Lawyers without rights

“Six million is a big number”, Lord Justice Stanley Burnton told the group assembled in Temple Church on May 12 for the opening of “Lawyers without rights:  Jewish lawyers in Germany under the Third Reich”, but the impact of this exhibition is to help us to remember that it represented a lot of individuals. 


He explained that he had recently returned from a visit to the Berlin judiciary and cited several examples of how Germany “has confronted its past, it is not hidden”.  The display, mounted by the Temple Church (thanks to the Master of the Temple Church, who organised the event), the Jewish Museum London and the German Federal Bar has already been to 50 cities in Germany, Israel and the United States.  Nineteen panels tell the story of what happened both in general and in particular to 14 lawyers—men, women, people of varying seniority and eminence; those who were murdered, those who fled, and those who returned to rebuild their country.  It is an exhibition which rightly requires the visitor to make an effort by reading in detail the texts, which are set out next to copies of extraordinary photographs and documents.

The gathering included Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers (himself the grandson of Sephardic Jews), HE the German Ambassador, the President of the Israeli Bar and the Vice-President of the German Bar. The latter pointed out that in 1933, Jews made up a substantial proportion of the legal profession, and the majority of practitioners in Berlin.  What the exhibition does not answer, he admitted, is why their Gentile colleagues remained silent during the years of discrimination and exclusion: “in the end there is only shame”. 
The main address was given by Mr Justice Beatson, who edited the accompanying book, Jurists Uprooted. He described in detail the step by step persecution between 1933 and 1938, the departure of refugees (academic lawyers were the first to go but overall numbers remained relatively small until the post-Krystallnacht flood after November 1938), what happened to them in England (“we can be proud but not smug”), the war-time internment (the future Lord Justice Kerr sat the Tripos in a disused ice cream factory, invigilated by the future Professor Kurt Lipstein), and their outstanding contribution to Britain.

What one remembers most vividly are the terrible pre-war events which happened in a country which was part of the family of western nations, at peace with its neighbours and ostensibly governed by the rule of law. 
The exhibition is on until July 31.

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