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Socialist State Crime and Transitional Justice in Germany, 1961-2005



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Ebert, Philipp 


Reunification posed multiple challenges to the societies, economies, and polities of East and West Germany. On a political, legal, cultural and symbolic level, strategies needed to be found to incorporate the divided – and potentially divisive – past into a forward-looking historical narrative.

This study locates the ‘border guard trials’ in the wider context of post-Socialist transitional justice in East Germany since 1989 and asks how they were historically framed by the complex history of German attempts of ‘Vergangenheitspolitik’ (Norbert Frei) with regard to Nazi crimes.

Moreover, this dissertation examines how the criminal proceedings were ideologically shaped by Cold War confrontations, and how competing conceptions of illegality and state crime mirrored those ideological and historical contestations. In studying the political and societal echoes of these criminal trials, my study finally also contributes to a better understanding of fractured views on and memories of German re-unification in contemporary Germany.

In chapter 1, the Zentrale Erfassungsstelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen will be portrayed as an institutional embodiment of West German contestations of the legitimacy and legality of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and its border regime during the Cold War.

In chapter 2, legislative proceedings of 1992/93 are examined as a proxy debate on the appropriateness and legitimacy of criminal trials against former GDR officials.

Chapter 3 studies the brief period of East German transitional justice between November 1989 and October 1990 and argues that criminal trials against former elites were widely demanded by East German citizens.

Chapter 4 analyses the border guard trials as a case study into judicial practice, its limits, and its achievements, and contrasts them with the proceedings presented in the previous section.

Chapter 5 explores societal echoes of the trials and explores why and how they largely failed to give legitimacy to the new political, social, and economic order.





Grunwald, Henning


Transitional Justice, German History, Cold War History, Legal History


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC (1653437)
AHRC (1653437)
The Cambridge Trust on behalf of the University of Cambridge Arts- and Humanities Research Council UK Bischöfliche Studienförderung Cusanuswerk e.V.