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 settlement. Nothing besides the court’s unusual name hints at the confusion of the war and postwar years. In fact, Lüritz and its surrounding areas have been under Soviet military administration only since July 1, 1945, when the Western Allies, who arrived here first, agreed with the Russians on the final delineation of their Occupation Zones. The Lüritz museum holds a photograph in which a little girl hands a gigantic bunch of flowers to a Soviet soldier who with a friendly smile bends down to her. The idyll is not persuasive. Everyday postwar life in Lüritz must have looked different. More like this:
The city is overrun by treks of refugees who on their westward flight are looking for food and shelter. A quarter of all living accommodations in Lüritz is destroyed by bombs, another quarter is damaged. The stream of refugees does not flow only from East to West: the city bursts under the back and forth of people who on the other side of their respective border are looking for family members or some other foothold after their world collapsed. Sanitary conditions are faltering: in 1945 and 1946, Lüritz counts 1678 cases of typhoid. In 1947, more than a third of the town’s inhabitants are “migrants,” most coming from the former Eastern provinces of Germany. The Russians, terrifyingly strange, undisciplined, and unpredictable, are in control. It is hard to imagine how law and the courts might restore order in this chaos.
What law? What courts? On September 4, 1945, the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD) had ordered the dismissal of all Nazi judges and the reconstruction of the judicial system in its zone, four months before the Allied Control Council decreed a similar policy for all of Germany. But unlike the Western Occupation Forces, the SMAD actually carried out the goal of excluding all former members of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) from the judiciary. For the Russians, the radical cleansing of the courts could serve a double purpose: it