'Lawyers Without Rights' Exhibit at UNC School of Law Explores Fate of Jewish Lawyers and Judges During Nazi Era

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Vienna steps
Nazis block steps in Vienna. Photo courtesy of Lawyers Without Rights.

UNC School of Law will host the highly acclaimed international exhibit, “Lawyers Without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany under the Third Reich,” from March 7 to March 25.

An opening reception will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Mon., March 7, in the school’s rotunda, featuring remarks(PDF) from Mark Martin ’88, the Supreme Court of North Carolina’s Chief Justice. Both the exhibit and reception are free and open to the public.

In conjunction with the American Bar Association and German Federal Bar, the exhibit documents the story of the persecution of Jewish lawyers in Nazi Germany in the 1930s through photographs, letters and testimonials. It has been shown in nearly 100 cities in Germany, the United States and others parts of the world.

Eric Muller
Eric Muller

“The ‘Lawyers Without Rights’ exhibit tells an important story about a legal profession under terrible stress and about the persecution of people ‘racially’ identified as an internal enemy,” says Eric L. Muller, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor of Law in Jurisprudence and Ethics at UNC School of Law, who was instrumental in bringing the exhibit to campus. “My hope is that this exhibit educates students from a historical perspective while also inspiring them to apply the lessons learned to modern day issues. In light of recent refugee concerns, it’s imperative that our community continues to recognize the peril that people around the world face because of their religion, race or ethnicity, as well as the importance of the independence of the bar and the judiciary.”

For those unable to attend the opening reception, several public events relating to the exhibit are planned.

Starting at 6 p.m. on Wed., March 9, the UNC Center for Civil Rights, UNC Jewish Law Association and UNC Black Law Students Association are sponsoring a screening of “From Swastika to Jim Crow,” a one-hour documentary that connects the story of the persecution of Jews in Germany with the simultaneous persecution of African Americans in the United States. Muller and Theodore M. Shaw, center director and Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law, will host a discussion after the film.

At 6 p.m. on Wed., March 23, Konrad Jarausch, Lurcy Professor of European Civilization in the UNC Department of History, will give a talk entitled “Jewish Lawyers in Germany, 1848-1938: The Disintegration of a Profession.” The lecture will focus on the journey Jewish lawyers took to become prominent members of the German bar up to and through the Weimar period, as well as how the state and the bar then turned on those lawyers to drive them out of the profession and country.

The idea for the “Lawyers Without Rights” exhibit was conceived in 1998 when an Israeli lawyer asked the regional bar of Berlin for a list of Jewish lawyers whose licenses had been revoked by the Nazi regime.

“The regional bar decided not only to research a list of names but also to try to find out more about the fates behind all those names,” says Axel Filges, past president of the German Federal Bar. “Some were able to leave the country after the Nazis came into power, but very many of them were incarcerated or murder. The non-Jewish German lawyers of those days remained silent. They failed miserably, and so did the lawyers’ organizations. We do not know why.”

After the Berlin bar transformed its research into an exhibit, other regional bars began asking whether they could show it and add their own research.

“So, like a puzzle, a portrait of the fate of Jewish lawyers in Germany has emerged step by step,” Filges says.

Preview the exhibit at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrpNIj7pfGE.

-February 11, 2016

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