Rename the Palandt! – An introduction
“Palandt umbenennen” (engl.: “Rename the Palandt”) is an initiative 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, by the publishing house C.H. Beck in 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 second state examination.
And to this day, this highly visible legal commentary
still bears the name of the high-ranking Nazi functionary Otto Palandt – an
honor he does not deserve.
In the following we will argue why we think the Palandt must be renamed.
I. The genesis of the Palandt
Let us begin with taking a closer look at the genesis of the Palandt: Since when does this book exist and how did it get its name?
To answer this question, we need to go back to Berlin in the 1920s. Back then, the publishing house of the eminently respectable jurist Otto Liebmann was located in the German capital. Liebmann was Jewish.
He made a name for himself as the editor of the renowned „Deutsche Juristen-Zeitung“ (“German Law Journal”) and of several legal commentaries that were first marketed as “Lieb’mannsche Taschenkommentare” (“Liebmann’s Pocket Commentaries”), 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’mannscher 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 evergrowing anti-semitic repression. Due to rising pressure, he felt coerced to sell his publishing company to Mr. Heinrich Beck (the father of today’s company owner).
The purchase turned out to be highly profitable for Mr. Beck, who, through the acquisition of “Liebmann’s Short Commentary”, could significantly bolster his previously 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 thirtyfive per cent. Written by Loening/Basch/Straßmann, the civil code commentary, which was henceforth named “Beck’scher Kurzkommentar BGB” (Beck’s Short Commentary to the German civil code), turned out to be especially profitable, gaining substantial market shares.
After stabilizing its rule, the fascist regime increasingly tightened its anti-semitic policies. As early as 1933, Jews were expelled from judicial service and in 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 the Laws of the National Socialists”) 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 felt the need to end the cooperation with short commentary’s previous trio of authors. Thus, new authors were recruited, most of whom were judges at the Court of Appeal (Kammergericht) in Berlin. Gustav Wilke, undersecretary in the Reich Ministry of Justice, was appointed new editor. Wilke led the complete overhaul of the commentary according to the National Socialist zeitgeist und was intended to be the product’s new eponym. However, shortly before the publication of the “Wilke”, in May 1938, Wilke died in a car accident. C.H. Beck now had to find a short-term replacement for its deceased editor – which was when they turned to Otto Palandt.
II. 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 went to law school in Munich, Leipzig and Göttingen. In May 1899, he passed the first state exam graded “good”. Finishing his legal clerkship, he passed the second bar exam, again “good”, thus becoming a fully qualified lawyer. Between the two bar 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, which was what he had wished for. Consequently, his professional focus shifted more and more towards training junior lawyers.
One of them became an attorney at law in Kassel and, over the years, evolved to be some sort of “star lawyer” for the NSDAP: Roland Freisler. The very one, who, later on, as President of the so-called “People’s Court” (Volksgerichtshof), was responsible for the murder of many resistance fighters, among them the Scholl siblings and the Stauffenberg group, the conspirators of the “20 July plot” in 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?] Den Abschnitt würde ich evtl komplett rauslassen oder nur etwas schreiben wie: One can only speculate, in how far his educational training provided to him by Otto Palandt influenced the person he later became.
In any case, Palandt then had a late, but all the more successful career himself: On May 1st 1933, his 56th birthday, Palandt became a member of the NSDAP and, in the same year, 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 of the educational system of all law students and clerks in the Third Reich.
In this new position, it was Palandt’s responsibility to “aryanize” the education of lawyers according to the National Socialist ideology. He must have started this task with great enthusiasm as, as early as October 1934, a new “act on the education of lawyers” (Reichsjuristenausbildungsordnung – RJAO) came into force, substantially shaped by Otto Palandt. He 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 universities and 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 trainee lawyers, Palandt remodeled the so-called “Gemeinschaftsübungen” (study groups) which the trainee lawyers were expected to take part in 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 current debate about renaming the Palandt commentary in Germany
Due to Otto Palandt’s undignified role in the Third Reichs justice system, we strongly believe that the publishing house of C. H. Beck should rename the Palandt in order to stop paying homage to a man, who is unworthy of it.
As an alternative, we suggest renaming the Palandt into “Liebmann”. This would commemorate the legacy of a meritorious German lawyer and publisher, who fell into oblivion because of his family’s Jewish faith.
Right now, our demand is being widely discussed throughout Germany’s public
debate. 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:
- 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:
- Martin Rath, Renaming the “Palandt”, in: Legal Tribune Online, 17.9.2017 (online:
- Jost Müller-Neuhof, Ministry of Justice wants to delete Nazi names from Legal Books, in:
Tagesspiegel (leading newspaper in Berlin), 19.9.2017 (online:
- Dominik Koos, Do away with Nazi lawyers!, taz, 20.10.2017, page 18 (online:
- Christoph Fuchs, A legal standard book still bears the name of a nazi, in: Bavarian Radio,
– includes interviews of members of our initiative)
- Ronen Steinke, Architect of
Unrechtsstaat, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 13.11.2017, page 24 (online:
- 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:
- 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:
- Jonas Höltig (member of our initiative), Who was Otto Liebmann?, in: Legal Tribune
Online, 18.12.2017 (online
- Prof. Dr. Andreas Fischer-Lescano, Beck to History, in: Verfassungsblog.de (Leading
German Blog for Constitutional Law), 14.3.2018 (online:
- Helene Bubrowski and
Alexander Haneke, Eichmann? Never
heard of!, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (one of Germanys leading
newspaper), 4.4.2018 (online:
- 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:
- 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 July 2021 more then 4000 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 publishing house C.H. Beck – until today – refuses to rename the Palandt.
If you have any questions, please contact us at email@example.com