“I Know I Also Share the Guilt”: A Retrospective of the West German Parliament’s 1965 Debate on the Statute of Limitations for Murder
In March 1965 the West German parliament debated the approaching expiration of the statute of limitations for the murders of the Hitler regime. By this time, all other Nazi crimes, including manslaughter, were already statute-barred. During the Federal Republic’s first decade, when the government’s emphasis had been on integrating rather than prosecuting former National Socialists, the Bundestag failed to make the necessary changes in the law. In the early 1960s attitudes began to change, particularly among some young and educated Germans. Consisting of individuals with varying political backgrounds, this group concluded that Federal Republic officials had not done enough, throughout the 1950s, to bring the perpetrators to justice despite the overwhelming evidence regarding the extent of the Nazis’ murderous programs and atrocities. Confronted with foreign pressure and concerned with the essence of the Rechtsstaat (nation of laws), several lawmakers resolved to prevent the scheduled expiration of the murder statute in 1965 and introduced the necessary legislation. The intense, emotional debates that followed are generally considered to rank among the best in the Bundestag’s history. In the end, however, the legislators settled for an unsatisfactory compromise, which soon overshadowed any good impressions produced by the debates.