Bumke, Erwin

(1874-1945)
   jurist; as Supreme Court President, sanctioned Franz von Papen's* 1932 coup against the Prussian government. Born in the Pomeranian city of Stolp (now Slupsk), he studied law and took a doctorate at Greifswald. After working as a jurist in Essen, he joined the Justice Office in 1907. Excepting a wartime leave—he achieved the rank of captain—he re-mained in the Justice Ministry (renamed in 1919) and became a director in the early 1920s.
   As Ministerialdirektor, Bumke aimed his key petitions at reform of criminal law, including the regularizing and phasing of criminal penalties. Controversy remains as to whether his efforts were progressive or reactionary. His draft of a new codification of criminal law was presented in 1927 to the Reichstag.* Although the reform was urgently required, it was submitted to committee and never reappeared (he later reworked it in the Third Reich). Appointed to the International Crime and Prison Commission in 1925, he became President of that body in 1930. Meanwhile, in 1929 he succeeded Walter Simons* as President of the Supreme Court, Germany's highest judicial office; he retained the post until April 1945. In 1930 he declared unconstitutional an anti-Semitic school prayer that Wilhelm Frick* had drafted as Interior Minister of Thuringia.*
   Bumke's most controversial decision came in 1932. When President Hinden-burg* used Article 48 of the Constitution* to appoint Papen Reichskommissar of Prussia* on 20 July, Papen used the power to dismiss eight Prussian ministers, including Prime Minister Otto Braun* and Interior Minister Carl Severing,* both Social Democrats. By running roughshod over Prussia's cabinet, Papen assumed control of the state and transformed its political climate. Baden and Bavaria* demanded an immediate review of the act, believing it an encroachment on states' rights, but Bumke's court refused to grant a restraining order on the dismissals and on 25 October, in an ambiguously worded decision, declared the action unconstitutional while allowing the Chancellor enough leverage to retain his dictatorial hold on Prussia. Efforts to change the Constitution in order to prevent a repeat of Papen's action came too late to be of significance.
   Bumke's direction of the Supreme Court helped lay a foundation for Hitler's* Gleichschaltung (synchronization). Named deputy to President Hindenburg in December 1932, Bumke was in theory the second most powerful man in Ger-many when, upon Hindenburg's death in August 1934, he drafted the law that unified the offices of President and Chancellor. He held considerable responsi-bility for allowing the courts to become instruments of Nazi terror. On 20 April 1945, as American troops entered Leipzig, he committed suicide.
   REFERENCES:Ingo Müller, Hitler's Justice; NDB, vol. 3.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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