Sippenhaft or Sippenhaftung (English: "kin liability") was a form of collective punishment practiced in Nazi Germany towards the end of the Second World War. It was a legalized practice in which relatives of persons accused of crimes against the state were held to share the responsibility for those crimes and subject to arrest and sometimes execution. Many people who had committed no crimes were arrested and punished under Sippenhaft laws introduced after the failed July 20 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in July 1944. A law of February 1945 also threatened death to the relatives of military commanders who showed what Hitler regarded as cowardice or defeatism in the face of the enemy.

After the failure of the July 20 plot, the SS chief Heinrich Himmler told a meeting of Gauleiters in Posen that he would "introduce absolute responsibility of kin ... a very old custom practiced among our forefathers." According to Himmler, this practice had existed among the ancient Teutons. "When they placed a family under the ban and declared it outlawed or when there was a blood feud in the family, they were utterly consistent ... This man has committed treason; his blood is bad; there is traitor's blood in him; that must be wiped out. And in the blood feud the entire clan was wiped out down to the last member. And so, too, will Count Stauffenberg's family be wiped out down to the last member."[1]

Accordingly, the family of Stauffenberg (who had planted the bomb which failed to kill Hitler) were all under suspicion. His wife, Nina Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg, was sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp (she survived and lived until 2006). His brother Alexander, who knew nothing of the plot and was serving with the German Army in Greece, was also sent to a concentration camp. Similar punishments were meted out to the relatives of Carl Goerdeler, Henning von Tresckow, Adam von Trott zu Solz and many other conspirators. The fact that most of these families belonged to the old Prussian aristocracy, a class detested by the Nazis, added to the zeal with which they were persecuted. Younger children of arrested plotters were not jailed but instead sent to orphanages under new names: Stauffenberg's children were renamed "Meister."

It should be noted that other totalitarian regimes have used similar practices, even if they have not codified them in law. During Joseph Stalin's Great Purge of the 1930s many thousands of people were arrested and executed or sent to labour camps as "relatives of the enemies of the people"—including relatives of people, who unlike the demonstrated attempt on Hitler's life, were criminalized merely by Stalin's paranoia. One well-known example was Anna Larina, wife of Nikolai Bukharin. Red Army soldiers, particularly before brutal battles such as the one at Stalingrad, were told that relatives of soldiers who surrendered would be killed. Similar practices took place in the People's Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. A prominent example is Deng Pufang, son of Deng Xiaoping.

See also Edit


  1. Joachim Fest, Plotting Hitler's Death, 303

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