Die Akte Rosenburg: Das Bundesministerium der Justiz und die NS-Zeit. Munich, 2016.

  1. Date/Time

  2. Location

    The New School University Center

    Hoerle Lecture Hall, UL105
    63 5th Ave.
    New York, NY 10003

  3. Admission

    Members: Free, RSVP
    Non-members: Free, RSVP

This event is sponsored by the Leo Baeck Institute and the American Jewish Committee with support from the Justice Ministry of the Federal Republic of Germany.

When Allied forces handed over the reins of government to the newly minted Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, a new Justice Ministry assumed responsibility for interpreting and enforcing the law in a nation whose former legal system had been perverted by National Socialist ideology. New research commissioned by the Justice Ministry shows that this was hardly a fresh start for the German justice system, however. A high proportion of officials with management responsibility in the new ministry had been members of the NSDAP, and this cohort rose rapidly through the ranks well into the 1960s.

The study was recently published in Germany as The Rosenburg Files—in reference to the palace in Bonn that housed the ministry—and Leo Baeck Institute and the American Jewish Committee will host a lecture and discussion of the findings featuring Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Justice Ministry Christian Lange and one of the study’s chief authors, Manfred Goertemaker.

These remarks will be followed by a panel discussion reflecting on the relevance of the study’s findings to the role of the judiciary in modern democracies and the development and safeguarding of democracy in general.


Christian Lange has been the Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection since December 2013. He has been a member of the German Bundestag since 1998 and served as Parliamentary Secretary of the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag from October 2007 to December 2013.

Manfred Goertemaker is Professor of Modern History at the University of Potsdam and an annual Visiting Professor at the Dipartimento di Politica, Istituzioni, Storia of the Università di Bologna since 2005. He is one of the authors of The Rosenburg Files (Die Akte Rosenburg: Das Bundesministerium der Justiz und die NS-Zeit, C.H. Beck, 2016).


Moderator Jeffrey C. Goldfarb is Michael E. Gellert Professor of Sociology at the New School for Social Research, New York. His work on the sociology of media, culture and politics includes several books examining the political sociology of key historical turning points from the Prague spring to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the  “Obama Revolution.”

Christoph Safferling is Professor of Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, International Criminal Law and International Law at Philipps University of Marburg and Director of the Marburg Research and Documentation Centre for the War Crimes Trials. With Manfred Goertemaker, he is co-author of The Rosenburg Files.

David G. Marwell is the Director Emeritus of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust and a specialist in the prosecution of Nazi war crimes. He served as the Chief of Investigative Research at the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Special Investigations, where he conducted historical research in support of prosecution of Nazi war criminals living in the United States. From 1988 to 1994, Marwell was the Director of the Berlin Document Center, where he managed the center’s 25 million Nazi-era personnel files, and subsequently oversaw the transfer of the center’s administration to the German government.

Housed in the “Rosenburg” a Romanesque-revival palace on an idyllic estate in the new capital of Bonn, the new German Justice Ministry was initially led by Thomas Dehler, a lawyer with anti-Nazi bona fides. Nevertheless, the historians who examined the personnel records of the Justice Ministry say that the Rosenburg was hardly the site of a fresh start for the German legal system. The Independent Historians‘ Commission appointed to conduct the research found that in 1950, 47 percent of all officials with management responsibility had been members of the Nazi party. A National Socialist resume was also apparently no impediment to career advancement; in the 1960s, 60 percent of department heads were former NSDAP members.

The continued presence of former Nazis at high levels in the Justice Ministry is also reflected in the way it pursued vital aspects of its mission. For example, virtually all people convicted of Nazi crimes were pardoned by 1958, and the judgments of the infamous Volksgerichtshof (National Socialist People’s Court) and Courts Martial were not fully rescinded until the adoption of new federal Laws in 1998 and 2002. After the Nuremburg trials, few of the lawyers and judges responsible for draconian and arbitrary sentences under the Nazi regime were held accountable, and elements of the Nazi criminal code remained on the books for decades.

Sixty-five years after the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, there is no doubt that the reconstruction of a German justice system that protects the rule of law and civil rights was ultimately successful. This reckoning with the dark chapters of the BMJ’s early history was launched by former Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger in 2012 as an expression of Germany’s commitment to democracy. It is the second such study by a German Federal Ministry, after the Foreign Office launched its own historians’ commission in 2005, the findings of which were presented at Leo Baeck Institute in 2012.