Germany: the executive wants to rid the law of its last Nazi vestiges


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In Germany, there are still 29 legal or regulatory texts dating from the regime of Adolf Hitler (1933-1945). Felix Klein, Angela Merkel’s government commissioner for the fight against anti-Semitism, lamented the fact that they have never been suppressed since the fall of IIIe Reich. Some of these texts, however, had a “very clear anti-Semitic background”, he assured Agence France-Presse. Its aim is to achieve a complete clean-up, if possible before the end of the legislature in September.

The question of the adoption of a single law reforming all the texts concerned or of piecemeal changes remains to be resolved. The most emblematic case remains the law on the change of names and surnames. Promulgated in January 1938, this law paved the way for a decree from Nazi Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick obliging from 1is January 1939 “Jewish men and women to add the first names Israel and Sara respectively to their official first names”, recalls Felix Klein.

The text has become federal law

The ordinance was repealed by the Allies after World War II. But this 1938 text, stripped of its anti-Semitic dimension, became in 1954, by administrative decision, a federal law. However, this law, which defines in its current version the criteria for changing the name, is “still formulated today as if the Reich still existed”, deplores Felix Klein. He points to the use of terms such as “German Reich”, “Reich government” or “Reich Minister of the Interior”.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that in 2021, the Nazi language continues to shape our federal law”, gets carried away with Agence France-Presse Helge Lindh, head of the social democratic group in the Committee of the Interior of the Bundestag. “It was high time to send a clear signal through this form of late denazification,” he said. This cleansing should also make it possible, according to him, to extend the law to all foreign nationals living in Germany and not to confine it only to the Germans.


This law on name changes is the most emblematic, but there are at least 28 other texts dating from the Nazi era. Helge Lindh even lists around forty. “Other laws and regulations deal with very technical issues, such as the ordinance on the administration of the Elbe in the Hamburg region,” explains Thorsten Frei, vice-chairman of the conservative CDU-CSU group in the Bundestag. The law on non-medical practitioners, which regulates part of medical practice, dates from 1939. An ordinance on casinos has continued to apply since 1938. The law on mutual legal assistance between Germany and Greece is a heirloom from May 1938.

Germany has already repealed laws dating back to Nazism, such as in 1994 the criminalization of homosexual relations or, in 2019, a text prohibiting doctors from announcing that they perform abortion. Although adopted four years after the capitulation of May 8, 1945, the Basic Law, the pillar of democratic Germany, has also been in the crosshairs for several years, especially on the left. Its detractors call for the revision of article 3 of the Constitution, in which the term “race” appears.

Angela Merkel said herself open to it in June 2020. Ironically, the reverse process is taking place in the far-right movement, with the return to favor of terms and invective, long taboo, straight from the Nazi era. Anti-migrant demonstrations or, more recently, anti-masks, thus use the term “traitors to the homeland” (Traitor in German), popularized by Hitler. The “lying press”, stigmatized by the Nazis, is also the target of gibes in these parades.

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