Hilde Benjamin

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Hilde Benjamin (right) at the 1963 trial in absentia of Hans Globke
Benjamin (right) talking to Jugendweihe participants in 1958.

Hilde Benjamin (née Lange, February 5, 1902 – April 18, 1989) was an East German judge and Minister of Justice. She is best known for presiding over a series of political show trials in the 1950s.

Hilde Lange was born in Bernburg, Anhalt. She studied law in Berlin, Heidelberg, and Hamburg from 1921 to 1924. Afterwards, she worked as a practicing attorney in Berlin-Wedding for the Rote Hilfe, a Communist aid organization. In 1926 she married Georg Benjamin, the brother of writer Walter Benjamin, and in 1927 she joined the Communist Party. Forbidden to practice law after 1933, she worked for the Soviet trade association in Berlin. During World War II, she was forced to work in a factory from 1939-45. Her Jewish husband was killed at the KZ Mauthausen in 1942.

After the war, she joined the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) in 1946 and was vice president of the Supreme Court of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) from 1949 to 1953. In that capacity, she assisted with the Waldheim Trials and presided over a series of show trials against political undesirables, such as against the Burianek group and Jehovah's Witnesses. Her frequent death sentences earned her the popular sobriquets "The Red Guillotine" and "Bloody Hilde".

From 1949 to 1967 she was a member of the Volkskammer and from 1954 to 1989, a member of the Central Committee of the SED. In 1953, she succeeded Max Fechner as Minister of Justice. GDR leader Walter Ulbricht asked her to resign in 1967, ostensibly for health reasons but in reality because the Politburo felt that the political fanaticism that characterised her harsh verdicts impeded the GDR's desire for international recognition.

Benjamin was instrumental in authoring the penal code and the code of penal procedure of the GDR and played a decisive role in the reorganization of the country's legal system. From 1967 to her death, she held the chair for the history of the judiciary at the Deutsche Akademie für Staats- und Rechtswissenschaft in Potsdam-Babelsberg. She died in East Berlin in April 1989.

Benjamin received several awards in the GDR: in 1962 the Patriotic Order of Merit, in 1977 and 1987 the Order of Karl Marx, in 1979 the title of Meritorious Jurist of the GDR (Verdiente Juristin der DDR), and in 1982 the Star of People's Friendship.


Hilde Benjamin's grave on the Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde in Berlin

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