Interest in Willy Lessing continues

Prof. Reinhard Böttcher, the recently retired head of the Oberlandesgericht Bamberg (one of three superior courts in Bavaria) is one of the most remarkable human beings of any nationality I have ever met. He is a profound thinker and the suffering of the Jews before and during the Holocaust make him grieve almost as if he had been one of us.

I remember that when we inaugurated the new Synagogue Memorial on 9 November 1995, he was one of the speakers. He said to me afterwards “ I have a strange feeling that on the site where a synagogue would have stood, should have stood, there is now a new Court building”.

He recalled my reply “You know, if we have to accept that the synagogue no longer stands there, a Court of Law is the next best.”

He had found this “a beautiful sentence”, he said “but also one which was hugely committing, committing for me and for the whole of the Bamberg Justice system”.

In his retirement, he had the idea of using the history and suffering of Willy Lessing, a Bamberg Jewish industrialist and benefactor of the town, who was almost beaten to death on the night of 9/10 November 1938 and died a few weeks after, for his reflections on Justice in general, on Justice during the Nazi period and immediately after the War. More than that, he suggested to the director of the Bamberg Theatre (which was being rebuilt at the time), to create a few dramatic scenes on the proposition that “Right is what the Law says”. Was that really so on the night of 9 November 1938?

The scenes were performed at the Court on Sunday 9 March 2003. At the the same time, Prof. Böttcher gave an address of rare in- sight and distinction at the City Gallery Villa Dessauer with the title “A Marker for the Just State”, subheaded “late Justice for the perpetrators of the Pogroms of 9/10 November 1938 in Bamberg”. It critically examined the trials in 1946 and 1947 of Lessing’s murderers and their motives, formed by the ready absorption of perverted ideas about Jewish Germans.

Although the Laws against riots, arson, bodily harm and insults to individuals were still on the statute book at the time, the Public Prosecutor took no steps to put those responsible on trial. Rechtsbarbarei (the barbarity of a Justice system based on the political right, ie. the Nazis) had advanced ever since 1933, but had now arrived in its undisguised and fullest form. Justice was no longer in accord with the Law, which would itself be changed almost immediately to become Nazi Law.

Böttcher castigated the readiness with which German Justice bent towards the Rechtsbarbarei, he discussed the problems of establishing a system cleansed of this Barbarity. The difficulties were numerous, so was the pursuit of Justice. In their hunt for Nazis, the Occupation authorities bypassed, or at best shared the administration of Justice at the beginning, some people arraigned by the courts and witnesses were detained by the occupation authorities, and so on.

Finally Böttcher examined the trials 1946 and 1949 of the those involved in the pogrom of 9 November 1938 and particularly the murderers of Willy Lessing and attacked others. He examined the carefully assembled evidence, the rights of the accused, and evaluated the sentences by the standards of later years, when the Rechtsbewußtsein (the sense of justice) was again fully established. He finds that, on the whole, justice was done.

To show the kind of man Böttcher is, I might mention that he took part in one of Chriss Fiebig’s school tours of the cemetery. In fact he boarded the school bus himself!



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