The sepia faces stare back at me, beckoning me to come closer. The display “Lawyers Without Rights: The Fate of Jewish Lawyers in Germany after 1933” tells the story of Jewish lawyers in Germany under Hitler’s Third Reich. We are so fortunate to have this display at the Ruth Lilly Law Library. This visually powerful display is made up of long vertical banners, each with the story of a lawyer in Nazi Germany. Jewish lawyers lost their licenses to practice law and their offices were plastered with warning signs to keep the public away. Some Jewish lawyers were able to flee from Germany, but tragically many were imprisoned or murdered by the Nazis. I look at these lawyers and read their story and I’m reminded of the price that is paid when the rule of law and human rights is crushed by the government.
This exhibit offers a chance to learn about specific lawyers and how Nazi rule changed their lives forever. Dr. Julius Magnus was a lawyer, law journal editor, and notary. There was a general prohibition for Jews to practice law in 1938. This ended a brilliant man’s career and life as he was hunted down by the Nazis and in 1943 and was sent to Westerbork concentration camp. He later is believed to have starved to death in confinement. Another lawyer and newspaper contributor, Dr. Rudolph Olden, initiated a free word conference in February of 1933. The Nazis had his home under surveillance so he used skis to cross the Czechoslovakia border. He later lectured and continued to write about the Jewish condition in Germany. He and his wife were on a boat headed for New York when the ship was torpedoed in the Mid-Atlantic by a German U-boat in 1940. They did not survive the attack. Finally, I would like to mention a courageous woman named Dr. Elisabeth Kohn. After passing the necessary exams, she joined the law firm of Max Hirschberg and Philipp Löwenfeld. However her license was revoked in 1933. Like many other Jewish lawyers, she took any kind of job she could find. On November 20, 1941 she was deported along with her mother and sister. Five days later they were all killed along with thousands of others at in the massacres in Kowno, Lithuania.
Now as I look upon these faces, I no longer see just a well-dressed man with a carefully groomed mustache, or a defense counsel with his head down and deep in thought, or a woman with a determined expression. I now also see Dr. Mangus, Dr. Olden, and Dr. Elisabeth Kohn. This exhibit is important because it goes beyond statistics and touches your heart with personal stories of lawyers who disappeared under the Third Reich. The past will repeat itself if we don’t take time to learn from it. So I urge you to take a moment and read the display. You will honor their memories by gaining an understanding of the importance of the fundamental human rights they espoused and the price that is paid when the rule of law is circumvented by the state.
Don’t miss this exhibit which runs through Monday, April 28. I want to thank Miriam Murphy, Catherine Lemmer, and Liz Allington for helping to make this display possible. I also want to acknowledge the local organizations that supported this exhibit including: Lindsey Mintz from the Indianapolis Jewish Relations Council; Professor Claudia Grossman; Associate Director of the Max Kade German-American Center at IUPUI Sven Schumacher, honorary consul for Germany; Lev Rothenberg from the JCC Indianapolis; The Indiana Historical Society; The Circle: Jews, Germans & Hoosiers in Conversation; Barnes & Thornburg; and The Foundation for Lutheran Child & Family Services. Information for this post, regarding this traveling exhibit, can be found at: http://www.lawyerswithoutrights.com/ and the following article from the ABA Journal: http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/when_lawyers_disappeared/