News Releases

For immediate release November 1, 2007

Fate of Jewish lawyers reminds British Columbians that freedom is fragile

VANCOUVER — British Columbians may not realize how legal independence protects individual rights and freedom, but history tells us that there are harsh consequences when society allows the rule of law to disappear. An internationally acclaimed exhibit that chronicles the fate of Jewish lawyers before and during the Holocaust is coming to Vancouver and Victoria this November to remind us to stay vigilant.

Lawyers Without Rights , a free exhibit presented by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, the Law Society of BC and the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany, will run from November 1 through to November 25 at Harbour Centre in downtown Vancouver and at the University of Victoria from November 28 to December 9. Through biographical portraits, the exhibit commemorates the lawyers who were restricted from practising following Hitler’s rise to power, and the impact that had on society and concepts of justice.

“Non-Jewish lawyers, judges and legislators strove to ensure that the five-year process of excluding Jewish lawyers, judges, court officials and law professors was carried out ‘legally,’” said Leo Adler, Director of National Affairs, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center For Holocaust Studies. “We want to remind all citizens that even in a democracy, the spirit and the letter of the law can be all too easily subverted.”

As part of this exhibit, the Law Society will present a free, evening public forum on November 22 at Simon Fraser University, Harbour Centre, examining why it is so important to have a legal system that is independent of politics, what happened in Germany and what is happening around the world today in societies where the independent legal system is threatened. Moderated by CBC National reporter Duncan McCue, the forum will feature an international panel of legal experts including:

  • Leo Adler, Director of National Affairs for Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies since 1999
  • Dr. Norbert Westenberger, Vice-President of the German Federal Bar since 1995
  • Joel Levi, founder of Lawyers Without Rights and the 2007 Israel Bar Association distinguished lawyer of the year
  • Professor Stephen Toope, President and Vice-chancellor of the University of British Columbia since 2006 and an international expert in human rights law

“What happened to the legal system in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s is an important lesson for Canadians to remember, as we see many countries today continue to try to put restrictions on their judges and lawyers to achieve political ends,” said Anna Fung, QC, President of the Law Society of BC. “It’s imperative that all citizens understand the crucial importance of the rule of law in a just, free and democratic society, one in which the legal system is free of government or political pressure.”

When Hitler came into power, 58 per cent of all practising lawyers in Berlin and almost half of all lawyers in Germany were Jewish. Historically, anti-Semitism in Germany prevented Jews from pursuing many professions and trades. Law was one of the few professions open to the Jewish community. While most of the lawyers profiled in the exhibit did not survive the Holocaust, the exhibit will also feature three local stories documenting the experiences of Jewish lawyers whose families came to British Columbia.

“The Nuremberg Laws were like the ethnic cleansing of the legal profession, and many other professions,” said Vancouver lawyer Terri Cohen, granddaughter of Sam Sussel, one of the local stories that will be featured in the exhibit. “Jewish lawyers were practising with non-Jewish lawyers and they stood by and let this happen. If the lawyers don’t speak out who will?”

Since its inception, the Lawyers Without Rights exhibit has been presented around Europe, Israel, Mexico City, the US and more recently Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Lawyers Without Rights will run from November 1 to 25 at Harbour Centre Tower Atrium and at the University of Victoria from November 28 to December 9, with a round-table discussion on November 29. The exhibit is free and registration is not required.

The public forum will take place at 515 West Hastings Street in Vancouver on Thursday, November 22 from 6 to 8:30 pm, with a reception immediately following. To register, email forum2007@lsbc.org before November 15 or call 604 669 2533. Visit lawsociety.bc.ca for more information.

The Law Society of BC is the governing body of the legal profession in BC. Under the provisions of the Legal Profession Act, the Law Society is responsible for the licensing, professional conduct and discipline of the more than 10,000 lawyers in BC.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies is a Canadian human rights organization dedicated to fostering tolerance and understanding through community involvement, educational outreach and social action. Visit fswc.ca for more information.

The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre promotes human rights and genocide awareness through education and remembrance of the Holocaust. It has produced supplementary panels for this exhibit documenting the experiences of Jewish lawyers whose families came to BC.

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Note to editor:
Anna Fung, QC, President of the Law Society, Avi Benlolo, President & CEO, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, Leo Adler Director of National Affairs, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, Frieda Miller, Executive Director, Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and Terri Cohen are available for interviews. Media can also arrange a private exhibit tour with other special dignitaries on November 2 at 2 or 3 pm.

For more information or to arrange an interview or private tour, please contact:

The Law Society of BC
Brad Daisley, Public Affairs Manager
Tel: 604-443-5724 or 604 836 3257, 1-800-903-5300 toll-free in BC
Email: bdaisley@lsbc.org

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies
David Eisenstadt , The Communications Group Inc.
Tel: 416-696-9900 x 36. Toll Free: 1-800-267-4476
deisenstadt@tcgpr.com