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February 08, 2019

Holocaust program focuses on what can happen when lawyers are silent

Lawyers Elizabeth Holtzman of New York and Katarina Barley of Germany represent different generations and markedly different backgrounds. But at the recent program, “Legal Lessons from the Holocaust: When Lawyers Remain Silent,” the two struck a similar note: anti-Semitism is growing globally and lawyers of today cannot idly stand by as non-Jewish lawyers in Germany did before the Holocaust.

The Feb. 7 program in New York celebrated the release of the American Bar Association book, “Lawyers Without Rights: The Fate of Jewish Lawyers in Berlin after 1933.”

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Nearly 200 attendees at the New York City Bar listened as Holtzman, a former U.S. congresswoman, and Barley, the German federal minister of justice and consumer protection, urged lawyers to speak up – a message delivered by other program speakers, including ABA President Bob Carlson and famed attorney Michael Tigar.

“When I grew up, I got beaten up on the way to Hebrew school,” Holtzman, who served in Congress among her elected positions, said. “When I grew up there were big signs that would say, ‘Restricted’ on Long Island, ‘No Jews allowed.’ ‘No dogs allowed.’ This is not a brand-new phenomenon in society.”

Holtzman first joined Congress in 1973, when Barley was 4 years old. But the German minister echoed a similar theme, noting that the rise of anti-Semitism is not an American phenomenon.

“It is something that is happening all over the world,” Barley said. “The European Union just did a survey, and in all of the member states anti- Semitism has risen considerably, and Jews feel more insecure than they did a few years ago.”

She observed that as the generation of Holocaust survivors fades, so do memories.

“The more you lose them, the more it seems far away,” she continued. “But it is not far away. It can happen again. … It’s not only about anti-Semitism, it is about the question of respect and humanity, and it concerns everybody. So, it is the duty of everybody to speak up.”

The New York program was developed in conjunction with the German Federal Bar, which since 2012 has partnered with the ABA to sponsor a traveling exhibit, Lawyers Without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany under the Third Reich. The exhibit, which depicts the humiliation, degradation and eventual purge of all lawyers of Jewish descent from the legal profession by 1938 in Germany, has traveled to more than 50 U.S. cities as well as Mexico City and Toronto in the past seven years.

In November, the two bar associations released the “Lawyers Without Rights” book, a first-time English translation of a book chronicling Nazi attacks through lawlessness and unjust laws on Jewish lawyers and the rule of law. It differs from the exhibit only in that it emphasizes the fate of Berlin’s more than 1,600 lawyers of Jewish ancestry during that period.

A reviewer for the Jewish Book Council recently wrote, “Not only will ‘Lawyers Without Rights’ be an enduring work of scholarship; it also couldn’t be more timely.” The review then borrows from the original foreword by Benjamin Ferencz, the sole surviving prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, who observed: “(The book) reminds us that the bleak lessons of such an ignominious past are relevant as ever. The failure to enforce law and time-honored principles of justice still poses increasing threats to people everywhere.”