Muller Leads Students in Fellowships at Auschwitz Program

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Constitutional law and legal ethics expert Eric Muller, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor in Jurisprudence and Ethics and associate dean for faculty development at UNC School of Law, has been invited to participate as a faculty member in the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE). This intensive, two-week summer program immerses 15 law students from schools across the country in an examination of how lawyers and judges in Nazi Germany facilitated the Holocaust.

Much of Muller’s scholarship has been dedicated to analyzing the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II. Muller has published two books in the field, “Free to Die for Their Country: The Story of Japanese American Draft Resisters After World War II” (University of Chicago Press, 2003) and “American Inquisition” (UNC Press, 2007).

“I have been invited to participate in this program in part to give a comparative view of how lawyers and judges in the United States facilitated the oppression of Americans of Japanese ancestry,” says Muller, who became involved in the program through the invitation of Robert Burt, Alexander M. Bickel Professor of Law at Yale Law School. Burt is leading the 2011 FASPE with Amos Friedland, a trial lawyer in New York City, in association with the staff of New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage. But Muller’s involvement in the program is personal as well as professional. “My father and grandparents were victims of the Nazi law reforms designed to victimize German Jews, and my great-uncle was deported to his death in a concentration camp in Poland.”

Muller points out that many of the higher-ranking members of the Nazi Party were lawyers and judges. Even so, legal changes that allowed genocide to occur in the 1940s began gradually in the 1930s as it became possible to remove property rights and citizenship rights from people of Jewish descent. The question for the students may be one that has arisen again and again in the study of Nazi Germany: what could individuals do, either personally or professionally, to prevent or subvert these kinds of changes in the legal system?

“It’s a question of resistance. For example, a lawyer might use his professional discretion to decline to pursue an especially punitive course, or might ‘forget’ to file papers necessary to strip a person of his property,” he says. With respect to the internment of the Japanese, Muller points out that some lawyers did find ways to protest the program or soften its impact: a high ranking lawyer within the United States government resigned over the program, and attorneys who worked for the government inside the internment camps often tried to help the prisoners protect their property outside the camps.

“These lawyers found ways to work for the government in a way that would do some good,” he says, adding that while the current perception of Nazi Germany equates resistance with death, there are well-documented examples of individuals who simply refused to carry out orders to imprison or execute and did not die for their refusal.

The law students and their teachers will begin the program May 25 in New York and travel to Berlin, Krakow, and Auschwitz.

Follow Muller's blog of his experiences abroad.

-May 17, 2011

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