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Two Cheers for Boalt Hall

Q: After the attacks on Jews that has become known as Kristallnacht, the Faculty of Law at the University of Amsterdam circulated a petition urging other law faculties to condemn the Nazi atrocities. I know that the law professors at Uppsala University declined to sign the statement on the grounds that a public university should not take a political stand. Were American law schools contacted and what was their response? -- RN, Berkeley

A: American law schools were indeed contacted, but the most vocal and effective response came from college students, particularly Harvard undergraduates. Boalt Hall would eventually welcome many Jewish professors fleeing Nazi persecution, but in this particular instance we did not exactly cover ourselves in glory.

On the evening of November 9-10, 1938 Nazis and their sympathizers attacked Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues in Germany and Austria, an event that became known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, because of the number of windows that were shattered. The event is viewed by many as the beginning of the Holocaust.

On November 30th the Faculty of Law at Amsterdam University sent the following telegram in the form of a petition to their law colleagues throughout the world, urging a united protest against the illegal actions of the German government:

“The faculties of the universities mentioned below noting with sorrow and dismay that in some countries innumerable people are being persecuted and tormented on account of their faith, race or political convictions and that particularly in the so-called concentration camps innocent people are without legal procedure subjected to inhuman treatment, considering that the basic principles of justice are thus insufferably violated, voice their protest against this violation in view of their duty to uphold the principles of justice and the rights of man to appeal to the conscience of mankind to support them in this protest and decide to publish this resolution and to communicate it to their respective governments.”

At a faculty meeting at Stanford Law School on December 6 the professors there recorded in their minutes, “It was moved, seconded and carried that the Law Faculty subscribe to the following resolution proposed by the Faculty of Law of the University of Amsterdam.” The secretary then inserted in the minutes the entire text of the telegram they had just received.

Berkeley Law’s faculty met on December 1st and discussed the issue, among other items on that day’s agenda. In the minutes from the meeting is this cryptic notation: “A telegram was read from the Faculty of Law of the University of Amsterdam asking the Faculty of the School of Jurisprudence to endorse certain resolutions; it was voted to do so.” The reference is so vague that no one who did not attend the meeting would have any idea at all of what had been voted on. Perhaps that was the point.

So we can boast that – even though a public institution -- we were more valiantly principled than the law professors at Uppsala. But then again, in 1938 Nazi stormtroopers were not crouched on our particular doorstep.

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