This evening a traveling exhibit “Lawyers Without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany Under the Third Reich,” created by the German Federal Bar, opens in Kennedy Hall at the Fowler School of Law at Chapman University. The exhibit can be viewed from October 13 – November 21 during business hours. If you are in the area, I encourage you to see it.
A bit of background. Adolf Hitler was legally appointed the chancellor of Germany on January 20, 1933. Within days, using the law as their weapon, the Nazis began an assault on justice. Those wielding the weapon were respected jurists and judges, many of whom had served in the justice system of the Weimar Republic for years.
Using the Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933 and the potential for further violence as the pretext, the Nazis orchestrated the passing of the Reichstag Fire Decree abolishing most civil liberties. The
Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich
(Law to Redress the Need of People and Nation), known as the Enabling Act, followed. It gave Hitler and his cabinet emergency powers to enact legislation for four years. By law, the legislative branch essentially ceded its authority to the executive branch. Hitler now moved to implement his objectives for what historian Doris Bergen has neatly summarized as “race and space.”
Race was at the core of the Nazi agenda. The Nazis constructed a hierarchy of humanity with the “Aryans” at the top and the Jews, along with the Roma/Sinti, at the bottom. New laws followed, often worded in deceptively positive language, such as the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service of 1933 which dismissed Jews from the civil service or the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor which prohibited marriage or sexual relations between “Aryans,” the only real
or people, according to the Nazis, and Jews.
Heirs to the Enlightenment, lawyers and judges jettisoned humanistic ideals of justice to conform to a Nazi ideology that robbed some of their fellow citizens, including their own colleagues, of their rights, and ultimately, of their lives.
In his thought provoking memoir,
A Crack in the Wall: Growing Up Under Hitler,
Horst Krűger describes his parents’ response to the violence that occurred throughout Germany on November 9-10, 1938, the events known as
, the Night of Broken Glass. Krűger writes: “That night my father told us that synagogues had been burned and the ‘rabble’–he said ‘rabble’ again–had looted Jewish stores and apartments.” (p. 36)
We now know those actions were planned and orchestrated by Josef Goebbels and other Nazi officials. While it was the “rabble” that carried them out, the foundation for their actions had been laid long before by respected men of the law. It was they who robbed Jews of their citizenship and their basic human rights, leaving it to the “rabble” to set fire to and desecrate their synagogues and to loot and destroy their businesses.
Who, one might ask, was the “rabble”?
For more information visit
Lawyers Without Rights
in Chapman’s Happenings.