Nuremberg Trials, 1945 -- 1946

Nuremberg Trials, 1945 -- 1946
Nazi defendants in the dock, Nuremberg Trials, 1945 -- 1946 (Photo from Wikipedia, public domain)

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Law Code of Ur Nammu, Oldest Surviving Set of Laws

From Creative Commons 
Wikipedia -- Clay tablet of the
Code of Ur Nammu
at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums

By Adrian McGrath

The oldest surviving set of laws that we know of come from the Mesopotamian city-state called Ur, in what is today Iraq. Ur was the home in Sumaria of Abraham, the very same, famous Abraham from the Bible. We are not certain of the exact date the law code was written, but it dates from about 2100 BC. (The Old Testament dates from about 1500 BC probably at its oldest.) This makes the law code of Ur Nammu older than the Bible itself.

We also do not know exactly who wrote the code, but it was probably written by the King of Ur named Ur Nammu or his son. The son was called Shulgi. The code itself was written in a now-extinct language called Sumerian which was the language of the ancient land called Sumer. Sumer existed between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Mesopotamia, which is now central or south Iraq.

It is significant to note that the Code of Ur Nammu is actually older than the Code of Hammurabi, which was probably written about 1780 BC. It is often said that the Hammurabi laws are the oldest known written laws, but actually Ur Nammu's code is older. Hammurabi's Code also came from Mesopotamia. The Ur Nammu Code is about three centuries older than the Hammurabi Code.

It is also significant to note that there may have been older codes or laws than that of Ur Nammu, but this is the oldest to survive to modern times. 

The code of Ur Nammu is interesting in that it was not a type of law termed "lex talionis." Lex talionis means a law of retaliation or an "eye for an eye" law where the punishment resembles the crime. Very simplistic. Instead, the Code of Ur Nammu uses what is called "casuistic law."

In casuistic law, precedent is followed based on cases. This creates a situation where If something happens, Then something else is a result. The particular nature of each case is taken into account -- not just a general written rule. Usually, there was a monetary cost to pay for an offense. 

There were some capital offenses in the Code of Ur Nammu where a criminal could be executed. Some of these crimes included murder and rape. However, most of the penalties for wrongs done appear to have been monetary -- payment usually in silver to the damaged party.

The code also seemed to mix what is called today criminal law with civil law -- such as a tort (e.g. personal injury) or contract law (e.g. breach of duty) mixed with crimes like murder or adultery (which was a crime in Ur).

The Code of Ur Nammu is considered to be very advanced for its time because it was not a simple "eye for an eye" law code. It is also interesting to note that even in 2100 BC, society felt the need for a legal code to make a nation fully functional.

Sources and further reading:

1. Wikipedia. Code of Ur-Nammu.

2. historyofinformation. com.  The Ur Nammu Law Code, the Oldest Known Legal Code

3. Historic Mysteries.   The Code of Ur-Nammu: the Oldest Law in the World?

4. Note: The photo above of the clay Code of Ur Nammu is from Wikimedia Commons in public domain. Found here

Monday, August 1, 2022

Sophie Scholl: The Execution of a Young German Woman who Defied the Nazis

Photo from Wikipedia
Sophie Scholl
Photo from Wikipedia

By Adrian McGrath

"Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go. But what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action."
The final words of Sophie Scholl

Sophie Scholl was only 21 years old when she was executed by the Nazis for the "crime of treason." She was found guilty by a court in Nazi Germany for distributing anti-war and anti-Nazi
 pamphlets at the University of Munich which she attended. Her papers denounced the National Socialist (Nazi) regime and its wartime policies. The Nazis cut off her head with a guillotine. 

Sophia Magdalena Scholl (usually called Sophie) was born in Forchtenberg am Kocher in 1921, in what is now southern Germany. Sophie's home was in what was known then as the Free People's State of Wuertteberg. 

Her parents had six children, and the family was Lutheran. Her father was a liberal progressive politician, who became the mayor of Forchtenberg. He was strongly opposed to fascism and the Nazis.

Sophie had a rather happy and stable childhood, although the family moved a few times to other German cities. Her father was a business consultant and accountant. Her Lutheran Christian faith and acquiring a proper education were important aspects of Sophie's life, and she took them seriously.

At first she liked school even under the new Nazi regime since it stressed outdoor and group activities which she enjoyed. Being young Sophie did not initially realize or understand the terribly harmful aspects of the new political order. Her parents, however, understood the danger; but there was little they could do to stop the influence of Nazism.

As the Nazis grew in power and terror in the 1930s, it became more and more difficult for Sophie at school as Fascist, racist, and viciously anti-Jewish beliefs and indoctrination entered the educational system in Germany.

This situation also affected her brother Hans who became strongly opposed to the Nazis, although he was for a while in the Hitler Youth. Almost all young people in Germany were in the Hitler Youth then.

Hans Scholl, Sophie's brother, 1943.
Gestapo photo after his arrest.

Life went on. Sophie continued her education with a keen interest in art, philosophy, and theology. She graduated from the equivalent of high school in 1940 and became a kindergarten teacher. She also had a boyfriend named Fritz Hartnagel, who became a German soldier and fought on the Russian Front.

Under Nazi German law, Sophie had to serve in the National Labor Service (Reicharbeitdienst) for six months. This organization was filled with Nazi propaganda on a daily basis, which Sophie, over time, strongly opposed. This warped Nazi philosophy caused Sophie to search for ways to resist the Nazis.

In May of 1942 Sophie became a student at the University of Munich. She studied biology and philosophy. Her brother Hans also was a student there and studied medicine. 

