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Jewish Lawyers - a German Identity

Criminal Court, Berlin-MoabitAt the beginning of the 20th century the number of lawyers who were Jewish or of Jewish descent, was relatively high. This was due to the special legal position of Jews in Germany over several centuries. For a long time they were subject to a large number of special laws and many restrictions regarding the exercise of their profession. Even after they had been granted full equal rights as citizens in 1871, they did not immediately have free access to positions in the civil service. Almost at the same time as the foundation of the German Empire, an independent legal profession emerged. The discussion and analysis of the law as one of the central pillars of Jewish culture seemed obvious and in keeping with tradition. Many Jews took the opportunity to work independently in the legal domain and without depending on the benevolence of an employer, be it the courts, the administration or the universities.

Lawyers' room, Regional CourtUp until the 1920s the number of Jewish lawyers increased continuously. Subsequent generations took over the private practices of their fathers or started their own. In the big cities, the share of Jewish lawyers was higher than in smaller towns with a court. In Berlin, for example, on 1 January 1933 more than half of the 3,400 lawyers were of Jewish origin. On account of the marked increase in the number of lawyers – since the 1920s women, too, had access to the profession – the overall situation regarding income deteriorated. Even if the majority of lawyers were still part of the middle class, the structure of the legal profession was not homogenous: there were lawyers with a strong political commitment for the Left, like Alfred Apfel, Kurt Rosenfeld and Rudolf Olden who defended clients like Carl von Ossietzky. Others, like Max Alsberg or Ludwig Bendix, took a more liberal stance and a third group clearly supported German national objectives, like Max Naumann, for example. There were also considerable social differences: some lawyers, ‘celebrities’ such as Alsberg and Erich Frey, had many lucrative cases, whereas others earned just enough to maintain modest living standards.

Dr. Julius FliessOne thing they had in common was that they would never have called themselves ‘Jewish lawyers’: they were German, lawyers and Jews. Many of them had been soldiers during the First World War, others had renounced the Jewish faith and some had been baptized. In the area of jurisprudence, many lawyers of Jewish origin contributed to the development of renowned legal journals and to the establishment of professional organizations. And still there was antisemitic propaganda against these ‘Jewish lawyers’.


Otto Dix: Rechtsanwalt Dr. Fritz Glaser and family

Boycott and Discrimination

Prussian Minister of Justice Hanns KerrlJewish Lawyers register for Berlin BarEven though Hitler’s appointment as Reichskanzler (Chancellor) did not lead to a reshuffling of the Ministry of Justice (Gürtner, German National People’s Party), the takeover - which was rather a handover of power – in January 1933 did mark a turning point. The individual units of the SA (Sturmabteilung, Storm Troopers), which were organised like paramilitary groups, caused so much terror in the first quarter of 1933 that the democratic State governed by the rule of law ceased to exist. Following the burning of the Reichstag building (27 February 1933) a retroactive rule providing for stricter sanctions was adopted – an untenable procedure according to the standards applying under the rule of law. By introducing the so-called protective custody, undesirable political opponents were arrested arbitrarily and for an indefinite period of time.

"Don't go to Jewish Lawyers"The National Socialists wanted to consolidate their power at all levels. Jews were to be ostracized from all areas of social life. In the administration of justice, too, a distinction was to be made between ‘Jews’ and ‘non-Jews’, based primarily on the grandparents’ origin and with the current religious orientation being only of secondary importance. The exclusion of Jews from the legal profession promised to improve the economic situation of non- Jewish lawyers.

Up until the successive dissolution of the Ministries of Justice of the individual provinces, these had considerable competence. In Prussia, the National Socialist fanatic Hanns Kerrl was made Reichskommissar für das Preußische Justizwesen (and later Minister of Justice in Prussia) at the end of March, Hans Frank was appointed to this post in Bavaria.

Both men tried to acquire a strong profile. On 31 March 1933 the Kerrl decree was published, on the basis of which Jewish judges, public prosecutors and lawyers were to be refused access to Prussian courts from the following day. A boycott of Jewish shops, department stores, doctors and lawyers in the entire Reich was organized for 1 April. That Saturday – a regular working day at the time – SA-squads stormed the courthouses in many cities and tried to identify any Jews present. The legal basis for this procedure was created later: regarding notaries admitted in Prussia who were civil servants, the Reich Law to re-establish the civil service with tenure (Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums, 7.4.1933) was applied rigorously: the majority of them lost their admission to practice.


