„Rename the Palandt!“ – An introduction

The initiative „Rename The Palandt!“ is a group of young lawyers from all over Germany with different professional and political backgrounds, dedicated to effect a name change of the “Palandt” – the most prominent and probably economically most successful German commentary on civil law, which just recently celebrated its 77th edition in the publishing house C.H. Beck Munich. It is ubiquitous in every law firm, courtroom and university library. Moreover, every German law clerk is obliged to use the “Palandt” in their state exams. To this day, this highly visible legal commentary still bears the name of the high-ranking Nazi functionary Otto Palandt – an honor this man does not deserve. In the following we will argue why we think that the “Palandt” must be renamed.

I.         About the genesis of the “Palandt”

Let us begin with a glimpse at the genesis of the “Palandt”: Since when does this book exist and how did it get its name?

The search for an answer leads us to Berlin in the 1920s. Back then, the publishing house of the eminently respectable jurist Otto Liebmann had its offices in the German capital. Liebmann was Jewish. He made a name for himself as the editor of the renowned „Deutsche Juristen-Zeitung“ (German Jurist Journal) and of several legal commentaries that were first marketed as “Lieb’mannsche Taschenkommentare” (Liebmann’s Pocket Commentaries) and later on as “Lieb’mannsche Kurzkommentare” (Liebmann’s Short Commentaries). These commentaries achieved great success due to their new, systematic concept meant to be particularly useful for legal practitioners. First published in the early 1930s and written by Otto Loening, James Basch and Ernst Straßmann, the “Lieb’mannsche Kurzkommentar zum BGB” (Liebmann’s Short Commentary on the BGB, i.e. Germany’s civil code) proved to be a great success.

After the National Socialists took over power in 1933, Otto Liebmann became the target of ever growing anti-semitic repression. Due to rising pressure he felt coerced to sell his publishing company to Heinrich Beck (the father of today’s company owner). The purchase turned out to highly profitable for Beck, who through the acquisition of Liebmann’s Short Commentary could significantly bolster his hitherto struggling portfolio of legal commentaries. Although this cannot be solely attributed to the purchase of Liebmann’s publishing company the balance sheet totals doubled between 1933 and 1945 and net profit climbed by more than thirty five per cent! Written by Loening/Basch/Straßmann, the short commentary on the BGB, which was henceforth named “Beck’scher Kurzkommentar BGB” (Beck’s Short Commentary BGB), turned out to be especially profitable and gained a substantial market share.

After stabilizing its rule, the fascist regime increasingly tightened its anti-Semitic policies. As early as 1933 Jews were expelled from the judicial service and in the years 1935 and 1936 the so-called Nuremberg Laws came into force. On October 3rd and 4th, Carl Schmitt, Theodor Maunz and other university professors of the NS-Rechtswahrerbund (“Association of the Preservers of Law”) hosted a decidedly anti-Semitic, now infamous convention on “Judaism and Law” in Berlin. Since Otto Loening and James Basch were Jews and since the Nazis suspected Ernst Straßmann of being “half-Jewish”, the publishing house C.H. Beck no longer felt capable to continue the Short Commentary on the BGB with the existing trio of authors. Thus, new authors were recruited, most of whom judges of the Court of Appeal (Kammergericht) in Berlin. Gustav Wilke, undersecretary in the Reich Ministry of Justice, was appointed as new editor. Wilke led the complete overhaul of the commentary according to the National Socialist zeitgeist und was designated as the product’s eponym. However, shortly before the publication of the “Wilke”, in May 1938, Wilke died in a car accident. C.H. Beck now was faced with the challenge of finding a short-term replacement for its deceased editor – the choice was Otto Palandt.

II.        Who was Otto Palandt?

But who was Otto Palandt?

Wilhelm Louis Otto Palandt was born in 1877 in Stade (a small town near Hamburg) and grew up as a deaf-mute teacher’s son in Hildesheim (another small town in the north of Germany). After high school, he studied law in Munich, Leipzig and Göttingen. In May 1899, he passed the first state exam graded “good”. Finishing his legal clerkship, he passed the second state exam, again with “good”, thus becoming a fully qualified lawyer. Between the exams, Palandt earned himself a J.D. – in line with the procedures at that time without submitting a doctoral thesis.

After completing his legal studies, Palandt entered the judicial service and became district court judge in Poznan in 1906. In 1912, he was appointed a district judge in Kassel. After his military service in World War I, he worked as a judge at the Imperial High Court Warsaw and from 1916 at the Regional Appeal Court in Poznan. In 1919, his – for the time being – last promotion took place; he became a judge at the regional appeal court in Kassel. Now, Palandt’s career came to a halt. In particular he was not promoted to become president of a regional appeal court senate, what was what he wished for. Instead his professional focus shifted evermore towards training trainee lawyers.

