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 mind the ever-changing goals and worries of the Party. Moreover, criminal law is that area of law in which this report most easily can miss its mark. My criminal law files are less complete than my other Lüritz records. Given the paranoia of this legal system, even those files I do have may have left out or have distorted important details of a story. Can I trust the court records of a legal system that had political crimes investigated not by the regular police but by the Stasi; that adjudicated those crimes not in Lüritz, where they were committed, but at a safe distance from the local population by the Regional Court (or, in less serious cases, by another district court) in Neuburg; that adjudicated even many ordinary Lüritz crimes behind closed doors; and that in precarious cases did not provide someone convicted with a copy of his judgment but only allowed him to read and then return it before being led out the court room?
At least the secretiveness of these arrangements suggests that what they hid may have been closer to the truth than had it not been swaddled in protective layers of concealment. I have no choice: I must rely on all the information about criminal law in Lüritz that I can collect. What is that? The Lüritz archive holds the criminal judgments of the District Court since 1952 but not the case files (which contain the briefs of prosecution and defense, the protocols of hearings and the like) because in the GDR criminal case files were not stored in court but in the prosecutor’s archive in Neuburg. That’s where they still are kept today. After lengthy negotiations with officials from the Ministry of Justice and the State’s Ombudsman for Data Protection, I am allowed to view the files in Neuburg and discover that they go back only as far as 1968. So much for the ordinary criminal case files. Today, the political criminal trial records are held by the Archive for the Documents of the Former Ministry for State Security (also called Birthler Archive, for its current director, or Stasi Archive, for that infamous min-