Hilde Benjamin (ca. 1947)
5 February 1902
Bernburg, Duchy of Anhalt, German Empire
18 April 1989 (aged 87)|
East Berlin, German Democratic Republic
Communist Party (KPD)|
Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED)
|Spouse(s)||Georg Benjamin (1895-1942)|
Hilde Benjamin (née Lange, 5 February 1902 – 18 April 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. She is particularly known as responsible for the politically motivated persecution of Erna Dorn and Ernst Jennrich. Hilde Benjamin was widely compared to the Nazi-era judge Roland Freisler and referred to as the "Red Freisler." In his 1994 inauguration speech German President Roman Herzog referenced Benjamin's status as a symbol of injustice, noting that her name was incompatible with the German constitution and the rule of law.
Childhood and education
Hilde Lange was born in Bernburg, Anhalt, and grew up in Berlin, the daughter of the engineer Heinz Lange and his wife, Adele. Growing up in the culturally inclined liberal ambience of a Protestant middle-class family awakened in her an early interest in classical music and literature: this would stay with her throughout her life. In 1921 she successfully completed her school career at the Fichtenberg High School in Steglitz on the south side of Berlin.
Politics and early career
Afterwards, she worked as a practicing attorney in Berlin-Wedding for the Rote Hilfe, a Communist aid organization. In 1926 she married the medical doctor, Georg Benjamin, the brother of writer Walter Benjamin and of her friend, the academic Dora Benjamin. Georg and Hilde's son, Michael was born at the end of 1932.
In 1926 she quit the moderate left-wing SPD and in 1927 joined her husband in the Communist Party. Because she was Jewish she was forbidden to practice law after 1933. Briefly jobless, with her husband removed to a concentration camp (from which, on this occasion, he was released later in the year) directly after the Reichstag fire, she returned for a time to live with her parents along with her small son: she then obtained a position providing legal advice 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.
Post war in the German Democratic Republic
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 those identified as political undesirables, such as Johann Burianek and Wolfgang Kaiser, as well as against 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.
- Andrea Feth, Hilde Benjamin - Eine Biographie, Berlin 1995 ISBN 3-87061-609-1
- Marianne Brentzel, Die Machtfrau Hilde Benjamin 1902-1989, Berlin 1997 ISBN 3-86153-139-9
- Heike Wagner, Hilde Benjamin und die Stalinisierung der DDR-Justiz, Aachen 1999 ISBN 3-8265-5855-3
- Heike Amos, Kommunistische Personalpolitik in der Justizverwaltung der SBZ/DDR (1945-1953) : Vom liberalen Justizfachmann Eugen Schiffer über den Parteifunktionär Max Fechner zur kommunistischen Juristin Hilde Benjamin, in: Gerd Bender, Recht im Sozialismus : Analysen zur Normdurchsetzung in osteuropäischen Nachkriegsgesellschaften (1944/45-1989), Frankfurt am Main 1999, Seiten 109 - 145. ISBN 3-465-02797-3
- Zwischen Recht und Unrecht - Lebensläufe deutscher Juristen, Justizministerium NRW 2004, S. 144 - 146
- Rudolf Wassermann:, Deutsche Richterzeitung. 1994, p. 285
- Andrea Feth: Hilde Benjamin: 1902-1989, in Neue Justiz, 2/2002, p. 64 ff.
- Rudi Beckert: Die erste und die letzte Instanz. Schau- und Geheimprozesse vor dem Obersten Gericht der DDR, Keip Verlag, Goldbach 1995, ISBN 3-8051-0243-7, S. 42
- Andrea Feth (16 January 2002). "Hilde Benjamin (1902 -1989)" (PDF). Neue Justiz: Zeitschrift für Rechtsentwicklung und Rechtsprechung in den Neuen Ländern. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG, Baden-Baden. p. 64. ISSN 0028-3231. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
- Volker Müller (5 February 2002). "Warum so milde, Genossen? Vor 100 Jahren wurde Hilde Benjamin geboren, die "rote Hilde" der DDR-Justiz". Berliner Zeitung (online). Retrieved 27 January 2016.