According to the Hague Convention of October 18, 1907, any occupying power had to abide by the civil law operating before the occupation, a practical exception being upkeep of justice within the military sphere. During the German occupation of Lithuania in 1915 – 1918, Russian civil law was permitted to continue, all the more so as in 1903 Russia had reformed its legal system along Western lines. Nevertheless, German administration made some changes, especially by increasing monetary fines and deleting the Russian clause of deportation [to Siberia]. Moreover, as Russian judges retreated with the Russian army, their places were filled with German appointments, giving the modified legal system a noticeably German appearance. By 1916 there were three judicial levels: High Court and district courts for German citizens only, and lesser magistrates (Friedensgericht) for the local population.
For death sentences, confirmation or modification was the prerogative of the Supreme Commander East (Oberbefehlshaber Ost). Any such verdict pronounced at a lower instance had to be submitted to him.
The unpretentious postcard shown below shows the system in practice. The death sentence handed out by the German magistrate at Rokiškis (Friedensrichter Rakischki) was, in this case, confirmed by the Oberbefehlshaber Ost [at the time Prince Leopold of Bavaria] and returned to the Rokiškis magistrate by the Kaiserlich Deutsches Bezirksgericht Kowno — a regional court acting as a judicial arm of the Supreme Commander East.
This brief communication by means of a plain Feldpost postcard reads as follows:
Kowno [Kaunas], October 2, 1917
Herr Magistrate Ruether, Rakischki
The death sentence passed on labourer Iwan Bredies on August 29 was confirmed by the Supreme Commander East on September 25. The execution by hanging takes place on Thursday, October 4 at 8:30 a.m. in the courtyard of this [Kowno] penal facility.
[Signed] B...... Captain.
Postally, the postcard was frank-free, as it was mailed by an office within the German Administration and so carried the cachet Reichsdienstsache [= on Reich’s service]. It was practically on the same footing as Feldpost. In fact, the magistrate at Rakischki was postally served by Feldpost 215, as there was no civilian post office there. An Ob.Ost civilian postal facility RAKISCHKI was opened only as late as November 11, 1918 as an adjunct to the existing Feldpost branch, and its surviving cancellations are extremely rare.