Alfons Sack was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, on 7th August, 1887. He studied law and during the Weimar Republic he became a member of the German National People's Party (DNVP). He developed a reputation for defending in court right-wing extremists. This included Hans Gerd Techow, who was charged with murdering Walther Rathenau. He later joined the Nazi Party and became a great supporter of Adolf Hitler. (1)
Lothar Machtan, the author of The Hidden Hitler (2001), claims that Alfons Sack was a close to Ernst Röhm, Edmund Heines and Karl Ernst. He suggests that this was not only a political relationship as Sack, Röhm, Heines and Ernst were all homosexuals. (2)
On 24th February, 1933, Ernst Torgler, chairman of the German Communist Party (KPD), was arrested and charged with being involved in the Reichstag Fire. According to Detective-Inspector Walter Zirpins, who was given the task of investigating the fire, "three eye-witnesses saw van der Lubbe in the company of Torgler... before the fire. In view of van der Lubbe's striking appearance, it is impossible for all three to have been wrong." (3)
Kurt Rosenfeld, had been Torgler's lawyer for many years. However, like other socialists and communists in Germany, fled the country when the Nazi government began arresting left-wing opponents of the regime and sending them to concentration camps. In August 1933, Torgler was forced to employ Alfons Sack. (4)
Sack hesitated about defending Torgler as he was aware that if he did a good job, and his client was found not guilty, he faced the possibility of imprisonment. "I was concerned with only one question: is the man guilty or is he innocent? Only if I could be reasonably certain that Torgler had entered politics for idealistic reasons and not for selfish motives and that he had never made personal capital out of his political beliefs, would I find it within me to accept his defence." Sack eventually came to the conclusion that Torgler was telling the truth. (5)
On the opening day of the trial Torgler received a message from Wilhelm Pieck, the leader of the German Communist Party (KPD) in exile. It said that he was to take the first opportunity to "disown Dr. Sack as an agent of Hitler". He was also told to state in court that Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels had set the Reichstag on fire. "I argued with myself for at least twenty-four hours. If I compiled, I would cause a sensation and that would make an extremely good headline. But what would happen to me?" Torgler concluded that if he did this he was "signing his own death warrant" and decided to allow Sack to defend him in court. (6)
The main witness against Torgler was Gustav Lebermann, who was at the time serving a prison sentence for theft and fraud. In court he alleged that he had first met Torgler in Hamburg on 25th October 1931. He was told to prepare for a "big job" in the future. On 6th March, 1933, Torgler offered him 14,000 marks, if he set fire to the Reichstag building. Lebermann claimed that when he refused Torgler punched him in the abdomen.
Torgler told the court: "All I can say regarding this evidence is how astonished I am that anyone should utter such lies before the highest Court of the land. I have never seen this man in my life. I have never been in Hamburg for any length of time, and when I did go to Hamburg it was merely to attend meetings of the Union of Post Office Workers... Not a single word the witness has spoken is true. Everything he says is a lie, from start to finish." (7)
Berthold Karwahne, Stefan Kroyer and Kurt Frey all testified that they saw Torgler with Marinus van der Lubbe. However, they were all senior officials in the Nazi Party and very few people believed their stories. Torgler, claimed that the man they thought was Van der Lubbe, was a journalist, Walther Oehme. When he was interviewed by the Gestapo, he denied that he met Torgler at the time. However, on the 28th October, he testified that he had been wrong and had in fact, been with Torgler at the time he had originally stated. This incensed the Public Prosecutor, who realised that the court was now unlikely to convict him. (8)
On 23rd December, 1933, Judge Wilhelm Bürger announced that Marinus van der Lubbe was guilty of "arson and with attempting to overthrow the government". Bürger concluded that the German Communist Party (KPD) had indeed planned the fire in order to start a revolution, but the evidence against Ernst Torgler, Georgi Dimitrov, Blagoi Popov and Vassili Tanev, was insufficient to justify a conviction. (9)
The Nazi daily newspaper, Völkischer Beobachter, condemned the verdict as a miscarriage of justice "that demonstrates the need for a thoroughgoing reform of our legal life, which in many ways still moves along the outmoded liberalistic thought that is foreign to the people". (10)
Adolf Hitler was furious that the rest of the defendants were acquitted and he decided that in future all treason cases were taken from the Supreme Court and given to a new People's Court, set up on 24th April 1934, where prisoners were judged by members of the Nazi Party. It was also announced that Ernst Thalmann, the leader of the KPD, had been charged with planning a revolutionary uprising. (11)
In July, 1934, following the Night of the Long Knives, Alfons Sack was arrested. Lothar Machtan claims that he was arrested "so that Gestapo officers could search his law office and his home at their leisure". (12) However, according to Rudolf Diels, the head of the Gestapo "he was kept behind bars for some considerable time, ostensibly so that he could 'adjust' his views." (13)
Alfons Sack was killed in Brandenburg during a bombing raid in 1944.
I was concerned with only one question: is the man guilty or is he innocent? Only if I could be reasonably certain that Torgler had entered politics for idealistic reasons and not for selfish motives and that he had never made personal capital out of his political beliefs, would I find it within me to accept his defence.