Roland Freisler (1893-1945) was one of the most notorious jurists of the Nazi dictatorship. As President of the so-called People’s Court between 1942 and 1945, he was responsible for over 2600 death sentences against resistance fighters, partisans, and those merely caught for telling jokes about Hitler.
After a brief overview of his life and legacy, this paper examines a particular aspect of Freisler’s work: his vision of a future European legal order.
In recent years, notions of space and spatiality have received increasing attention both from intellectual historians such as David Armitage and from historians of the Third Reich examining ‘Hitler’s Geographies’. Furthermore, the concept of ‘spaces of violence’ (Gewalträume) has been employed to explain instances of ultraviolence occurring in the ‘bloodlands’ of the 20th century. My paper uses the case of Roland Freisler to examine how the relationship between spaces of violence and spaces of law (Rechtsräume) developed from 1933 to 1945. Going beyond classic accounts such as Ernst Fraenkel’s famous distinction between the normative and the prerogative state, my paper argues that the Nazi spatial imagination is of central importance to understanding the complex dynamics between law, law-breaking, and violence in Nazi Germany and the occupied territories. Drawing on Freisler’s publications as well as archival records and personal correspondence, it is argued that his thought was fundamentally shaped by a sharp separation between a pacified space associated with the People’s Community, and an extra-legal space characterised by resistance, war and violence.