Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 September 2020
Not every investigation into Nazi criminality resulted in a prosecution, much less a conviction. This chapter tells the story of one case that failed to make it to trial. Taking a micro-history approach, the chapter examines the murder of an individual Jew, Dr. Hans Hannemann, in Berlin in the closing days of World War II. Hannemann was killed after being turned over to the SS by a group of local civilians, who appear to have been motivated by anti-Semitic beliefs and the fear that he could be a Russian spy. After the war, local authorities launched an investigation into his death. Despite compiling considerable evidence that various local individuals were implicated in Hannemann’s murder, the prosecutor in the case, Wilhelm Kühnast, dropped the charges on the grounds that “so much time had passed” since the killing. This resulted in a modest political scandal, and Kühnast was arrested by the Soviets, under pressure from East German communists. He subsequently escaped to West Berlin and resumed his life. The Kühnast scandal shows how East German communists used Nazi trials as a litmus test for political reliability and also how the Cold War poisoned the prospects for justice in many Nazi cases.