Death of a Judge - Kirsten Heisig

The suicide of juvenile court judge Kirsten Heisig of Berlin simultaneously appalled and intrigued Germans everywhere. This eminent, courageous jurist devoted decades to fighting for her ideals: she believed in swift action against youthful repeat offenders on the basis of existing statutes. Her suicide raised a number of questions: why were friends, colleagues, and family unaware that she suffered from depression, and that her condition was worsening month by month? What role was played in this fateful and ultimate decision by her failed marriage and her strained relationship with her two teenage daughters? Equally unresolved is the question of whether the professional context and her dealings with primarily Muslim perpetrators of serious crimes, combined with the haunting realization that integration had to a large degree been unsuccessful, may have been decisive factors leading to her resolution to take her own life.
The film explores all of these questions. At its center we find a woman, a judge named Kirsten Heisig, who decided to take her own life – leaving behind two daughters, aged just 13 and 15, along with her parents and a host of unanswered questions. There was no suicide note. We are left to search for clues through a biography that was imprinted by social convictions, by the struggle for values such as tolerance and democracy, by professional ambition – and by the sacrifices necessary to attain these goals. The film depicts in particular her last months, her day-to-day life in the Tiergarten District Court, her daily confrontation with the brutality of youthful defendants, with the grief and sufferings of their victims. Her struggle also involved the highly bureaucratized judicial apparatus and her tremendous commitment to the Berlin district of Neukölln. In order to investigate the backgrounds of her clients, she would visit their families, and would again and again appeal to their parents: “I don’t want to throw your children into prison, but you need to do something!

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