Das Misstrauen sei unter einer Diktatur nicht bloss ein Gebot, sondern fast eine Tugend.
In a dictatorship the distrust [among its citizens] is not only a command but nearly a virtue [because it so enables one to survive].
-- Joachim Fest,from his book Ich Nicht [Without Me]
On May 16th, 1960, living in Stralsund, working as an apprentice in a small local photographic studio, I was involved in a bicycle collision with an elderly woman who suffered a knee injury as a result. Four months later I was ordered by the Rostock District Court to appear and was eventually found guilty and sentenced to a prison term of one month, followed by one year of probation. That meant, should I, within one year, be involved in another traffic accident, and found to be guilty, I would have to serve a mandatory jail term of one month.
During the court proceedings I was represented by Mr. Ramlow, a lawyer who lived in the same house we had lived in as tenants until the late 1950s, and who was the son-in-law of our landlady. He advised me to accept the judgment, which meant that no further appeal was possible. My father was unhappy with the outcome and found the sentence unacceptable and thought Mr. Ramlow had done a poor job, or at least had not been aggressive enough to lighten the sentence.
My father then took it upon himself to protest the verdict and voiced his concerns by going in person to the health department in our town of Stralsund. They in turn sent a letter to the Chief Prosecutor in Rostock, spelling out my father's concerns (see the letter to Chief Prosecutor Ulrich). The prosecutor then changed the original sentence to an Oeffentlicher Tadel (public reprimand).
This experience with the justice system was disturbing and frightening to me and left me with a bitter aftertaste. Even though the outcome had been altered to my advantage, the ordeal was one of several reasons which motivated me to leave East Germany illegally in February 1961. (I have to add here that the seed for my illegal Republikflucht [illegal flight from East Germany] was planted by my brother Juergen, who urged my parents to have me immigrate to the United States. He had immigrated to the US in 1955. These conversations took place in the fall of 1960 during a family gathering in West Berlin of my parents, me, Juergen and his wife Gertrude.) When it came time for applying for immigration to the US my brush with the law became an issue because the application included a question concerning previous convictions. Juergen had to hire a lawyer who had to explain the nature of my case to the American Immigration Consulate (see letter by Siegfried Heilmann II to the Consulate General of the USA). The lawyer was able to make a satisfactory argument and the issue was cleared up. I believe the fact that my second conviction didn't contain any prison time might have helped to resolve the issue.
I would like to elaborate a bit about the times in East Germany since the collapse of the Nazi regime and life in the Russian Zone, which in 1949 became the state of the DDR (German Democratic Republic, GDR), a regime in many respects was similar to the previous regime under Hitler, but now under Communism, carefully watched by Stalin. It had become a state in which the Arbeiter und Bauern [workers and peasants] ran the show, but who unfortunately weren't always up to the job. They even went as far as calling their system a Diktatur der Arbeiter und Bauern [dictatorship of workers and peasants]. Workers and peasants became the favored class while members of the intelligencia were looked upon by the regime as being untrustworthy and suspicious. The intelligencia included clergy, academics, teachers and doctors, among others. It is a common practice for dictatorships—both Communist and non-Communist—to marginalize this group of people. Members of the intelligencia were only equally treated by the regime if they showed signs of loyalty towards Communist ideals. It helped to join the Communist Party and adopt a communication style that demonstrated the spirit of Communism or at least one of not being critical of Communism. It was an art to play the game and not to compromise yourself at the same time.
I don't want to go into a lengthy attempt to describe lies under Communism in East Germany but only mention a couple of things. In high school, we students were on occasion asked which class status our parents were, e.g. workers, peasants or intelligencia. The purpose was to establish a quota which had the effect of dividing us. Children of the intelligencia were often disadvantaged and denied higher education, including attending high school. (I have to emphasize that high school in all of Germany at the time had much higher standards than in the USA and was primarily a springboard for university studies; the majority of elementary school students continued on to trade school, with only a minority going as far as 10th grade without receiving their high school diploma.) Thus, high school attendance was a privilege and therefore it required you to keep your political nose clean and not let on what you were really thinking politically. It helped—and was practically mandatory—to be a member of the Junge Pioniere [Young Pioneers] and the Freie Deutsche Jugend [Free German Youth], both Communist youth organizations, similar to the youth organizations that existed during the Nazi regime: Hitlerjugend [Hitler Youth]. Joining these organizations made life easier in certain ways because the authorities stopped harassing you and would stop insinuating that you were a possible enemy of the State.
As time went by in East Germany in the late 1940s into the early 1950s, the regime realized that repression of the intelligencia was to the regime's disadvantage: too many member of the intelligencia left the country, especially but by no means exclusively physicians. It caused a brain drain in East Germany and the regime realized it had to loosen the reins, which they did to a degree. By the time of my court case the status of the intelligencia had markedly improved; the regime was now trying their best to keep doctors, for example, from escaping East Germany for the West, although—not until the infamous Berlin Wall was erected in August 1961—every day between one and two thousand of the general population defected from the GDR.
