Inventing the Criminal: A History of German Criminology, 1880-1945

By Richard F. Wetzell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX

CRIMINOLOGYUNDERTHENAZIREGIME

Criminology and Nazism

When the National Socialists came to power in January 1933, their future attitude toward criminology was an open question. Nazi pronouncements on crime and criminal justice during the Weimar years suggested that the party held a contradictory attitude toward criminology. For although the Nazis themselves subscribed to a biological approach to crime that drew on criminal-biological research, activist Nazi jurists were frequently hostile to criminology. These jurists attacked Weimar criminal justice as excessively lenient and blamed the supposed "emasculation" (Verweichlichung) of criminal justice on the liberalism and misguided humanitarianism of Weimar penal reformers and criminologists. The criminological interest in "understanding" the personality of the criminal, they charged, had undermined the notion of individual responsibility and therefore led to more and more lenient punishments that compromised society's defense against crime. Instead, they called for a "tough on crime" policy of harsh retributive punishment that had no use for criminological considerations. 1.

While it was indeed true that the criminal courts had become more lenient over the Weimar years, as Franz Exner showed in his 1931 study of the subject, this trend had begun in the 1880s, long before the Weimar Republic. Although Exner, too, attributed this trend to the influence of criminology, he insisted that the increase in lenience reflected an "irrational" psychological response to criminology's new focus on the social and biological determinants of crime, rather

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1.
Georg Dahm and Friedrich Schaffstein, Liberales oder autoritäres Strafrecht? (Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1933), 13, 15; see also Franz Exner's response to such criticisms in "Aufgaben der Kriminologie im neuen Reich," MKS 27 (1936): 3.

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