Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Justice in Luritz

Justice in Luritz: Experiencing Socialist Law in East Germany

Inga Markovits
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Justice in Luritz
    Book Description:

    As a child, Inga Markovits dreamt of stealing and reading every letter contained in a mailbox at a busy intersection of her town in order to learn what life is all about. When, decades later, working as a legal historian, she tracked down the almost complete archive of a former East German trial court, she knew that she had finally found her mailbox. Combining her work in this extraordinary archive with interviews of former plaintiffs and defendants, judges and prosecutors, government and party functionaries, and Stasi collaborators, all in the little town she calls "Lüritz," Markovits has written a remarkable grassroots history of a legal system that set out with the utopian hopes of a few and ended in the anger and disappointment of the many. This is a story of ordinary men and women who experienced Socialist law firsthand--people who applied and used the law, trusted and resented it, manipulated and broke it, and feared and opposed it, but who all dealt with it in ways that help us understand what it meant to be a citizen in a twentieth-century Socialist state, what "Socialist justice" aimed to do, and how, in the end, it failed. Brimming with human stories of obedience and resistance, endurance and cunning, and cruelty and grief,Justice in Lüritzis ultimately a book about much more than the law, or Socialism, or East Germany.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3659-8
    Subjects: Law, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-7)

    There is no Lüritz. But the place hiding behind this name exists: a town of about 55,000 inhabitants in that northern part of Germany that not so very long ago belonged to the German Democratic Republic (GDR), now deceased. Lüritz is a pretty town with a big market square, two or three beautiful churches, the remnants of two city gates, a once busy port, a shipyard (now also much reduced in size and workforce), an engineering school, and a number of splendid Renaissance buildings in front of which the tourists study their travel guides. One of these buildings houses the...

    (pp. 8-15)

    Where shall I start? Why, at the beginning, which in this case also means the end or, as the Germans called it in these years, “the zero hour.” But I could find no evidence as to the very first postwar months of my Lüritz story. The earliest case record in the Lüritz archive comes not from Lüritz but from Dorndorf, a little town in the vicinity, in which in August 1945, three-and-a-half months after Germany’s unconditional surrender, a “people’s court” of unknown provenance resolves two farmers’ dispute over the use of a meadow with a sound talking-to and a resulting...

    (pp. 16-25)

    By 1950, and certainly no later than 1952 (when the SED at its Second Party Conference decided to launch “the construction of Socialism”), people in Lüritz can no longer have had doubts about the future direction of their country. But before continuing my story, I want to pause to introduce some of its protagonists. Imagine looking at the cast list before the curtain rises on a play. In our case, it is the judges of the Lüritz district court who give some continuity to a long and uneven sequence of developments. Over time, their values and their legal arguments will...

    (pp. 26-41)

    I will organize my search for justice in Lüritz by areas of law, just like an archeologist will rope off individual areas of his terrain before beginning with the digging, in order to make sure that none of the artifacts that may be buried in the ground will escape him. The corner where my own search should begin, I think, is property law. Socialism was focused, or maybe I should say fixated, on property in ways that remind me of Christianity’s preoccupation with sin. Without sin, no need for salvation. Without property, or without the kind of property that Capitalism...

    (pp. 42-68)

    If, under Capitalism, the quintessential legal actor is the owner, his counterpart under Socialism, one would think, must be the worker. And, indeed, East German labor law—or at least, East German labor law as reflected in my Lüritz files—was, in a way, the most “Socialist” branch of this legal system. Not the most important, far from it: in Lüritz and elsewhere in the GDR, labor law disputes made up only a small part of the courts’ yearly business. But the fundamental values of Socialism were demonstrated in more unadulterated form in this than in other areas of the...

    (pp. 69-91)

    In hard times, people rely on their families. The rule held true particularly for the first and last years of the GDR. When states collapse, one holds on to those with whom one shares older and tougher ties than government-produced and-sponsored commonalities. But even in the in-between years, when Socialism in East Germany seemed to grow stronger and to settle down for good, most citizens in the GDR must have depended on their families more than their neighbors in the Federal Republic did. In a state that does not recognize the contradictions and tensions between a private and a public...

    (pp. 92-140)

    With between 400 and 500 defendants a year, criminal law made up about a third of the caseload of the Lüritz District Court. None of the judges of my court could totally avoid it. Some of them specialized in criminal adjudication. But civil judges, too, at least on weekends, had to take their turn confirming arrest warrants issued by the police or the prosecutor’s office. Criminal law was more politically charged than other areas of the law: besides the law, the interests of society, the rights of the defendants, and their own judicial conscience, judges also had to bear in...

    (pp. 141-181)

    I wonder whether I should have introduced the Party in an earlier chapter of this book. Did anything ever happen without its blessings? West Germans never doubted that in the GDR all matters of any importance were decided by the Party. My East German conversation partners shared this view. They, too, believed that in their country in the end all depended on the Party. Does that mean that I ought to describe the East German judicial system and the Party in one breath, as it were, to achieve an accurate portrayal of both?

    Whatever its role in the adjudicatory process,...

    (pp. 182-218)

    Up to this point in my story, I have paid no attention to the sense of reality and to the truthfulness of the administration of justice in my town—not unlike a skater who knows that she is gliding on thin ice and hastens to move on before the ice should break. The strategy will not have alleviated the occasional suspicions of my readers. So now, finally, I should address the amazing dishonesty of the East German legal system: its utopian hopes; its tendency to whitewash failures and disappointments; its obsessive secrecy; its pretenses and evasions; its outright lies. In...

    (pp. 219-242)

    Judging from my records, the end begins around 1985, the year in which Michail Gorbachev rises to power in the Soviet Union. But his name does not come up in my Lüritz story. It is no sudden event that brings about the change but the slow addition of factors that existed long before: a jug is being filled and finally runs over; a virus, initially harmless, spreads and causes an epidemic; a rumor, at first just whispered, spreads and grows until it is shouted from the rooftops. Frau Nissen, ex-director of the Regional Court in Neuburg, confirms my dating of...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 243-244)