It was our perception in the family that my inditement was class-motivated, or possibly the act of an over-eager Apparachik trying to advance himself. The case was nothing but a stupid undertaking: first, the issue of this traffic accident was basically trivia that didn't belong in a courtroom. Second, it didn't serve any purpose, least of all the injured woman. That leaves only the motive of class. In all it was typical East German idiocy, which turned off people like me even more than I had already been. One has to realize the state was run by a bunch of small-time underlings, constantly afraid of messing up their standings with the party bosses.
At the time of my court case I was 20 years old and not mature enough to see the larger picture. But since then I have come to understand, also by living in the US for over fifty years, that all court proceedings start out with an initial bias and that they are an arena setting with the aim not to find the truth but for one party to win over the other at the expense of the truth. These court dramas can be a deeply frightening experience.
Translated by Ann C. Sherwin
Edited by Kim Moser
Stralsund City Council
Dept. of Health and Social Services
Stralsund, Aug. 16, 1960
Chief Prosecutor Ulrich
at the Rostock District Court
Dear Mr. Prosecutor:
Today, Prof. Moser, Head Physician in the Neurology Department of the District Hospital and Director of the Outpatient Clinic, appears and tells me in a very concerned tone that his son, Klaus Moser, born [redacted], residing in Stralsund at Rostocker Chaussee 100, was sentenced to one month in prison on Aug. 11, 1960, for negligent bodily injury, subject to a probationary period of one year. This sentence was accepted by the counsel for the defendant, Attorney Ramlow.
Prof. Moser is genuinely worried about his son, who — so far as I know — has excellent character references. Prof. Moser explained to me that his household has become almost panic-stricken over traffic matters, because everyone fears that through some chance occurrence, which certainly cannot be ruled out in traffic, his son could be arrested again. Since Prof. Moser has been one of the most reliable employees in the Health Department of the City of Stralsund since 1945 — he was Department Physician for many years, was also Head Physician at the Outpatient Clinic at the same time, and is still Acting Medical Director of the District Hospital today — and I would like to spare him this worry, insofar as possible, I hereby ask you whether it would be possible for the Chief Prosecutor’s Office to file an appeal on points of law. An appeal by the convicted man is no longer possible, since the sentence was accepted. Prof. Moser considers the acceptance of the verdict and sentence at all to have been improper. As court psychiatrist, he is very familiar with the legislation, and therefore his statement deserves credence.
With the request that the proceedings be reexamined favorably if at all possible, I remain
[signed] Dr. Steinhoff
District Medical Officer and Department Head
SIEGFRIED HEILMANN II
DÜSSELDORF, March 20, 1961
Attorney Heilmann II, Düsseldorf, Mühlenstr. 4
Frankfurt am Main
Telephone 1 00 36
Office open 8:30 a.m. 5:30 pm daily
Deutsche Bank Düsseldorf, Acct. # 41228
The verdict of the District Court in Rostock against the apprentice photographer Klaus Theodor Moser has come to my attention. In it, a “public reproach” is declared. The legislation of the so-called German Democratic Republic has departed from the fundamental principles of a state of law and order; and since then the procedural rules have also deviated from those in the StPO [Code of Criminal Procedure] of the former German Empire, which are the same as those of the Federal Republic of Germany. The sentence of “public reproach” is unknown in these rules of criminal procedure. According to the laws of the Federal Republic, instead of this “public reproach,” a procedure that does not leads to a prison term or fine would be discontinued on grounds of triviality, pursuant to § 153 StPO. Thus the public reproach, in my view, cannot be regarded as tantamount to a punishment.
[stamp] signed Hellmann
3 BSB 135/60 VK Official Copy
1 S 127/60 V
II 62/60 VK
In the Name of the People!
In the criminal action
against the apprentice photographer
Klaus Theodor Moser,
born [redacted], in Königsberg,
residing in Stralsund at Rostocker Chaussee 100,
no prior convictions,
for negligent bodily harm,
the Third Criminal Senate of the District Court of Rostock — at the protest of the Prosecuting Attorney against the sentence imposed by the Criminal Division of the County Court of Rostock-Land on Aug. 11, 1960 — in its sessions on the 8th, 9th, and 13th of September 1960, with the following participants:
Superior Justice Adrian
Representing the District Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
Judicial Clerk Torkel
held as follows:
At the protest of the Prosecuting Attorney, the sentence in the verdict of the Traffic Court of the County Court of Rostock-Land of Aug. 11, 1960 is modified to read as follows: Defendant is sentenced to a
for negligent bodily harm (§§ 223, 230 StGB) in coincidence with a violation of §§ 1, 5 Par. 2, 30 Par. 1, 48 Par. 1 StVO [road traffic regulations].
