By Rachel Vick
Distinguished lecturer Douglas Morris, PhD, JD visited the Queens Supreme Courthouse on Wednesday to deliver an important lecture on the experience of Jewish attorneys in Germany under Nazi rule.
The Brandeis Association hosted the event in conjunction with the Gender Fairness Committee for the Queens Supreme and Criminal Courts, which featured a discussion of Morris’ recent article “The Law in Nazi Germany: Ideology, Opportunism and the Perversion of Justice.”
“Discrimination, degradation, defiance of Jewish lawyers under Nazism” was the unofficial title of Dr. Douglas Morris’ unofficial title for the lecture which told the story of the deliberate dismantling of the German legal system and focused on the lives and struggles of Jewish legal officers whose practices and accomplishments were systematically undermined.
“I think that, today, lawyers in certain positions should be thinking about how they are conforming to larger demands,” Morris said. “Any [one] step isn’t disastrous, but step by step many who conform are in a position where that contributes to the breakdown of the rule of law.”
Administrative Judge Jeremy Weinstein delivered the opening remarks, before Morris began his talk with an anecdote about an acclaimed German-Jewish lawyer who committed suicide upon the dissolution of a successful partnership during the Nazi era. The attorney had a mental breakdown with his career, life and identity under assault.
Morris went on to explain the comprehensive attack on democracy by Adolf Hitler and his supporters. He highlighted how the Nazi party incited violence and instilled legal doctrine that conformed with their fascist, racist and anti-semitic ideology.
“The story is about the fragility of democracy,” Morris said. “Of the collapse of democracy and rise in tyranny and the importance in upholding equality before the law.”
Jewish lawyers accounted for almost 30 percent of all German attorneys and their removal and persecution opened the door for the installation of unqualified Nazi officials.
The event coincided with the recent introduction of the exhibit “Lawyers Without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany Under the Third Reich” to the Queens Supreme Courthouse on Sutphin Boulevard. The exhibit will be on display through late-August.
The event was organized by Judge Mojgan Lancman and Adam Orlow, the incoming president of the Brandeis Association. Orlow credited Lancman for bringing the event to Queens after it was featured in the King County Supreme Court.
“I was really amazed by what I saw there,” Orlow said. “It felt really important given the current rise in anti-Semitism in this country.”
The American Bar Association and the German Federal Bar sponsored the “Lawyers Without Rights” exhibit. Posters can be found on all floors of the courthouse except the third.