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'Lawyers Without Rights' Details How Nazis Targeted Jewish Attorneys

February 27, 2020 Gail Wechsler Dan Reich
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

What happened to Jewish lawyers after Hitler took power in Germany? The truth is a painful one. They were stripped of their licenses and driven from their homeland even as, in many cases, their gentile colleagues stood silent.

Those horrifying details are at the center of an exhibit that has now been shown all over the world — and makes its St. Louis debut next month. “Lawyers Without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany Under the Third Reich” was first developed in Germany by its bar association. The American Bar Association worked with the German Federal Bar to bring an English version to the U.S.    

The exhibit opens at the Law Library Association of St. Louis on March 8. On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Library Director Gail Wechsler explained that she hopes it will attract lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

Wechsler said she was inspired in part to bring the exhibit to town by the late Richard Teitelman. A Missouri Supreme Court justice, Teitelman had been working to bring “Lawyers Without Rights” to St. Louis at the time of his death. 

“I knew Judge Teitelman,” she said, “and I felt, ‘What a great way to honor his memory than by getting the exhibit to St. Louis and to the library.”

Joining the discussion were Dan Reich, curator and educator at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in St. Louis, and Will Meinecke, a historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Meinecke said that Hitler had been “well-known for having no respect for lawyers.” 

“He didn’t like lawyers; he didn’t like law,” Meinecke said. “He much preferred direct police action under executive authority.” 

Upon taking power, he said, Hitler moved swiftly to strip Jewish lawyers of their law licenses. And though the Nazis had feared pushback from gentile lawyers, they need not have. Meinecke said many non-Jewish lawyers saw benefit to a culling of the ranks due to an “economic crisis” within the profession. The number of lawyers in the country had doubled, even as their fee structure collapsed.

“We’re talking a fifth of all lawyers earning less even than the industrial worker,” Meinecke said. “So with this idea of removing Jews and politically suspect lawyers, purging them from the bar, it looked like it could be a solution to the economic crisis. And in fact, the Nazis do reduce the number of lawyers by about a quarter, and quadruple the average income of lawyers.”

In addition to being supported by the Law Library Assocation of St. Louis, the local exhibit is sponsored by ADL Heartland, the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, and the Jewish Federation of St. Louis-The Professional Society: Lawyers Division.

Related Event

What: "Lawyers Without Rights" at the Law Library Association of St. Louis

When: March 8-June 9, 2020

Where: 10 N. Tucker St., St. Louis, MO 63101

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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