Hitler, "after ten years of hard prison, a man is lost to the people's community anyway. Thus what to do with such a guy is either put him into a concentration camp, or kill him. In latest times the latter is more important, for the sake of deterrence."

According to Manfred Messerschmidt, "from 1907 to 1932," i. e. including World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, "Germany had issued 1547 death warrants, of which 393 were executed. Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 courts on the other hand issued, conservatively estimated, 25000 death warrants, of which 18000 to 20000 were executed." According to official statistics, other courts had altogether issued 16560 death warrants (whereof 664 before the war), of which about 12000 were executed. In fighting partisans, 345000 are reported to have been killed, of which less than 10 % may have been partisans. This, however, should not obscure the fact that not only the National Socialist legal system was tyrannical (especially also with the protective custody
Protective custody
Protective custody is a type of imprisonment to protect a prisoner from harm, either from outside sources or other prisoners. Many administrators believe the level of violence, or the underlying threat of violence within prisoners, is a chief factor causing the need for PC units...

, to be inflicted at the Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

's arbitration and to be fulfilled in a concentration camp), but this law also was broken to the detriment of those persecuted or opposing. A concentration camp commander could as early as in 1933 inflict the "death penalty" for disobedience, i. e. order to murder a disobedient, without any legal ground whatsoever besides the will of Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the SS, a military commander, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. As Chief of the German Police and the Minister of the Interior from 1943, Himmler oversaw all internal and external police and security forces, including the Gestapo...

, but also without meeting opposition. Bl. Bishop Clemens of Münster correctly saw himself legally obliged to denounce to the criminal police those responsible for the Action T4
Action T4
Action T4 was the name used after World War II for Nazi Germany's eugenics-based "euthanasia" program during which physicians killed thousands of people who were "judged incurably sick, by critical medical examination"...

, i. e. the killing of the handicapped, for murder (then: killing with premeditation); likewise, no law even of the Nazis allowed extermination through work, and genocidal
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

 mass murder
Mass murder
Mass murder is the act of murdering a large number of people , typically at the same time or over a relatively short period of time. According to the FBI, mass murder is defined as four or more murders occurring during a particular event with no cooling-off period between the murders...

, as in the case of the Holocaust.

The ban on the death penalty, as imposed by the German constitution in 1949, however was a reaction not to its extensive use under the Third Reich, but to the execution of convicted Nazi war criminals by the International War Crimes Tribunal.

The last executions that took place on what would become West German soil were those of the rothose following the influence of Third Reich officials and World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 war criminals recently captured, however including some other criminals, with Richard Schuh (murder and robbery) being the last in the Western Zones under German authority (February 18, 1949), and Berthold Wehmeyer (murder, rape and robbery) the last in West Berlin
West Berlin
West Berlin was a political exclave that existed between 1949 and 1990. It comprised the western regions of Berlin, which were bordered by East Berlin and parts of East Germany. West Berlin consisted of the American, British, and French occupation sectors, which had been established in 1945...

 (May 12, 1949). Despite the newly-founded Federal Republic's protests, the Western Allied powers continued for some time to inflict the death penalty in their separate jurisdiction, the last war criminals being executed on June 7, 1951 in the Landsberg prison
Landsberg Prison
Landsberg Prison is a penal facility located in the town of Landsberg am Lech in the southwest of the German state of Bavaria, about west of Munich and south of Augsburg....

. Some "criminal actions against the Allied Occupating Powers' interests" remained capital in West Berlin, being under Allied jurisdiction without complete force of the Basic Law, until 1990; this provision was not carried out.

East Germany abolished the death penalty in 1987. The last execution in East Germany is believed to have been the shooting of Werner Teske
Werner Teske
Werner Teske was a Hauptmann of the Ministry for State Security of East Germany who was executed after having been found guilty of "planned treason". He was the last person to be executed in the German Democratic Republic, and the last person to be executed in Germany.- Life :Werner Teske was...

, convicted for treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

, in 1981; the last execution of a civilian (after 1970, capital punishment was rare and almost exclusively for espionage) was Erwin Hagedorn, for sexually motivated child murder. By then, GDR courts had inflicted the death penalty in 227 cases. 166 were executed, of which 52 for assumedly political crimes (espionage, sabotage etc.), 64 for crimes under Hitler's rule and 44 for common criminality (mostly, murder). The guillotine was replaced by an unexpected shot
Execution by shooting
Execution by shooting is a form of capital punishment whereby an executed person is shot by one or more firearms. It is the most common method of execution worldwide, used in about 70 countries, with execution by firing squad being one particular form...

at close range in 1966. – The GDR was notable for its secrecy about its executions, even when the death warrants had been issued in show trials; death certificates mostly noted but "heart failure".
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