The People’s Court was a Sondergericht (“special court”) of Nazi Germany, set up outside the operations of the constitutional frame of law. Its headquarters were originally located in the former Prussian House of Lords in Berlin, later moved to the former Königliches Wilhelms Gymnasium at Bellevuestrasse 15 in Potzdamer Platz; a marker is located on the sidewalk nearby).
The court was established in 1934 by order of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, in response to his dissatisfaction at the outcome of the Reichstag fire trial with Marines van der Lubbe, in which all but one of the defendants was acquitted. The court had jurisdiction over a rather broad array of “political offenses”, which included crimes like black marketing, work slowdowns, defeatism, and treason against the Third Reich . These crimes were viewed by the court as Wehrkraftzersetzung (“disintegration of defensive capability”) and were accordingly punished severely; the death penalty was meted out in numerous cases.
The Court handed down an enormous number of death sentences under Judge-President Roland Freisler, including those that followed the plot to kill Hitler on 20 July 1944. Many of those found guilty by the Court were executed in Plötzensee Prison in Berlin.
The proceedings of the court were often even less than show trials in that some cases, such as that of Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans Scholl and fellow White Rose activists, trials were concluded in less than an hour without evidence being presented or arguments made by either side. The president of the court often acted as prosecutor, denouncing defendants, then pronouncing his verdict and sentence without objection from defense counsel, who usually remained silent throughout. It almost always sided with the prosecution, to the point that being hauled before it was tantamount to a death sentence. While Nazi Germany was not a rule of law state, the People’s Court frequently dispensed with even the nominal laws and procedures of regular German trials, and was thus easily characterized as a “kangaroo court”.
Freisler was killed by a falling column during a bomb attack of the Allied forces, as he returned to the Courthouse while he had forgotten some documents.