Re-Admission and General Prohibition to Practise

"Traitor of the people" PosterThe professional activity of lawyers was subject to the Law regarding admission to the legal profession (Gesetz über die Zulassung zur Rechtsanwaltschaft of 7 April 1933), on this basis all lawyers of Jewish descent had to re-apply for admission. Only those lawyers who had been admitted before 1914 (‘Altanwälte’, Senior Lawyers) or who had fought at the front line in the First World War (‘Frontkämpfer’), were permitted to continue to practice law. All the others lost their profession. In Prussia, this affected about one third of all lawyers admitted at the beginning of 1933. All female lawyers were thus deprived of their profession, as well as all young lawyers. No Jewish Assessor could establish himself as a lawyer anymore.

The exemption for ‘Frontkämpfer’ had been introduced on the initiative of the old Reichspräsident Hindenburg. Those mainly responsible for the introduction of this rule had not expected such a considerable number of ‘Frontkämpfer’ among Jewish lawyers. Of a total of 10,885 lawyers, 2,009 lawyers of Jewish origin in Prussia were permitted to continue their professional activities. The share of Jewish lawyers was reduced from 28.5% to 18.5% in Prussia, in Bavaria from 17.8% to 12.6%. But the formal admission was no safeguard against further discrimination:

  1. Professional partnerships between Jewish and non-Jewish lawyers had to be dissolved.
  2. Jewish lawyers were no longer given legal aid cases.
  3. The courts ceased to consult Jewish lawyers for legal opinions.

Financially, the situation of private practices of Jewish lawyers deteriorated. Due to a lack of receipts, many had to cease their activities. At the beginning of 1938 around 1750 ‘non-Aryan’ lawyers were practicing in the ‘Altreich’. Following the ‘Anschluss’ of Austria, the total number changed and the rules applying in Germany were also applied in the occupied regions.

Non-Aryan apply for re-admissionIn September 1938 the decision was taken to ban all Jewish lawyers from practising their profession. This general prohibition entered into force on 30 November 1938 (in Austria on 31 December 1938). Following the prohibition, only few Jewish lawyers were able to continue their activities under the professional title of ‘Konsulent’ (Legal Consultant). They were only permitted to advise and represent Jewish clients.

Dr. Michael SiegelA number of rules and regulations tried to define the term ‘non-Aryan’ and a confusing order emerged which distinguished between ‘Mischlinge’ (hybrids), ‘Mischlinge ersten Grades’ (1st degree hybrids), ‘Mischlinge zweiten Grades’ (2nd degree hybrids) and ‘Geltungsjuden’ (Jews by definition). These definitions were linked to different kinds of per-secution. In particular, ‘Mischehen’ (mixed marriages) consisting of a Jewish and a non-Jewish spouse and with children, were granted a ‘privilege’ which provided a certain degree of protection against further persecution. However, if the non-Jewish partner died, the ‘privilege’ was no longer effective and the remaining partner fell victim to the persecution machinery. The status of ‘Mischling’ also had far-reaching con-sequences for the exercise of the profession (cf. example Adolf Arndt).

Swastika Vipers


Celebrity and darling of the media - escape - survival in Chile

Erich FreyErich Frey set up as a lawyer in Berlin in 1911 and made a name for himself as a defence attorney. In the 1920s he was not only a master of his profession, but also knew how to best use the media for his purposes. With an accomplished combination of seriousness and subtle humour he tried to win his cases.

Frey acted as counsel of the defence for the members of the Ringverein Immertreu (1928). In the course of this trial Frey came to work – this was the only occasion – with Max Alsberg. The trial was about the death of a carpenter who was part of a group of carpenters who had been involved in a fight at a pub with members of the Ringverein Immertreu. The so-called Sport- und Geselligkeitsvereine (clubs promoting sports and conviviality), to which also the Immertreu belonged, were associations of the Berlin underworld. Clubs called Heimatklänge, Hand in Hand or Deutsche Kraft had a total membership of around 1000 and partly lived from the proceeds of blackmail or prostitution. They had a very strict code of honor and served as an inspiration for Fritz Lang’s film ‘M’ (1930) and also for Bert Brecht’s ‘The Threepenny Opera’.

