Lawyers With­out Rights: The Fate of Jew­ish Lawyers in Berlin after 1933

Simone Lad­wig-Win­ters

Edit­ed by Bill Choyke

  • Review
By – January 21, 2019

Lawyers With­out Rights is not just a cof­fee table book, nor is it an ordi­nary his­to­ry of the fate of Jew­ish lawyers and notaries in Nazi Ger­many. Rather, the vol­ume of some 500 pages is divid­ed into dif­fer­ent sec­tions, includ­ing a short his­to­ry of jurispru­dence in the Weimar Repub­lic, a list and dis­cus­sion of the Nazi laws that exclud­ed Jews after 1933, and details of the sub­se­quent fate of Jew­ish lawyers. The book’s major con­tri­bu­tion, how­ev­er, is a bio­graph­i­cal dic­tio­nary of Berlin attor­neys of Jew­ish ori­gin who became vic­tims of Nazi racial laws.

On April 7th, 1933, four months after Hitler was appoint­ed chan­cel­lor, the Nazi-run gov­ern­ment pro­mul­gat­ed the Law for the Restora­tion of the Pro­fes­sion­al Civ­il Ser­vice, which barred any­one not of Aryan” descent from pub­lic employ­ment and estab­lished the prin­ci­ple of racial dif­fer­ences between Jews and Aryans. The law marked the start of the Nazi pol­i­cy to dri­ve Jew­ish pro­fes­sion­als such as aca­d­e­mics, physi­cians, and aca­d­e­mics from pub­lic employ­ment. Focus­ing on the fate of 1,807 of the 1,835 Berlin Jew­ish attor­neys at the time, includ­ing those who con­vert­ed to Chris­tian­i­ty, Lad­wig-Win­ters notes that the 1933 exclu­sion pri­mar­i­ly affect­ed young attor­neys who were born after 1902. With some excep­tions — includ­ing Jews who had fought in World War I — most of these attor­neys lost their notary licens­es by the end of 1933. Fol­low­ing the Nurem­berg laws in 1935 and Kristall­nacht in Novem­ber 1938, a gen­er­al occu­pa­tion­al ban on all Jew­ish attor­neys went into effect.

Lad­wig-Win­ters states that most Aryan lawyers, like the Ger­man Fed­er­al Bar itself, did not protest the gov­ern­ment action against their fel­low attor­neys. She sug­gests that they may have feared ret­ri­bu­tion if they showed sup­port for their Jew­ish col­leagues, but it was more like­ly that they were con­tent to ben­e­fit from the increased num­ber of avail­able clients cre­at­ed by the vac­u­um of Jew­ish attorneys.

Lad­wig-Win­ters also high­lights how the occu­pa­tion ban affect­ed Jew­ish women attor­neys. In 1933, there were nine­teen women of Jew­ish ori­gin admit­ted to the Berlin bar, which rep­re­sent­ed about one per­cent of all Jew­ish attor­neys. This small num­ber of attor­neys could be attrib­uted to the fact that women were only allowed to obtain law degrees begin­ning in 1922. One Jew­ish woman who was allowed to con­tin­ue with her admis­sion to the bar was Han­nah Katz. Because of her inter­na­tion­al promi­nence as the lone Ger­man rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the board of the inter­na­tion­al law asso­ci­a­tion, her posi­tion was con­di­tioned on the fact that she was a prac­tic­ing attor­ney. In 1941, Katz was able to immi­grate to the Unit­ed States.

In this exten­sive work, Lad­wig-Win­ters exam­ines the many, and often unex­pect­ed, ways in which indi­vid­ual lawyers were affect­ed by the Nazi ban on Jew­ish attor­neys. Dr. Max Pick, for exam­ple, lost his license as a notary in 1933 but was allowed to con­tin­ue his prac­tice until 1936; he com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1937. Isaak Rosen­tret­ter was able to prac­tice law until he emi­grat­ed in 1936, only to have the Nazi gov­ern­ment issue an arrest war­rant for tax evasion.

Not only will Lawyers With­out Rights be an endur­ing work of schol­ar­ship; it also couldn’t be more time­ly. As Ben­jamin B. Fer­encz, chief pros­e­cu­tor for the Unit­ed States in the Ein­satz­grup­pen Case at the Nurem­berg tri­als, states in his fore­word: That a book pub­lished in 2018 by the Amer­i­can Bar Asso­ci­a­tion should focus on the pros­e­cu­tion of lawyers … dur­ing the Third Reich … reminds us that the bleak lessons of such an igno­min­ious past are rel­e­vant as ever. The fail­ure to enforce law and time-hon­ored prin­ci­ples of jus­tice still pos­es increas­ing threats to peo­ple everywhere.”

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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