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Capital punishment was abolished in West Germany in 1949 and East Germany in 1987


Legal position

The Current Constitution of Germany ("Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland"), coming into effect 23. May 1949, forbids capital punishment. This ban is stated in two articles:

  • Art. 102 GG: "Die Todesstrafe ist abgeschafft" - Capital punishment is abolished.
  • Art. 2 Abs. 2 GG: "Jeder hat das Recht auf Leben und körperliche Unversehrtheit" - Every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity.

Although article 21.1 of the constitution of the German state of Hesse provides capital punishment for high crimes, this provision is inoperative due to the federal ban on the death penalty ("Bundesrecht bricht Landesrecht" - Federal law overrides state law).


If the failed German constitution drafted by the Frankfurt Parliament in 1849 had come into force, capital punishment would have been abolished in most cases, since Art. III § 139 of the constitution stated: "Die Todesstrafe, ausgenommen wo das Kriegsrecht sie vorschreibt, oder das Seerecht im Fall von Meutereien sie zuläßt, [...], [ist] abgeschafft" ("Capital punishment, except when it is prescribed by martial law or permitted by the law of the seas in cases of mutiny, [...] [is] abolished").

Under Hitler nearly 40,000 death sentences were handed down, mainly by the Volksgerichtshof and also by the Reich Military Tribunal. Executions were carried out most often by beheading using the guillotine although from 1942 on hanging by using the short-drop method became also common. A firing squad was reserved for military offenders.

Treason, aiding and abetting treason, espionage, sabotage, murder, looting, insidious publishing or rhetoric, listening to foreign radio broadcasts, refusing military service as a conscientious objector, and hiding a person wanted by the government could all be punished by death in the Third Reich. The ban on the death penalty, as imposed by the German constitution in 1949, however was a reaction not to its extensive use under the Third Reich, but to the execution of convicted Nazi war criminals by the International War Crimes Tribunal.[1]

The last executions that took place on what would become West German soil were those following the influence of Third Reich officials and World War II war criminals recently captured. In West Berlin, which was an independently governed zone under Allied control, the last execution was carried out by guillotine in Moabit prison in 1949 (Berthold Wehmeyer, for murder and robbery).

The last execution in East Germany is believed to have been the shooting of Werner Teske, accused of being a double agent, in 1981. The death penalty was not abolished in the GDR until 1987.

See also




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