Erich FreyDuring the trial, Frey tried to create for the public the image of a ‘tough guy’ called Muskel-Adolf or Klamotten-Ede who, deep down, possessed a natural sense of justice. The court pronounced a mild judgement – thanks to the defence. Like many other lawyers of Jewish origin, Frey had nevertheless been baptized. In the spring of 1933 he was warned of his imminent arrest, whereupon he emigrated in 1933 via Paris to South America, where he died in 1964. In 1959 he published his memoirs entitled “Ich beantrage Freispruch” (I plead not guilty).

„Just in time before the War broke out – having taken part in one war was enough for me; and on which side should I have been this time anyway? – I left La Rochelle and landed on the Continent of Freedom”. (1959)
Erich Frey

Cannot pass you my hand

Max Hachenburg, Julius Magnus, Heinrich DittenbergerJulius Magnus practiced as a lawyer in Berlin from 1898 and later also as a notary. He was the author of numerous publications on competition law, the protection of industrial property, copyright and patent law. For over 18 years he was also the editor of the Juristische Wochenschrift (JW), published by the Deutsche Anwaltverein (German Bar Association). Magnus made the JW an internationally recognized legal journal. It provided a forum for legal debate on central issues and thus contributed considerably to the development of the law during the Weimar Republic.

Following the handover of power, Magnus had to resign from his position as editor immediately. He continued to practice as a lawyer until the general prohibition of 1938, but had to cease his activties as a notary in 1933. Victor Klemperer notes in his diary on 9 October 1936, how Justizrat Magnus held an obituary speech at the funeral of their common friend Dr. jur. James Breit (a Protestant of Jewish descent) in Dresden-Tolkewitz:

“At the beginning he copied the whining tone of the priest, but then the man got going and started to speak in his own characteristic vein. He spoke in such a way that none of his words would have been of any use to an informer... The previous day, an official order had been issued according to which all juridical publications of non-Aryans had to be removed from the libraries and could not be re-edited.

Breit, however, who had been an examiner in Second State Examinations, was the author of many publications. The speaker [Magnus] stressed again and again to what extent he had enriched German law and how he had relentlessly struggled against formalism and advocated a living German law. How this had been recognized everywhere and had influenced everyone, and also how this would be appreciated in the future. But what felt like a blow to my heart and shook me from my depression was a final remark, into which the speaker must have stumbled against his own will: I cannot give you my hand for I have to load my musket... I mean... just now: I cannot pass you my hand for I have to load my musket, may you rest in eternal peace, my good comrade! [after Ludwig Uhland, The Good Comrade, 1809]. This really shook me up and I thought to myself: muskets are still being loaded; it does not matter if one writes a book about law or about the history of French Enlightenment. Those who as Jews continue to work and to enrich Germany’s intellectual life, are loading – and suddenly there was an air of conspiracy about this entire gathering. The wonderful cello music would not have been necessary, for I was already deeply moved...”

On 25 August 1939 Magnus fled to Holland, where his persecutors caught up with him. In the summer of 1943 he was abducted to Westerbork concentration camp, at the beginning of 1944 deported to Theresienstadt (Terezin) via Bergen-Belsen, where he probably died from starvation. The last piece of information about Julius Magnus came from Justizrat Georg Siegmann.



Dr. Stern deportationRobert Stern, born on 22 July 1883 as the son of tradesman Salomon Stern, came from Geisa in Southern Thuringia. Having completed his legal studies he settled down in Eisenach as a trainee lawyer and from 1912 worked there as a fully qualified lawyer. After the First World War, in which he had taken part as a soldier from the first until the last day, he started a joint practice together with a lawyer from Eisenach, Justizrat Theobald Speyer. Stern’s professional success only lasted until 1933, when he, too, began to suffer from the exclusion of Jews from society and the professional restrictions which culminated in the general prohibition to practise as a lawyer in 1938. His attempts to emigrate failed. Thus, in 1942, he shared the fate of 500 other Thuringian Jews. Via Weimar and Leipzig he was deported to Belzyce, a small town south-west of Lublin, which is where his trace is lost forever.


