Unified Germany’s long-running attempts to bring the leaders of the defunct East German dictatorship to justice yielded three convictions Monday, all on manslaughter charges stemming from fatal shootings of would-be escapees at the Berlin Wall.
Egon Krenz, East Germany’s last hard-line Communist leader, was sentenced to 6-1/2 years in prison after 115 days of testimony and evidence in what has come to be known here as “the Politburo trial.”
“The defense of the border was placed above human life” in Krenz’s system, said presiding judge Josef Hoch, in a verdict that took two hours to read.
Two other former Politburo members, Guenther Kleiber and Guenther Schabowski, received sentences of three years each, as Germany continues the slow and difficult process of sorting out blame and punishment for the woes and moral crimes of the former Communist East.
Though the Politburo, once the most powerful body in the East German system, consisted of 22 members, few of those officials have ever stood trial or will be forced to. Some have been deemed too old or too sick; for others, there has been a lack of admissible evidence. The “Politburo trial” started out with six defendants, but three were allowed to drop out because of frailty and ill health.
To further frustrate justice-seekers in Germany’s post-Cold War era, other top Eastern officials have been tried but acquitted because their activities, however inhumane, were legal under East German law.
Many Germans were expressing relief at Monday’s verdict and the prospect that at least three of East Germany’s former leaders will be forced to take responsibility for some of the misery of their failed utopia.
“An essential chapter of East German history can now be closed,” said Wolfgang Thierse, vice president of the opposition Social Democratic Party and a former East German citizen.
In a news conference, Krenz’s lawyers said they will appeal Monday’s verdict through the next three levels of the German court system and, if necessary, take the case to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg.
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