One of these trainees established himself as an attorney in Kassel from 1924 on. Over the years he then advanced to become some sort of “star lawyer” of the NSDAP: This man is Roland Freisler, the very Roland Freisler who later on, as President of the so-called “People’s Court” (Volksgerichtshof), became responsible for the murder of the Scholl siblings and many other resistance fighters – amongst them the Stauffenberg group, the conspirers of the July 20th 1944.

However, before that, in 1933, Freisler first got a high position in the Prussian Ministry of Justice, and, shortly after, (following the “Reichification” of the judicial branch) he became undersecretary in the new Reich Ministry of Justice. Does Freisler remember the passionate instructor Palandt form Kassel? In any case, Palandt now has a late, but all the more successful career: On May 1st 1933 – his 56th birthday – Palandt becomes a member of the NSDAP, and in the same year he was appointed Vice President and then President of the Prussian examination board for legal students (Reichsjustizprüfungsamt). In 1934, he was promoted to President of the Reich’s examination board for legal students: Otto Palandt was now officially in charge for the education of lawyers in the whole Third Reich.

In this new position, it was Palandt’s responsibility to “aryanize” the education of lawyers according to the National Socialist ideology. He started this task with great enthusiasm and as early as October 1934, a new “Act on the education of lawyers” (Reichsjuristenausbildungsordnung – RJAO) came into force, substantially shaped by Otto Palandt. Palandt also became the author of the leading legal commentary on this legislation. The basic tenets of the new educational regime can be outlined as follows:

– Non-„Aryans“, women (with few exceptions) and political dissidents were excluded from the universities and the legal clerkship.

– The National Socialist ideology became – as a basic subject – part of legal studies. Programmatically, § 5 (2) RJAO stated:

“The student shall get a general idea of the whole nation’s intellectual life, as is expected by an educated German man. (…) Part of this is the sincere study of National Socialism and its ideological foundations, of the perception of the bond between blood and soil, between race and folklore, of the German community life and of the German people’s great men.”

With a similar thrust, the “Directive for the Studies of Law”, promulgated in 1935, specified:

“The German jurisprudence must become National Socialist. National Socialism is not a lip service, but a weltanschauung. (…) Whoever is National Socialist in his heart, does not talk much about it, but acts upon it.”

– To ensure the indoctrination of the junior lawyers, Palandt remodeled the so-called “Gemeinschaftsübungen” (study groups) which the trainee lawyers were expected to visit  in addition to the practical legal training and which were, according to Palandt, now “first and foremost” dedicated to “educate the legal clerk in the spirit of the National Socialist perception of the political system and (…) of the true ‘Volksgemeinschaft’ [= the racially unified society propagated by the regime]”.

– During the last two months prior to the Second State Exam, legal clerks had to complete a “Lagerdienst” (work camp service) in the community camp “Hanns Kerrl” near Jüterbog in Brandenburg. Sebastian Haffner impressively described the daily routine in this camp in his famous book “Defying Hitler: A Memoir”, in which he referred to the camp as “Third Reich in a nutshell”.

III.      The debate on whether renaming the “Palandt”

Due to Otto Palandt’s ignoble role in the Third Reich justice system, we strongly believe that the Edition House C. H. Back should rename the “Palandt” in order to stop paying homage to a man that does not deserve it. As an alternative, we suggest re-naming the “Palandt” into “Liebmann”. With Otto Liebmann this would commemorate the legacy of a meritorious German lawyer and publisher that fell into oblivion just because of the fact that his ancestors were of Jewish faith.

Right now, our demand is widely discussed in German public. As of February 15th 2019, the following articles in newspapers and journals dealt with Otto Liebmann, Otto Palandt und our initiative:

