Research & Teaching

Friedrich Karl Kaul and the role of the GDR in West German National Socialist violent crime

Researcher: Dr. Katharina Rauschenberger

The issue of legal prosecution of Nazi crimes in East Germany has thus far largely yielded research of trials on National Socialist violent crime in the Soviet occupation zone or the GDR. It is generally agreed that after a phase of intensive prosecution of Nazi criminals in the GDR immediately following the war, hardly any Nazi violent crimes were subsequently brought to trial – in the 1950s and 1960s. The Ministry for State Security and the Committee for German Unity, a sub-organization of the Council of Ministers of the GDR, focused instead on discrediting the German Federal Republic for publicly denouncing the Nazi past of above all many judges and public prosecutors. It seemed opportune for the party offices as well as the GDR government to avail themselves of this situation to pursue their own strategies for intervening in the proceedings held in the Federal German Republic.

One person in particular comes to the fore in this regard – East German lawyer Friedrich Karl Kaul. Kaul was a very well-known public figure in the GDR, not only for his engagements as a trial lawyer but also for the numerous books on his efforts to defend clients and the series of detective film screenplays he wrote for a broad public. His appearances as host of a popular legal advice programme »Ask Professor Kaul« on GDR television made him particularly popular.

Kaul was also admitted as a lawyer to the West Berlin Higher Regional Court. From the beginning of the 1960s, his legal endeavours were focused on representing joint plantiffs from the GDR in West German Nazi violent crime proceedings: in the first two Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, the »Euthanasia« trial against Dietrich Allers and others, the Krumey-Hunsch trial, the Majdanek trial and the Treblinka trial in Düsseldorf, among other proceedings.

The scope of the project does not encompass writing a further biography of Kaul. The project is aimed instead at sounding out Kaul’s impact in the GDR and investigating whether he pursued his own agenda that factored in repercussions for the GDR in his prosecution of Nazi crimes. Deemed ‘half-Jewish’, Kaul himself was persecuted during the Nazi years and forced to emigrate. Members of his family were murdered. When Kaul joined the GDR’s governing Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschland – SED) in 1947, party officials were suspicious of him on account of his Jewish background as well as his long stay in the United States. In fact, the SED and the Ministry for State Security had him continuously on their radar screen. This project interprets Kaul’s biography as the background against which he took up his political, legal and also propagandistic activities.