Leo Katzenberger was a prominent Jewish businessman in Nuremberg who owned a wholesale shoe business and a number of stores throughout southern Germany and who was a leading figure in the Nuremberg Jewish community. Beginning in 1932, he rented an apartment and a small storefront in his building at 19 Spittlertorgraben to Irene Seiler, the daughter of a non-Jewish friend. Although his business was “Aryanized” in 1938, he was still considered well-off and continued to own his building and rent space to Seiler.
In the spring of 1941, Katzenberger, who was 76, and Seiler, who was 30, were accused of having a sexual affair and arrested on charges of race defilement (Rassenschande). Under interrogation they steadfastly denied that there was any sexual element to their relationship and asserted that it was merely a longstanding friendship in which Katzenberger helped Seiler 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 had occurred and delayed bringing the case to trial until further investigation. Then, in March 1942, following a sworn statement by Irene Seiler in which she also denied the charges, the case was brought before the Nuremberg Special Court and presided over by the notorious Nazi judge Dr. Oswald Rothaug.
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. The court convicted Katzenberger of race defilement and imposed the death penalty by applying not just the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, but also the Ordinance against Public Enemies (also called the Folk Pest Law) of 1939. The latter law—which permitted the death penalty if the accused exploited wartime conditions to further his or her crime—was used against Katzenberger on the grounds that he secretly visited Seiler “after dark.”
The written findings of the case reveal a series of inconsistencies and perversions allowed under the Nazi system of justice. The accused were arrested on the basis of rumors and innuendo; their sworn statements were twisted and used against them to further the aims of the prosecution; and the verdict was written to meet a predetermined outcome of guilt. 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.
Irene Seiler was found guilty of perjury and sentenced to two years of hard labor. Leo Katzenberger was beheaded on June 2, 1942, at Stadelheim Prison in Munich.