Justice Imperiled

The Anti-Nazi Lawyer Max Hirschberg in Weimar Germany
Douglas G. Morris
The story of one of post-World War I Germany's greatest defenders of justice in the face of Hitler's rise to power


Justice Imperiled is the story of the brilliant lawyer Max Hirschberg, one of Germany's most courageous defenders of justice in the face of Hitler's rise to power.

Hirschberg lived an extraordinary life at a defining moment in German and European history. By the time he fled Nazi Germany in 1934, he had argued a series of cases in Munich's courtrooms that shed light on the history of political justice in pre-Nazi Germany and, by extension, the miscarriage of justice in all Western democracies.

Hirschberg was a rare figure: he fought for cases that reflected the new democracy rather than the old monarchy, that valued equality rather than hierarchy, and that showed respect for workers as well as aristocrats.

Throughout the Weimar period Hirschberg squared off in court against Munich's conservatives, reactionaries, and Nazis—twice facing Hitler himself. As he litigated politically charged disputes, he also began fighting to reverse the criminal convictions of innocent defendants and to study what mistaken verdicts teach us about the criminal justice system as a whole.

In a unique blend of biography and courtroom drama, Justice Imperiled captures the excitement of Hirschberg's actual cases and presents legal battles that still rage, in different circumstances, to this day.

Douglas G. Morris is a trial attorney with the Federal Defender Division of the Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Praise / Awards

  • "A riveting and moving account of a compelling life devoted to legal fairness and justice."
    —Bernhard Schlink
  • "The Weimar Republic, Germany's first experiment in democracy, always exciting, often unhappy and only too short-lived, has had its share of scholarly and popular attention. But there has long been the need for a closer look at the judicial system—the courts where historic events took place, events with implications far larger than the trials themselves. Hence we are fortunate to have Douglas Morris's fascinating study of Max Hirschberg, a liberal defense lawyer who faced Nazis from the birth of the republic in 1919 to its premature death fourteen years later. Morris takes the reader through Hirschberg's political education, his particular place on the political scene as a Jew, and his consistent activism. More, he analyzes the major cases that came to Hirschberg through these years of almost unbroken crises, all of which were political in origin and in their resolution. He does so objectively and economically, with a lucidity that other writers on law and lawyers should envy, and with a wide focus that paints the essential background, clarifying why these cases mattered. In the process, the reader gets to know Hirschberg, intelligent, conscientious, and brave. He is a most attractive person, and Morris makes it a pleasure to meet him."
    —Peter Gay, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University
  • "Justice Imperiled is the tale of Germany's Clarence Darrow, its greatest courtroom lawyer, Max Hirschberg. Driven by his determination that right prevail, he proved that forgotten convicts were innocent; he confronted the most vicious Nazis; and he fought, relentlessly, to answer political arrogance with moral principles. This book reads like a legal thriller; it will leave you thinking about the nature of justice and inspired by the human spirit."
    —Sister Helen Prejean, activist and author of Dead Man Walking
  • "This rich and gripping study of one of Weimar Germany's most prominent trial lawyers is much more than a biography of a courageous and upright man. It is also a window on a world of politicized justice and grave miscarriages of justice that contributed to the rise of Nazism. Hirschberg became a moral beacon in this world, warning against the slow poisoning of an entire political system, until Hitler forced him to flee. Historians, lawyers, law students and others will find this book highly illuminating."
    —Volker Berghahn, Columbia University
  • "This is not a book that will tell you how to better try your case or argue your appeal. But, some day when you are tempted to be content with 'good enough,' it may inspire you to put an extra bit of effort into those activities. For it will forcefully remind you that in advocating zealously for your client—and in pressing the judicial system hard to ensure that it turns square corners—you are helping to keep your country a republic."
    —Eric M. Freedman, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • ". . . an objective historical account of the perversion of justice during a period of right-wing consolidation of power. . . . He brilliantly memorializes for history the life of an extraordinarily courageous lawyer, whom even Nazi lawyers protected from disbarment for a time."
    —Lawrence Mark Stern, New York Law Journal
  • "Occasionally one comes across a book about a relatively obscure topic that surprises the reader because the author connects multiple concepts, fills in enormous gaps, and provides wonderful insights. Douglas G. Morris has managed to write such a book with Justice Imperiled. . . . Reading about Max Hirschberg prompts one to reflect on democracy, history, and the inherent dangers of political justice."
    Wisconsin Lawyer
  • "Justice Imperiled makes a notable contribution to the scholarship on Weimar Germany. . . . Morris' deft understanding of Hirschberg's efforts to represent individuals facing specific charges is marvelous. Morris' experience as a federal public defender allows a skillful portrayal of the role of the courts and the legal profession in the political drama of the Weimar era. . . . Justice Imperiled will become a standard study of the law and the courts in the midst of a social revolution."
    Federal Lawyer

  • ".. . . the ultimate contribution of Morris's fine book . . . is not only its enrichment of the historian's understanding of German legal history in the tumultuous Weimar Republic but a cautionary tale about too-great a reliance on the rule of law in eras of heightened political conflict."
    American Historical Review

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Copyright © 2005, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Review Champion Magazine | 11/1/2005

Review Wisconsin Lawyer | 4/1/2006

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 464pp.
  • 1 drawing.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2005
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11476-4

Add to Cart
  • $49.95 U.S.