Stern announces opening of law office

Report of emigration of Dr. Stern


Personal, political and social freedom as pillars of the rule of law

Philipp Löwenfeld with partner Max HirschbergPhilipp Löwenfeld, son of the highly respected Munich University professor and lawyer Theodor Löwenfeld (1848-1919) and a democratic Socialist like his father, became an active SPD member in his student days. He remained a faithful party member even during the November Revolution of 1918-1919. An active opponent of the Räterepublik in Munich, Löwenfeld was at the same time one of the critics who rejected the harsh approach prevailing in political as well as legal circles regarding the assessment of this period, an approach which in his opinion made the establishment of a democratic system more difficult. Admitted to the legal profession in 1918, Löwenfeld soon became a partner of the like-minded Max Hirschberg. Together with Hirschberg and his friend Wilhelm Hoegner he was one of the handful of staunch fighters against the rising NS-movement. Due to his commitment, the father of three little girls in 1933 almost caused his own downfall. Under dramatic circumstances he managed to flee to Zurich in March 1933, where, despite the difficult situation, he unabashedly resumed the struggle against Hitler as a journalist.The late Philipp Löwenfeld

In September 1933 his admission as a lawyer was finally withdrawn. In 1938 Löwenfeld emigrated to New York with his family, where, like many of his companions in misfortune, he had to work in a field which had nothing to do with his original profession. He never worked as a lawyer again. Even when in 1945 he received a call from Wilhelm Hoegner, who by that time was Bavarian Minister-President, he did not return to Germany.

Dr. Reinhard Weber


“It is my innermost conviction that the pathetic and spineless manoevring of the German judiciary is one of the principal causes of the collapse of Germany’s democratic constitutional system.” (extract from Löwenfeld’s memoirs, 1943)

Application of the Bar for the withdrawal of Löwenfeld's admission Association of Social Democratic Lawyers

Lawyer and journalist - escape and death

Carl von Ossietzky with his defence counsels Rudolf Olden and Alfred ApfelRudolf Olden was a wellknown defense lawyer who also stood out in political cases, acting, for example, as counsel for the defense of Carl von Ossietzky. Apart form his legal practice, Olden also wrote for the liberal Berliner Tageblatt, among other newspapers. Even after power had been handed over to the National Socialists, Olden initiated a conference at the Kroll-Oper in Berlin entitled “Das freie Wort” (The free word) on 19 February 1933. During the night of the Reichstag fire Olden received a warning saying that “members of the opposition were arrested right and left”, which did not prevent him though from appearing in court the next day, where he had a case to plead. Meanwhile, his home was put under surveillance and the political police waited for him outside another court house. When he learned that the Gestapo were waiting for him, Olden decided to escape – on skis, across the border into Czechoslovakia.

Caricature by DolbinAs early as May 1933 Olden published a biographical sketch entitled “Hitler der Eroberer” (Hitler the Conqueror) during his exile in Prague. In 1934 he was commissioned by the Comité des Délégations Juives in Paris to write a Schwarzbuch (black book) on the situation of the Jews in Germany. In late 1933 Olden and his wife Ika moved to London. Despite Olden’s intensive lecturing activity and his work as a writer for various magazines published in exile, Olden had only very little income.

Shortly after the War broke out Olden was declared an ‘enemy alien’ and sent to internment camp. When he received a call from the New School of Social Research in New York (academic teaching ground of German social scientists Adorno and Marcuse at the time), he accepted only with reluctance; he would have preferred to stay in England. In 1940 Ika and Rudolf Olden boarded the City of Benares; their two year old daughter had sailed earlier together with other children who were sent to America for safety. The City of Benares was torpedoed in mid-Atlantic by the German U-Boat U48 and Ika and Rudolf Olden lost their lives in the event.


“Germany today is in a state of barbarism. The dictatorship knows no law, it does not even respect its own. It maintains law courts and prisons, but at the same time it runs concentration camps. An administrative act can be examined before the Supreme Administrative Court, but not the deeds of the Secret State Police, for which it denied jurisdiction.

The State has its authorities, but where these are ‘insufficient’, the Party will intervene…”

(Rudolf Olden,1935)

Rudolf Olden


...that it is a dark road we shall have to travel.

Elisabeth KohnAfter having studied philosophy, psychology and law at the University of Munich, Elisabeth Kohn obtained her doctor’s degree in philosophy in 1924. In 1925 she passed the First State Exam and in 1928 the State Exam for the higher judicial service and public administrative service. After her admission to the profession in November 1928, she joined the well-known firm of Max Hirschberg and Philipp Löwenfeld, who were dedicated mainly to litigation in the political arena.

