Hilde Benjamin (née Lange; 5 February 1902 – 18 April 1989) was an East German judge and Minister of Justice of the German Democratic Republic. She is most notorious for presiding over the East German show trials of the 1950s, which drew comparisons to the Nazi Party's Volksgericht show trials under Judge Roland Freisler.[citation needed] Hilde Benjamin is particularly known for being responsible for the politically motivated prosecution of Erna Dorn and Ernst Jennrich.[1][2] In his 1994 inauguration speech German President Roman Herzog cited Hilde Benjamin as a symbol of totalitarianism and injustice, and called both her name and legacy incompatible with the German Constitution and with the rule of law.[3][4]

Hilde Benjamin
Benjamin in 1947
Minister of Justice
In office
15 July 1953 – 14 July 1967
Chairman of the
Council of Ministers
Preceded byMax Fechner
Succeeded byKurt Wünsche
Personal details
Hilde Lange

5 February 1902
Bernburg, Province of Saxony, Free State of Prussia, German Empire (now Saxony-Anhalt, Germany)
Died18 April 1989(1989-04-18) (aged 87)
East Berlin, East Germany
Political partySocialist Unity Party
Other political
Communist Party of Germany
SpouseGeorg Benjamin [de] (1895–1942)
Alma materFriedrich Wilhelm University
  • Politician
  • Civil Servant
  • Judge
Central institution membership

Other offices held
Benjamin (right) at the 1963 trial in absentia of Hans Globke
Benjamin (right) talking to Jugendweihe participants in 1958



Childhood and education


Hilde Lange was born in Bernburg, Anhalt, and grew up in Berlin, in to a middle class and liberal minded Protestant family,[5] the daughter of the engineer Heinz Lange and his wife, Adele.[6] Growing up in the culturally inclined liberal ambience of a middle-class family awakened in her an early interest in classical music and German literature: this would stay with her throughout her life.[7] In 1921 she successfully completed her school career at the Fichtenberg High School in Steglitz on the south side of Berlin.

She was among the first women to study the law of Germany, which she did at Berlin, Heidelberg, and Hamburg from 1921 to 1924.

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 of her political convictions, 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.[8] Her behavior and statements from the bench and regular death sentences earned Hilde Benjamin the nicknames, "Red Hilde", "The Red Freisler," and, "The Red Guillotine."[9]

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.

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. She was cremated and honoured with burial in the Pergolenweg Ehrengrab section of Berlin's Friedrichsfelde Cemetery.



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.


Benjamin's grave in the Pergolenweg Ehrengrab section of Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde in Berlin
  • 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


  1. ^ "Der Fall Erna Dorn: Wie eine Frau zur "faschistischen Rädelsführerin" erklärt und nach dem 17. Juni 1953 geköpft wurde: Die sechs Leben der "Kommandeuse"".
  2. ^ Kleikamp, Antonia (19 March 2014). "SED-Verbrechen: Der Gärtner war ein "geeignetes Opfer"". Die Welt.
  3. ^ Rudolf Wassermann:, Deutsche Richterzeitung. 1994, p. 285
  4. ^ Andrea Feth: Hilde Benjamin: 1902–1989, in Neue Justiz, 2/2002, p. 64 ff.
  5. ^ mdr.de. "Hilde Benjamin – die "rote Hilde" | MDR.DE". mdr.de (in German). Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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). Archived from the original on 2 February 2016. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  9. ^ John O. Koehler (1999), Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police, page 60.