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The plaque in Nuremberg which says: In Memory of Leo Katzenberger, President of the Nuremberg Jewish Community who was arrested and charged under the Nuremberg Laws in a trial of the Special Court, found guilty, and made a victim of Nazi Racial Justice
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Leo Katzenberger Way
photo by Rhonda Spivak

View of Pegnitz River Taken from Leo Katzenberger Way, Nuremberg
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Courtroom 600-Palace of Justice nuremberg. The cross was taken down during the Nuremberg Trials
photo by Rhonda Spivak


by Rhonda Spivak, October 20, 2016




In Nuremberg, Germany, where Hitler's Nazi party passed the Nuremberg laws, I was walking near the Pegnitz River, and  I came across a sign that said Leo Katzenberger Way. A short distance away from the sign, I came across a marking in German that I did not understand but made it clear to me that Katzenberger was a Jew, who died in 1942. Leo Katzenberger Way was the only street name I had come across in Nuremberg that was named after a Jew, and I took photos of the location and made a note to look up who Katzenberger was. Since I don't know German I couldn't understand what the plaque about Katzenberger said. 



Katzenberger, a leading member of Nuremberg's Jewish community, was accused of having an affair with a young Aryan woman in violation of one of the Nuremberg Laws, racial defilement (Rassenschande) that prohibited any sexual contact between Jews and Aryans. The Katzenberger Trial was a notorious Nazi show trial that resulted in Katzenberger being sentenced to death on March 14, 1942. Oswald Rothaug, the presiding judge at Katzenberg's trial was himself later tried at the end of World War II at the famous Nuremberg trials, and the Katzenberger trial would go on to form the basis of a subplot for the well known 1961 film Judgement at Nuremberg.



Katzenberger, along with his two brothers, owned a large shoe wholesale as well as some thirty shoe shops throughout southern Germany. Katzenberger was arrested when he was 76 years old and was accused of having an affair with a photographer, Irene Seiler (née Scheffler), who was the 30 year-old daughter of a non-Jewish friend. Beginning in 1932, he rented an apartment and a small storefront in his building at 19 Spittlertorgraben to Seiler. Even though his shoe business was “Aryanized” in 1938, he still continued to own his building and rent space to Seiler and as of 1939 he became the chairman of the Nuremberg Jewish Cultural Organization. In the spring of 1941 someone reported Katzenberger to the Nazi authorities, and under interrogation he steadfastly denied that there was any sexual element to his relationship with Seiler. She asserted that theirs was a merely a friendship in which Katzenberger helped her, as a father would help a daughter. The judge who initially investigated the case was unable to find sufficient evidence that sexual intercourse between Katzenberger and Seiler took place and he delayed bringing the case to trial until further investigation.




According to, the investigation showed that "Katzenberger had a relationship with Seiler but it was one of debtor and creditor: Katzenberger had lent Ms. Seiler some money."




In March 1942, after Seiler swore a statement in which she also denied the charges, the case was brought before the Nuremberg Special Court and presided over by the notorious judge Oswald Rothaug, known for his severity and fervent support of Nazism. The investigation had attracted his attention and he arranged for the case to be brought to him. He understood the publicity such a trial would generate and used it as a way to display his Nazi credentials and further his own career. Rothaug sent out tickets for the trial to all the prominent Nazis in Nuremberg.



"There was great public interest in the proceedings and the court was crowded both days. In what was a deliberately orchestrated show trial, Rothaug referred to Katzenberger several times as a “syphilitic Jew” and an “agent of world Jewry.” There was no question of the outcome... It was a public demonstration designed to inflame antisemitic feeling and justify the extraordinary measures put in place to persecute Jews and other so-called enemies of the regime," according to The Holocaust Encyclopedia




No conclusive evidence was presented during the trial that Katzenberger and Seiler had ever had an affair, let alone that it had continued up until and during the war. At the time, the law did not call for the death sentence for breaking the Rassenschutzgesetz. The normal sentence would have been a term of imprisonment of several years. However, a wartime law, Volkschädlingsgesetz allowed for  capital punishment if an accused exploited wartime regulations such as the black-out to further his or her crime. Based on a single eyewitness account that Katzenberger had been seen leaving the Seiler apartment "when it was already dark", Rothaug applied this law to pass a death sentence against Katzenberger.



Leo Katzenberger was guillotined at Stadelheim Prison in Munich on 2 June 1942. Irene Seiler was found guilty of perjury for denying an affair had taken place and sentenced to two years of hard labour, according the Holocaust encyclopedia.



The Katzenberger show trial took place in the Palace of justice in Nuremberg in Courtroom 600. Rothaug wrote in his  judgment:


'[T]he national community is in need of increased legal protection from all crimes attempting to destroy or undermine its inner cohesion...The visits by Katzenberger to Seiler under the protection of the blackout served at least the purpose of keeping relations going. It does not matter whether during these visits extra-marital sexual relations took place or whether they only conversed...The Jew's racial pollution amounts to a grave attack on the purity of German blood, the object of the attack being the body of a German woman..."



According to Wikipedia, "Even among some Nazi officials, the tenuous grounds on which Katzenberger had been sentenced to death caused disquiet. Oswald Rothaug was moved to a state attorney's job in Berlin in 1943 because the Justice Minister considered him unfit to be a judge."



After the war ended, Rothaug was arrested and brought before the International Military Tribunal that was set up by the Allies after World War II in Nuremberg, where he was&n

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.