Even before 1933 Jewish lawyers in Munich were subject to attack.With her left-wing republican commitment to the cause of the SPD, the Human Rights League, the umbrella organization of German labour unions (ADGB) and against rising National Socialism, Kohn found a broad field of activity in this firm. The withdrawal of her admission to practise as a lawyer on 5 August 1933 hit her very hard, all the more since her father died later in 1933 and since, apart from her mother, her sister, who was an artist, also had to be taken care of. She found a temporary job with the welfare department of the Jewish Community and from 1940 she did menial work for ‘Konsulent’ (Legal Consultant) Dr. Julius Baer. For the sake of her relatives she postponed emigration until it was finally too late. Together with her mother and sister she was part of the first wave of deportees who left Munich on 20 November 1941. Five days later they were killed during the massacres in Kowno, Lithuania, which claimed almost 3000 victims on 25 November alone.

Dr. Reinhard Weber

„Today I received your very kind telegram, telling me that 2 visas for Cuba are ready and waiting for us. Thank you a thousand times. Unfortunately, it seems that all efforts to help us are doomed to come too late. On Saturday afternoon I received the order to be ready for departure with my mother and my sister as of Tuesday. I am packing today...who knows what will become of us?“

(1941, shortly before deportation)

Withdrawal of the admission to the Bar


Excerpt from a letter to Bessie and Max Hirschberg

First female lawyer in Prussia

Margarete BerentMargarete Berent, the daughter of a merchant, graduated from high school in Berlin, in 1910, and went on to study law, completing her studies with a doctoral dissertation in 1914. Her dissertation on family law received a “magna cum laude” and was published in a well-respected scholarly series in 1915. (Over forty years later, in 1958, it served as a model for the legal reform of inheritance and property laws in the Federal Republic of Germany). Despite her outstanding dissertation, Margarete Berent was neither admitted to become judge nor an attorney. This would have required her to pass the bar examination (Staatsexamen), which women were not allowed to take. Instead, she worked as a “legal assistant” in lawyers’ offices and legal protection agencies for women and temporarily for the Berlin municipal administration.

In 1919, during the Weimar Republic, women were finally allowed to take the Staatexamen, for which Margarete Berent applied immediately. She passed the first examination in 1919 with an above average grade of “good.” After a legal clerkship and passing the second Staatsexamen, she opened her own law office in March of 1925 in Berlin—the first female lawyer in Prussia ever– and a successful one at that. Looking back, she wrote in the 50s: “By 1933 the law firm had become the foundation of my livelihood. I had succeeded in establishing myself well enough to maintain my own office with an adequate income and was able to travel abroad repeatedly… I might want to add that I enjoyed trust, prestige and growing recognition…. I spoke on the radio several times, in Hamburg, among other places, and during a program on family law at the Central Institute for Education and Teaching….”

Empire State Building 1940sMargarete Berent was a member of several women’s associations, active in legal organizations and also taught at vocational schools for social work. She was an advocate for the recognition of women in all professions, particularly in jurisprudence, and for social and legal equality.

At the same time, she was a member of the board of representatives of the Jewish Community Berlin and belonged to the board of the Prussian Regional Association of Jewish Communities.

After the Nazis came to power, Margarete Berent was barred from practicing law and forced to close her office. She found a new position at the Central Welfare Agency of German Jews in Berlin and Cologne, where she became active in mid-1933.

At the end of 1939, already after the outbreak of war, she was able to flee via Switzerland and Italy to Chile. She lived in Chile until the end of July 1940, earning a living as a language teacher. Finally, she received a visa for the US (that she had applied for already in 1938) and arrived in New York in August of 1940. The U.S. and the vibrant metropolis had not exactly been waiting for Prussia’s first female lawyer to arrive. Still, she remained in New York. Margarete Berent worked as a household help and in postal delivery. In 1942, she began studying American law in the evening, while working on the side by day.

“I have not been able to attain a sufficient and sustained means of support.”

Dr. Margarete Berent,

November 1959

In 1948 she received her LL.B. from New York University School of Law and passed the New York State bar examination in 1949. In 1950, at the age of 63, she started working as a lawyer again. From 1953 until the end of 1959, she was employed at the legal department of the City of New York. Margarete Berent remained a lawyer until the end of her life, even though her profession did not provide her with adequate material support again. She died in New York in 1965, shortly before her 78th birthday.

Simone Ladwig-Winters



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