The Red Guillotine
Funder: Law School Seedcorn Research Fund (£255)
Principal Investigator: Dr Agata Fijalkowski
Project duration: December - July 2018
The award will fund the preparation of a play script about the life of the East German judge Hilde Benjamin (1902-1989). This preparation has taken the form of direction and exchanges with, inter alia, colleagues at the University of Edinburgh (Creative Writing) and members of the Scottish Playwrights' Association.
Benjamin is mainly known for her unwavering commitment to communism, and during the 1950s (the so-called Stalinist period) in East Germany as High Court judge she rendered judgments in cases concerning capital crimes that earned her the nickname ‘Bloody Hilde’ or ‘The Red Guillotine’. Her philosophy was ‘you laugh with your friends; you hate your enemies’. Benjamin’s perspective was rooted in a past of discrimination and persecution. As a woman, as a mistaken minority, and later as the partner of an individual from an eminent Jewish intellectual family and as a communist. She survived the war and with legal qualifications obtained in the pre-war period and ideological commitment, she decided to contribute to the creation of an East German communist state. Her life account is less known in the English language (and indeed in German legal discourses).
The play script is the most effective means of appreciating Benjamin’s biography. A play is research accessed via drama and is accessible to a wide audience. This project will adopt innovative ways to engage with the law that are rich in potential.
The aim is to have a public reading in 2019, commemorating 30 years since the collapse of communism.