862.00 P.R./202

Extract From Political Report of the Chargé in Germany (Mayer)14

2. Important New Legislation. Among the series of laws passed by the Cabinet at its last meeting on June 19 before the summer vacation are two amendments to the Penal Code which are of supreme interest as illustrating the national state of emergency, almost similar to that prevailing in other countries in wartime, which at present exists in Germany.

The first amendment applies to cases of willful damage to military material. There is already a law on this subject but it provides protection only for material in use and in the actual possession of the Army. The new law renders punishable the destruction or impairment of any sort of material, in preparation or already completed, which might be considered as useful to the country’s defense or affecting the striking power of the Army. As the Army in a certain sense has a right of eminent domain over property in Germany (see Embassy’s despatch No. 1916 of August 9, 1936 [April 9, 1935],13 regarding the dispositions it may make of private real estate and of the general landscape), “material” might be interpreted to mean roads, bridges, landmarks, earthworks, etc. Punishment is also stipulated in the new law for the willful provision to the Army of defective supplies. The penalties envisaged include imprisonment for a period of not less than three months, and in serious cases penal servitude for life, or death.

The second important amendment broadens and generalises the obligations of secrecy resting upon public officials. In the former text of the penal code these obligations were limited to specific cases, such as military and highly confidential information (as for instance tax matters), the inviolability (since become theoretical) of the mails, telephone and telegraph. Now, however, punishment (imprisonment [Page 147] and in serious cases penal servitude up to ten years) will be meted out to any official or former official who in the exercise of his office has betrayed a secret which endangers important public interests or has disclosed to unauthorized persons the contents of an official document designated as “Confidential.” An “official” in the sense of the law is not only an ordinary public official but any person bound to public service by contract. Private persons, moreover, who circulate or pass on an official secret, with full knowledge of its character, will likewise be punished. Prosecution is to be initiated by the heads of the departments concerned, in agreement with the Minister of Justice.

In actual fact, the purposes the law seeks to accomplish are not new as they have for some time been pursued by different means, chiefly through action by the Secret Police, as witness the fate last year of two German journalists who divulged to foreign colleagues the contents of the Propaganda Ministry’s secret press instructions (see Embassy’s despatch No. 2334 of September 25, 193515). The reduction to law of these somewhat informal methods of terrorism will not render any easier the contact of foreigners with German public officials.

A third amendment renders punishable by imprisonment neglect or failure to inform the proper authorities of instances of high treason, damage to military material, attempts upon life, counterfeiting, robbery and acts dangerous to the community of which any one person may have cognizance.

On June 29 there was promulgated an ordinance amending the Defense Law of May 21, 1935. (See Embassy’s despatch No. 2000 of May 27, 1935.16) In order to reconcile this law with the Nuremberg racial legislation of September 15, 1935,17 Article 15 of the former now reads:

  • “(1) A Jew can not perform active service.
  • (2) Jewish cross-breeds can not become officers in the Defense Forces.
  • (3) The service of Jews in time of war may be prescribed by special regulation.”

The provision in the former text of Article 15 regarding the marriage of soldiers with Jews is deemed to be automatically regulated by the Nuremberg Law with respect to marriage.

A second amendment cancels paragraph 2 of Article 12 of the Defense Law which envisaged a special regime for the “demilitarized zone” in so far as recruits residing there were required to report to the civil instead of the military authorities.

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The activity of the commission engaged on a fundamental revision of the Penal Code continues to arouse interest (see Embassy’s despatch No. 2917 of June 29, 193619) and it now appears from a supplementary report of a certain Landgerichtspräsident Dr. Leimer published in the Berliner Tageblatt of July 11 that the revised code will contain a special section on “Disturbance of the People’s Peace” which will render punishable by imprisonment, or in serious cases two years penal servitude, attempts or actions tending to spread terror or anxiety or to stir up sections of the population against each other. (It is hardly to be expected of course that this will cover authorized campaigns of hatred against the Jews or the Catholics.) In Dr. Leimer’s commentary particular mention is made of the spreading of “false” rumors respecting a food shortage, the instability of the currency, the menace of inflation, and the outbreak of strikes or revolutions in Germany. The malicious intent of the act would be beside the point and the simple fact that such rumors had occasioned widespread concern would be sufficient to incur punishment. It is also proposed that the mere circumstance of connection with groups hostile to the State should be punished and that the excuse of drunkenness in mitigation of an offense be set around with severe reservations.

  1. Transmitted to the Department by the Chargé in Germany in his despatch No. 2937, July 14; received July 23.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Foreign Relations, 1935, vol. ii, p. 270.
  5. ibid pp. 406408.
  6. Not printed.