The Judge and His Hangman

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The judge and his executioner is a novel by the Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt , which appeared from December 15, 1950 to March 31, 1951 in eight episodes in the weekly magazine Der Schweizerische Beobachter .


Hans Bärlach is an old detective in the city of Bern . His best colleague, Ulrich Schmied , is found shot on a country road from Twann to Lamboing . Thereupon , since he is sick himself , Commissioner Bärlach has the investigation carried out mainly by his assistant, the detective Tschanz . But he is the murderer and therefore suspects the lobbyist Gastmann , who has a house near the crime scene. Schmied was in contact with Gastmann under a false name; At the end of the novel it turns out that he was investigating Gastmann at Bärlach's instigation. The police get into trouble because Gastmann has political patrons.

When visiting Gastmann, Bärlach is attacked by his huge dog, and Tschanz has to shoot the animal. As it turns out later, Bärlach staged the action in order to get a bullet from Tschanz's service weapon.

In the course of the novel, the reader learns that Bärlach and Gastmann know each other. Four decades ago, Gastmann bet that he would commit a crime that Barlach could not prove to him and killed an uninvolved German merchant, whose death he portrayed as a suicide. Bärlach made a career as a police officer, Gastmann as a criminal, and Gastmann always stayed one step ahead of Bärlach. As a last legal remedy, the old inspector, Schmied, put his best man on Gastmann, again without success, since Tschanz killed him. So he is now trying to indirectly target Tschanz with the criminal; the latter must finally accuse Gastmann of murder in order to protect himself, but also to close the "wrong" murder case and to be able to follow in Schmied's footsteps through this criminalistic success.

When Bärlach rejects further investigations against Gastmann, Tschanz is desperate. At the same time, Bärlach warned Gastmann that he would send him an "executioner". By this he means Tschanz, who is determined to do everything and seeks a confrontation with Gastmann; When he defends himself, Tschanz shoots him and his two servants. In this way, Bärlach succeeds in judging Gastmann - albeit not for the crimes he has committed, but for a murder committed by someone else.

In the end, Bärlach also exposes Tschanz as a murderer, which he proves to him at a last meeting - an opulent “celebratory meal” at his home - on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Tschanz is desperate again. Bärlach lets him go. The next day Tschanz is found dead under his car that was hit by a train.

Personality characteristics

Hans Barlach

Bärlach is a detective superintendent in Bern. He is of a "silent, deliberate and profound nature". The terminally ill inspector plays an ambiguous game in which he stays in the background and pulls the strings from there in order to be able to convict his old rival and criminal Gastmann after a good four decades. Since he does not manage to arrest him by legal means, he uses Tschanz, his assistant, as an "executioner" and can thus bring down his adversary.


Tschanz is a detective in Bern, whom Bärlach makes his assistant in the "blacksmith murder". Because of his pathological ambition, he "kills his colleague Schmied, whom he envy of skill, success, education and his girl". But Bärlach can quickly expose him and literally uses him as his "hangman" to kill Gastmann. In the end Tschanz is hit by a train and dies.


Gastmann, "a cool, calculating and self-assured criminal king", lives in Lamboing above Lake Biel . He is described as an occasional philosopher and " nihilist " and has been unsuccessfully hunted by the inspector for 40 years because of a bet he made with Barlach in Constantinople at a young age. Although at the last meeting with Bärlach he tried to use his superiority confidently, he was surprised at the end by Bärlach, who finally succeeded in luring Gastmann into a trap in which he died.

Dr. Lucius Lutz

Lutz is Bärlach's superior and, in contrast to him, knows the methods of "modern criminalistics". He often has a different opinion than the inspector.


The judge and his executioner is a classic detective novel : there is a crime and it is being investigated. At the end of the book the reader learns who the perpetrator was. The book can, however, be understood as a criticism of the detective novel and also of the criminalistics, since it is wrongly determined from the start: The inspector already knows all the backgrounds and he soon knows the perpetrator; he only continues the investigation in order to generate a "justice" that cannot be found in a criminal or legal way.

The subject of the book is therefore less the criminalistic method than "the adventure of this existence". That is why the judge and his executioner is also and above all a character portrait of a disaffected loner who opposes the usual course of things not a method, but his personality. In addition to Bärlach's life experiences, his attitude as a Swiss towards National Socialism is characteristic, as is the struggle with internal administrative hierarchies. The ruthless use of oneself culminates in a psychological duel with the murderer Schmied, in the course of which Bärlach, who is really terminally ill, pretends that his illness was only played out for tactical reasons, whereupon the murderer, conquered by Bärlach's psychological superiority, himself kills (at least the suicide is implied).

The character of Commissioner Bärlach is also the main character in Dürrenmatt's novel The Suspicion . The fundamental criticism of the figure of the detective, who correctly determines the wrong and incorrectly determines the correct result, is continued in the novel The Promise .

"His thrillers follow the classic scheme, but with their irony, cynicism and socio-critical or philosophical approaches, they go far beyond what is usual in the genre."


See also

Book editions

  • The judge and his executioner . Benziger, Einsiedeln 1952
  • The judge and his executioner . Novel. With 14 drawings by Karl Staudinger . Rowohlt, Reinbek 1955, ISBN 3-499-10150-5
  • The judge and his executioner / The suspicion . The two detective novels about Commissioner Bärlach. Diogenes, Zurich 1980, ISBN 3-257-20849-9 (work edition 16)
  • The judge and his executioner . Detective novel. With numerous photos from the film and an attachment. Diogenes, Zurich 1985, ISBN 3-257-22535-0


  • Gerhard P. Knapp: Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The judge and his executioner . Diesterweg, Frankfurt am Main 1983, ISBN 3-425-06037-6
  • Bernd Matzkowski: Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The judge and his executioner . Bange, Hollfeld 2001, ISBN 3-8044-1733-7 (König's explanations and materials 42)
  • Wolfgang Pasche: Interpretation aids for Friedrich Dürrenmatt's crime novels . Velcro. Stuttgart 1997, ISBN 3-12-922609-5
  • Theodor Pelster: Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The judge and his executioner. Reading key for school pupils . Reclam, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-15-015374-3
  • Walter Seifert: Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The judge and his executioner. Interpretation . Oldenbourg, Munich 1975; 5th ed. 1996, ISBN 3-637-88616-2

Individual evidence

  1. Annemarie van Rinsum, Wolfgang van Rinsum: Lexicon of literary figures. Volume 1: German-language literature (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 420). 2nd, revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1993, ISBN 3-520-42002-3 , p. 36.
  2. van Rinsum: Encyclopedia of literary figures of German literature , p 464
  3. van Rinsum: Encyclopedia of literary figures of German literature , p 150
  4. So literally from the writer in Chap. 13
  5. Klaus-Peter Walter (Ed.): Reclams Krimi-Lexikon . Authors and works. Philipp Reclam Jun., Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-150-10509-9 , p. 110.
  6. The Judge and His Executioner (1957) in the Internet Movie Database (English)
  7. "BBC Sunday-Night Play" The Judge and His Hangman (1961) in the Internet Movie Database (English)
  8. A bíró és a hóhér (1968) in the Internet Movie Database (English)
  9. Il giudice e il suo boia (1972) in the Internet Movie Database (English)
  10. Le juge et son bourreau (1974) in the Internet Movie Database (English)
  11. The Judge and His Executioner (1975) in the Internet Movie Database (English)
  12. HÖRDAT audio play database
  13. Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The judge and his executioner: comic based on the novel . Bern: Zytglogge, 6th edition 2003, ISBN 3-7296-0305-1 .