Benjamin, Hilde

BORN 5 Feb 1902, Bernburg (Saale), Sachsen-Anhalt - DIED 18 Apr 1989, Berlin
BIRTH NAME Lange, Hilde
GRAVE LOCATION Berlin: Städtischer Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde, Gudrunstrasse, Lichtenberg (Pergolenweg)

Hilde Benjamin is best known for presiding over a series of show trials in the 1950s in the DDR and she was often compared to nazi judge Roland Friesler.

She was the daughter of the engineer Heinz Lange and his wife Adele. She was intered in classical music and literature and was one of the first women in Germany to study law, from 1921 to 1924 in Berlin, Heidelberg and Hamburg. She worked as an attorney in Berlin-Wedding and married medical doctor Georg Benjamin in 1926. He was the brother of her academic friend Dora Benjamin and of the author Walter Benjamin. In 1926 she left the SPD and joined the communist KPD.

In 1933 the nazis forbid her to practise law because she was Jewish. During the Second World War she was forced to work in a factory from 1939 to 1945. Her husband was murdered in concentration camp Mauthausen in 1942.

After the war she was vice president of the Supreme Court of the German Democratic Republic from 1949 to 1953. She presided over the trials of opponents of the regime, like Johann Burianek and Wolfgang Kaiser. Both were sentenced to death by her. This earned her the nicknames "The Red Guillotine" and "Bloody Hilde".

From 1949 to 1967 she was a member of the Volkskammer of the DDR and from 1954 to 1989 a member of the Central Commitee of the SED, the ruling party. In 1953 she became Minister of Justice of the DDR. In 1967 Walter Ulbricht forced her to resign because her fanatism harmed the reputation of the DDR. From 1967 she was professor of the History of Justice in Potsdam.


The grave of Hilde Benjamin at the Städtischer Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde, Berlin.
Picture by Androom (14 Nov 2004)


• Hoffmann, Joachim, Berlin Friedrichsfelde, Ein Deutscher Nationalfriedhof, Das Neue Berlin, Berlin, 2001

Benjamin-Constant, Jean-Joseph

Published: 30 Sep 2018
Last update: 03 Jan 2022