  • Janwillem van de Loo (member of our Initiative), Renaming the Palandt – A contribution to legal remembrance culture in Germany, in: JuristenZeitung (JZ) 72. Volume, Issue 17,01.09.2017, pages 827 ff. (online: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/mohr/jz/2017/00000072/00000017/art00004)
  • Janwillem van de Loo (member of our initiative), Better Liebmann – Why the „Palandt“ must be renamed, in: Karriere im Recht – Stud.Jur 02/2017
  • Stefan Martini and Kilian Wegner (members of our initiative), No remembrance for Otto Palandt!, in: Legal Tribune Online, 27.9.2017 (online: https://www.lto.de/recht/feuilleton/f/palandt-umbenennen-initiative-eher-baustelle-alsstolperstein)
  • Ronen Steinke, Why a legal standard commentary is named after a Nazi, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung (one of Germanys leading newspaper!), First Page!, 11.9.2017 (online: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/rechtswissenschaft-braunbuch-1.3660060)
  • Martin Rath, Renaming the “Palandt”, in: Legal Tribune Online, 17.9.2017 (online: https://www.lto.de/recht/feuilleton/f/online-petition-palandt-umbenennen-bgbkommentar-ns-geschichte/)
  • Jost Müller-Neuhof, Ministry of Justice wants to delete Nazi names from Legal Books, in: Tagesspiegel (leading newspaper in Berlin), 19.9.2017 (online: http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/buecher-unter-druck-justizministerium-moechte-nazinamen-aus-gesetzeskommentaren-streichen/20349038.html)
  • Dominik Koos, Do away with Nazi lawyers!, taz, 20.10.2017, page 18 (online: https://www.taz.de/Archiv-Suche/!5455115/)
  • Christoph Fuchs, A legal standard book still bears the name of a nazi, in: Bavarian Radio, 26.10.2017 (online: http://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/sendungen/zuendfunk/politikgesellschaft/streit-um-juristischen-kommentar-palandt-100.html – includes interviews of members of our initiative)
  • Ronen Steinke, Architect of Unrechtsstaat, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 13.11.2017, page 24 (online: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/bildung/der-palandt-baumeister-des-unrechtsstaats- 1.3744202)
  • Alexander Nabert, Standard since 1939: Lawyers protest that an important civil law commentary is named after a Nazi, in: Jüdische Allgemeine (Germanys biggest Jewish newspaper), 23.11.2017 (online: http://www.juedischeallgemeine.de/article/view/id/30204)
  • Hermann Lindhorst, “Palandt” adé, in: Journal of the Bar Association of Hamburg, Volume 12/2017, page 9 (online: https://www.hav.de/fileadmin/docs/havinfo/2017/HAV_Info_12_2017_web.pdf)
  • Author unknown, “Palandt” stays “Palandt”, in: Legal Tribune Online, 15.12.2017 (online: https://www.lto.de/recht/nachrichten/n/palandt-bleibt-palandt-hinweis-vita-im-werk/)
  • Jonas Höltig (member of our initiative), Who was Otto Liebmann?, in: Legal Tribune Online, 18.12.2017 (online https://www.lto.de/recht/hintergruende/h/palandt-bleibtpalandt-namensgeber-otto-liebmann-umbenennung/)
  • Prof. Dr. Andreas Fischer-Lescano, Beck to History, in: Verfassungsblog.de (Leading German Blog for Constitutional Law), 14.3.2018 (online: https://verfassungsblog.de/beckto-history/)
  • Helene Bubrowski and Alexander Haneke, Eichmann? Never heard of!, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (one of Germanys leading newspaper), 4.4.2018 (online: http://einspruch.faz.net/einspruch-magazin/2018-04- 04/eb4b06b18dde37837b97572ac41fb8f4/?GEPC=s3)
  • Alexandra Kemmerer, Protection of a Nazi trademark, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 11.4.2018
  • Michael Stolleis, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 18.4.2018
  • Kilian Wegner (member of our initiative), In memory of Otto Liebmann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 26.4.2018 (published as a letter to the editor)
  • Ronen Steinke, Doubtful Honor, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 21.10.2018 (online: https://www.sueddeutsche.de/bildung/bgb-kommentar-fragwuerdige-ehrung-1.4178202?)
  • Manuel Göken, Discussion about Palandt in the Committee for Legal Affairs?, Legal Tribune Online, 24.10.2018 (online: https://www.lto.de/recht/nachrichten/n/palandt-kommentar-diskussion-umbenennen-nationalsozialismus-rechtsausschuss-bundestag-spd/)
  • Hendrik Wieduwilt, Green Party Ministers of Justice put pressure on C. H. Beck edition house, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 30.10.2018 (online: http://einspruch.faz.net/recht-des-tages/2018-10-30/gruene-justizminister-setzen-beck-verlag-unter-druck/160599.html)
  • Thomas Schmoll, Standard commentary for Lawyers: Named after an ardent Nazi, DIE WELT, 24.12.2019 (online: https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article184728450/Palandt-SPD-und-Gruene-fuer-Umbenennung-des-BGB-Kommentars.html)

As of November 15th 2019 almost 2500 people signed our petition to rename the “Palandt”, in addition we are supported by several NGOs including the Lawyers Associations of Berlin and Hamburg, the Simon Wiesenthal Center – Israel Office, the German-Israeli Lawyer Association, the German Women Lawyers’ Association, the Working Group of Lawyers within the Social Democratic Party of Germany and several student associations.

In October 2018 the three acting Ministers of Justice of the Green Party in the States of Berlin, Hamburg and Thüringen announced their support for our initiative in a press conference. In December 2018 the Federal Minister of Justice, Katharina Barley, joined them.

The edition house C.H. until today refuses to rename the “Palandt”.

If you have any questions please contact us under kontakt@palandt-umbenennen.de