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Hitler's Judges: Ideological Commitment and the Death Penalty in Nazi Germany


  • We thank Rob Brooks, Nuno Garoupa, Vai-Lam Mui, Paul Raschky, the joint managing editor (Hans-Joachim Voth) and the three anonymous referees for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. Rob Brooks, Michael Ward and Xibin Zhang provided valuable econometric advice at different stages. Son Nguyen and Friederike Bauer provided excellent research assistance. We, alone, are responsible for the views expressed therein and any remaining errors. This research was supported in part by successive grants from the Department of Economics, Monash University.


We examine the role of judicial policy preferences in influencing whether judges in Nazi Germany sentenced defendants charged with serious political offences to death. We find that judicial policy preferences, measured by the depth of the ideological commitment of the judge to the Nazi Party worldview, were an important determinant of whether judges imposed the death sentence. Judges more committed to the Nazi Party were more likely to impose the death sentence on defendants belonging to organised political opposition groups, those accused of violent resistance and those with characteristics to which Nazism was intolerant.