Jens Niederhut: Lawyers between politics and the law: the role of the defence in political trials against Communists in the Federal Republic of Germany during the 1950s


In: Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung 2016. Berlin: Metropol Verlag, pp. 235–252.

Between 1951 and 1968 several thousand communists were convicted for treason or other criminal charges. While this is well known, no attention has been given so far to the defence counsels and the strategy of the defence in political trials. This paper explores two organisations, the ‘Central Council for Democratic Rights’ and ‘Amnesty Committee’. Both were founded by the German Communist Party with two aims: firstly, to ensure a strategy in court that argued mainly on a political – not a legal – level; and, secondly, to influence public opinion about political trials. This article shows that the strategy of the defence in court was not only unsuccessful, but created a legal environment unfavourable to the indicted communists. It also argues that critics of the political trials only gained influence on public opinion at times when the communist influence on public discourse was no longer visible.

Über den Autor

Jens Niederhut, Dr. phil., geb. 1975 in Berlin. Studium der Geschichte, Politikwissenschaft und Klassischen Philologie in Marburg, Berlin und Köln. 2006 Promotion, 2006 bis 2008 Archivreferendariat, 2008 bis 2014 Dezernent im Landesarchiv Nordrhein-Westfalen, seit 2014 Referatsleiter in der Archivabteilung des BStU. Veröffentlichungen u. a.: Wissenschaftsaustausch im Kalten Krieg, Köln/Weimar/Wien 2007; Die Reisekader, Leipzig 2005; Mithg.: Archive und Statistik, Essen 2014; Geheimschutz transparent, Essen 2010.