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Jewish Museum tells stories of lawyers killed by Nazis

Ten years ago, Israeli lawyer Joel Levi asked the German Federal Bar

for something they didn't have: A list of Jewish lawyers killed during the Nazi regime.

    The German lawyer's organization spent the next year researching, with its findings ultimately inspiring a traveling exhibit first displayed 10 years ago in Berlin.

     "Lawyers Without Rights: The Fate of Jewish Lawyers in Germany after 1933'' features a series of large hanging posters that narrate the fates of the individual lawyers research uncovered. The exhibit, which tells the story of 20 Jewish lawyers living under the Third Reich -- some of whom escaped, some of whom did not -- is currently on display at the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach.

     Rudolf Olden's story is among those showcased at the exhibit. The renowned defense lawyer and journalist was declared an "enemy alien'' at the beginning of the war. After publishing several works on Jews in Germany, including a famous political cartoon, he and his wife were killed by torpedoes from a German U-Boat in 1940 in the Atlantic Ocean while en-route to New York. He had been offered a teaching job at the New School of Social Research.

    Norbert Westenberger, vice president of the German Federal Bar, said it was telling that the bar had no official record of the Jewish lawyers.

   "Such a list would have been a sign that the expulsed and murdered Jewish colleagues had not been forgotten,'' he said at the June 28 opening of the exhibit, which runs through July 25.

   The German bar identified about 3,000 Jewish lawyers living in Germany at the time, 1,000 of whom were killed during the Nazi regime, many of them in concentration camps. More than half of the lawyers practicing in Berlin were Jewish. 

   "Many non-Jewish German lawyers in those days kept silent,'' said Westenberger. "They did not say a word. There was no real resistance. Most of them did not even try to help their colleagues. Why? We do not know.''

   The exhibit does attempt answer to that question, he said.

   "They failed to act and so did the lawyers' organizations,'' said Westenberger. "What the exhibition does, however, is reminding us to raise this question again and again.''

   Klaus Ranner, Consul General of Germany to Miami, spoke at the opening as well. Although Ranner will be restationed to the German Consulate in Dubai in August, he said he was very happy to see the exhibit come to the Jewish Museum of Florida, emphasizing the number of Jews of German descent living in South Florida.

  "The Jewish community here is one of the most important ones in the U.S.,'' said Ranner during his speech, who said his country's relationship with Jewish communities "is far from being charged with tension.''

   "On the contrary,'' he said. "It reflects the position that Germany assumes historic responsibility for what has happened and establishes friendly ties with Jews all over the world.''

   Ranner pointed out that before Jewish lawyers were stripped of their rights, many of them were doing radical work, fighting right-wing politicians and defending democracy in Germany.

      Miami attorney Thomas Baur, whose law firm, Baur and Klein, helped sponsor the exhibit, spoke about a German Jewish lawyer he considered his mentor.

   "The most compelling reason for me to participate in this event is my personal and professional experience with one of the lawyers without rights,'' said Baur, who went on to tell the story of Harry Bassett, formerly Harald Boskowitz.

    Bassett came to the United States after being forced into exile.

   Baur, a gentile and native of Germany, was enrolled in a class at the University of Miami in 1978 and sought out an attorney from the German Consulate for guidance.

   Bassett encouraged Baur to go back to law school full-time. Baur eventually become a partner in Bassett's firm, where he the pair fought on behalf of local Holocaust survivors

seeking reparation from the German government. But Baur only learned of Bassett's experience escaping the Nazis after his death in 1987.

   Baur said he was thankful for the exhibit.

   "I finally got a chance to give Harry Bassett my due respect,'' he said.

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