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 change. But their human relationships and problems will remain.
The judges are not the only actors in my story. There will be parts for others, often continuing over many years. The lawyers, for example, play important roles. For decades, two attorneys had their offices in Lüritz, with a third joining them in 1984—today, there are over fifty. Even without looking at their letterheads or signatures, I know them well enough to recognize their work just by their reasoning styles. Then there is Herr Kosewitz, for twenty-eight years First Party Secretary in the district, whom everybody is aware of even if he plays his role largely behind the scenes. As plaintiffs and defendants, Lüritz citizens have mostly walk-on parts, although often at crucial moments of the action. But it is the judges whom we will encounter at every turning of the road: as symbols, as actors, occasionally as victims, and, always most important, as sources of information for my story.
I can’t claim to know all the judges equally well. Those who spent just a short time at the court often are no more than names for me: Frau Dörig, for example, who in 1953, after no more than a year in office, lost her post because her daughter had absconded to the West; Herr Hansen, who in 1971 came from Berlin, was housed in a storeroom in the courthouse’s gigantic attic, drank more than he should have, and soon disappeared; or Herr Kleinfeld, according to a people’s judge’s report “one of the old guard” with “beautifully manicured hands” and “very gentle” in his criticism when one of his proletarian colleagues on the bench had made a legal blunder. But the main actors, those judges who stayed on for many years, seem like old acquaintances even if I met them only in the files. One cannot read innumerable judgments of a person without forming an impression of his or her character.