At the university Sophie met Hans' friends; and together they would discuss various subjects in the humanities like art, music, and literature, but also go for hikes, play sports, and attend concerts. Later on, however, their interests turned to politics and discussions about the oppressive Nazi regime and the horrible war, including discussions of Nazi atrocities on the Russian Front.

In the summer of 1942, Sophie was required to work temporarily in a war-related metal plant in the city of Ulm.

 Meanwhile, Sophie's father was arrested and put in jail temporarily simply for making a negative comment while at work about Adolf Hitler.

Sophie and her younger brother, Werner Scholl.
Werner was active early in passive resistance but was drafted into
the German Army and later declared missing and presumed dead on the Russian Front in 1944.
Wikimedia Commons

Hans Scholl eventually changed his study from medicine to philosophy and religion. Hans, a Lutheran, joined up with Catholic friends at the university to form what became a passive resistance group calling for the end of Fascism and National Socialism (Nazism). They denounced the war and were strongly opposed to anti-Semitism. 

Then the group published underground leaflets asserting their beliefs in freedom and encouraging others to resist the Nazis. The group secretly distributed these pamphlets by mail but also left the leaflets lying around in public places for anyone to read. Additionally, leaflets were secretly distributed at various universities.

This passive resistance group was known as the White Rose (Weisse Rose). The group only had a few members, but it felt it could influence many others through the ideas expressed in the leaflets. The group hoped to eventually team up with other passive resistance groups.

Resistance in Nazi Germany typically had to begin informally and secretly. So, the White Rose originated from a non-political group (just a bunch of friends meeting for fun and shared academic interests); but it became strongly political over time. The group (five students plus one university professor) had come face to 
face with the evil of the Nazi regime and decided to take a stand.

The leaflets, denouncing Adolf Hitler and Nazism, were intelligently made and typically quoted the Bible and philosophers like Aristotle with supportive intellectual arguments advocating freedom and morality.

 Sophie was not with the political group initially. She just knew the group as friends. When she found out about the political aspects, however, she was thrilled to join. Interestingly, because she was female, it was believed she would be less suspicious as a resister to the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police. This later turned out to be the case, at least initially.

In February of 1943 Hans and Sophia went to Ludwig Maximilian University (aka the University of Munich) and secretly left leaflets in hallways for students to find, while classes were going on. 

Sophie also tossed some remaining leaflets from a top flood to the ground below just before they planned to depart. This became a fatal mistake.

This is a memorial to Sophie Scholl
and the White Rose at the University of Munich in
Germany. It represents the political pamphlets that
Sophie distributed. Wikimedia Commons.,_M%C3%BCnchen.jpg

The school's janitor, a hardcore Nazi, noticed this and called the Gestapo. Hans was captured with a draft of a leaflet on him, which in turn led to the arrest of other White Rose members.

At first, the Gestapo actually thought Sophie was innocent of the matter. Sophie later confessed to being in White Rose, however. She tried to protect the other members by doing this -- trying to take the blame on herself. But the Gestapo eventually discovered the full facts.

Sophie was taken to the People's Court (Volksgerichtshof) on February 22, 1943. She asserted that she simply wrote and said what other people believed but dared not publicly communicate.

 The accused were not allowed any legal defense. The defendants were in fact not even allowed to speak in their own defense in court. Sophie reportedly interrupted the judge several times, however, to no avail. 

The People's Court followed Nazi beliefs and not real law as we know it. 

Hans, another group member named Christopher Probst, and Sophie were found guilty of treason by a Nazi judge, Roland Freisler. The penalty was death.

 The three were executed -- their heads cut off by a guillotine.

The Nazi judge, Roland Freisler, by the way, was killed later in the war when American B17 bombers attacked Berlin hitting various targets and blew up his courthouse too, killing the Nazi judge. 

This judge was a favorite of Adolf Hitler's and had presided over the cases of the July 20 conspirators who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1944.

Nazi judge Roland Freisler (center) in the
Nazi People's Court or Volksgerichtshof (,_Volksgerichtshof,_Reinecke,_Freisler,_Lautz.jpg#mw-jump-to-license

The other members of the White Rose were eventually caught and executed by the Nazis.

In all the White Rose published and distributed six leaflets. A draft of the seventh leaflet from the White Rose was smuggled to Britain. 

The document was later mass-produced by the British and called "The Manifesto of the Students of Munich."

The Guillotine was the type of device used
to execute Sophie Scholl. The Nazis used the 
guillotine to kill over 16,000 prisoners during their reign.
The Nazi version was slightly different from the one in the above photo.
The German version was made mainly of steel and had a heavier blade making it a more efficient killing machine. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

In 1943 the British Royal Air Force (RAF) dropped millions of copies of this manifesto document all over Germany. In this way, many Germans could read what the White Rose advocated -- a call for freedom. Germans could now see that fellow Germans denounced Hitler and the Nazis. 

Sophie Scholl died a young woman, but her memory lives on. Today in Germany Sophie Scholl is rightly honored as a national hero. She is an inspiration for all people who believe in freedom.

Sources and further reading: "Sophie Scholl" article at Wikipedia.
"Sophie Scholl and the White Rose" at

From BBC online "Sophie Scholl: Student who resisted Hitler and inspires Germany"

Photo of Roland Freisler

Law Code of Ur Nammu, Oldest Surviving Set of Laws

From Creative Commons  Wikipedia -- Clay tablet of the Code of Ur Nammu at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums By Adrian McGrath The oldest sur...