The costs of the protest proceedings are imposed on Defendant.
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In a ruling of the Traffic Court at the County Court Rostock-Land of Aug. 11, 1960, Defendant was convicted of negligent bodily injury in coincidence with a violation of §§ 1, 5 Par. 2, 30 Par. 1, 48 Par. 1 StVO [Road Traffic Act], subject to a prison term of 1 (one) month. He was placed on probation for a period of 1 (one) year.
The judgment is based on the following factual findings:
The 20-year-old defendant is from a physician’s family. After attending high school, he was employed in production as a chemical worker and then took up his studies at the university in Greifswald in the field of chemistry. After completing only one semester, however, he took up an apprenticeship with a photographer. Here he receives a monthly apprentice’s wage of DM 80.00. The Defendant is a member of the FDJ [Free German Youth], the FDGB [Free German Trade Union], the DRK [German Red Cross], and the BDG.
On May 16, 1960, the defendant was riding his sports bike on the left of the cycle lane on Karl-Marks St. in Stralsund, heading toward the city center. His speed was about 20 km/h, and he claims that as he was intending to move over to the right lane he was going 15 km/h. At the same time, the injured party was riding her bicycle on the right side of Karl-Marx St. and, because the cycle lane had ended, was forced to ride in the driving lane. After turning left from Karl-Marx St. onto August-Bebel-Ufer, she was struck by the defendant. The latter had seen the witness about 3 or 4 meters ahead of him. At this moment the witness was about 2 meters from the point of impact at the end of the cycle lane on the right side of August-Bebel-Ufer St. The defendant claims that he signaled his intention to move to the right. He intended to change lanes on Karl-Marx St. at the August-Bebel-Ufer intersection and continue toward the city center. Because a truck was passing at that moment, he claims that he saw the witness approaching
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only during that brief interval. It was therefore no longer possible for him to avoid colliding with the witness. The witness fell from her bicycle and sustained a knee injury that still requires medical treatment today. The witness suffered a collateral ligament tear at the left knee joint.
The Criminal Division deemed the behavior of the defendant to be a legal violation of §§ 223 and 230 StGB [criminal code] and — because the defendant, through his illegal behavior, also violated the provisions of §§ 1, 3 Par. 2, and 30 Par. 2 StVO [Road Traffic Act] — assumed coincidence with these statutory provisions. The Criminal Division determined that the defendant, as a cyclist, was a vehicle operator within the meaning of the Road Traffic Act and was obligated to use available cycle lanes, and particularly the right-hand lane designated for the direction in which he was headed. Since the defendant was not following the basic rules of the Road Traffic Act when cycling in traffic, his behavior was the cause of the accident, especially since the injured party had done nothing wrong. The injured party was justified in relying on the proper behavior of other users of the roadway in traffic and need not have assumed that someone would be riding on the left side of the cycle lane. She was surprised by the defendant’s undisciplined behavior. This negligent behavior on the part of the defendant caused the victim’s injuries. Had the defendant shown proper diligence and consideration in traffic, the accident could have been avoided.
Because the defendant is a relatively young person with a good behavioral record, and this is his first criminal offense, the Criminal Division — despite the not inconsiderable injury of the victim — pronounced a conditional conviction and declined to declare a public reproach, as the defense counsel had requested, because the consequences of the deed and thus the danger of the defendant to society are nevertheless considerable.
The District Prosecuting Attorney filed protest against this judgment in favor of the defendant and limited it to the sentence.
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It was argued that the defendant was a young person with no prior convictions and a very good behavioral record, and therefore a public reproach would be sufficient for reeducation; and above all, that the defendant also showed concern for the injured party and visited her in the hospital.
The protest was successful.
Because it was limited to the sentence, the Senate reviewed only that part of the judgment. As a result of this review, the Senate concurred with the petition of the Prosecuting Attorney that the defendant be sentenced to a public reproach. It can be assumed that the defendant, who is still very young, with no prior convictions and a good behavioral record, has already drawn appropriate lessons from the criminal proceedings and especially from the two main trials, so that for this reason as well, the stronger repressive effect of the conditional conviction is no longer necessary.
Pursuant to § 290 Par. 2 b StPO, the Senate itself could decide.
The cost ruling is based on §§ 353 and 358 StPO in combination with the StKVO [Criminal Court Costs Act] of March 15, 1956.
sig. Adrian Prassl Reichwagen
Rostock, Sept. 13, 1960
[seal] [illegible signature]
German Democratic Republic Secretary
Rostock District Court
 There are numerous possiblities for this abbreviation.