Kinder Sculpture


Aug 2009 Journal

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Lawyers without rights (review)

by Hanns Eisler
Christopher Maltman (baritone)
Julius Drake (piano)
at The Temple Church, London EC4

The Temple Church, this simple and venerable late-twelfth-century circular building in the heart of barristerial London, was the setting for a one-off recital (11 June) and an exhibition honouring the lives of 15 German-Jewish lawyers who were persecuted or murdered by the Third Reich. The event came to rest here as part of the international travelling exhibition Lawyers Without Rights (The Fate of Jewish Lawyers in Germany after 1933). It was convened by the Temple Church, the German Federal Bar and the Jewish Museum, London.

There was a peculiar resonance to the choice of setting, not only due to the music. The Knights Templar, an order of military monks charged with protecting pilgrims to the Holy Land, were themselves briefly suppressed in the early-fourteenth-century, but rehabilitated in 1608, by which time the lawyers of Inner and Middle Temple were well established.

So, while British legislators and mediators listened to the elegiac strains of Hanns Eisler’s Hollywood Songbook, as it is known, a song-cycle blend of Romantic, Blues and 12-tone music based on poems by Brecht, Goethe, Shakespeare, Mörike and Hölderlin, large posters bearing the histories of the 15 Jewish lawyers, some martyrs to Nazism, bore silent testimony to what their fellow professionals had to endure in the days of National Socialism.

The song cycle, hinting at both Schubert and Schoenberg, has been compared with the former’s Winterreise, a piece of devastating beauty. A more modern, bluesier version, it was delivered with near-perfect precision by both singer and accompanist and clearly moved the audience. As with the Schubert, the Liederbuch describes a cold journey back to a lost homeland and you could not fail to be touched by the symbolism that a subsequent glance at the photographs on the wall conveyed. Eisler, a German-Jewish composer, had a double experience of persecution: he escaped the Nazis and reached the USA in 1933, but later fell victim to McCarthyism and was expelled. This double exile had a powerful influence on his music.

In early 1933 nearly 30 per cent of Prussia’s practising lawyers were Jewish, in Berlin more than half. But in March that year many judges, prosecuting attorneys and lawyers faced dismissal and by 1938 Jews were banned from practising law.
One of the four women featured in this exhibition was Anita Eisner from Berlin. Her admission to the Bar was revoked in 1933 and, after going into hiding to avoid deportation to a death camp, she had to wait until 1947 to be readmitted to the Bar. Persecution and the loss of her family led to illness and an early death.

Among others murdered were Munich lawyer and philosopher Dr Elisabeth Kohn, whose admission to the legal profession was also revoked in 1933, forcing her into menial work. She, her mother and sister died in the massacre in Kovno, Lithuania. Lawyer and notary Dr Moritz Galliner and his wife saw their two children to safety in the US and Britain and then committed suicide rather than suffer deportation. Robert Stern failed to emigrate and was finally deported to a small town near Lublin, where all trace of him was lost.

Pioneer democrat Dr Adolf Arndt, was luckier. A judge protected by his ‘Aryan’ wife, he managed to ride out the war despite forced labour and ill health. He eventually became a member of the SPD in the German Bundestag and in 1963 was Senator for the Arts and Sciences in Berlin for one year.

Yet there is a relatively happy ending to this story. Most of the 15 managed to escape to Britain, America or Israel. In his foreword to the exhibition brochure, Lord Phillips, Senior Law Lord, writes: ‘The Exhibition tells the stories of ordinary men and women trying to keep their families and themselves safe and to maintain their professional life in terrible times. These stories are very moving; and the Temple Church, in the heart of legal London, is just the place where they should be told.’

Gloria Tessler

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