Rina Gross with her father’s swastika-embossed degree.
Rina Gross with her father’s swastika-embossed degree. Photo by Alon Ron
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A new exhibition on Jewish attorneys practicing in Nazi Germany led to a startling discovery - of a lawyer from Palestine who was awarded his degree in Leipzig just three days after Kristallnacht, in 1938.

The story of Saul Lande has been included in an exhibition in Leipzig called "Lawyers without Rights."

On November 12, 1938, Lande was awarded his doctoral degree in law. The Nazis had already been in power for five years by that time, but the University of Leipzig did not attempt to deprive Lande of his degree, as happened to dozens of other Jews. Just the opposite. In an act that is almost impossible to understand in retrospect, the university even invited Lande to come from Palestine for the graduation ceremony in Germany.

The invitation to the ceremony made its way from Nazi Germany all the way to Ahad Ha'am Street in Tel Aviv. "Lande, in a show of chutzpah, bravery or stupidity, came by boat to Europe and then took a train directly to Leipzig," said Joel Levi, a lawyer who is in charge of relations between Israel and Germany for the Israel Bar Association.

Stories told by Lande's family say he reached Leipzig and met a friend from his studies at the university, who reprimanded him for risking his life just to receive his degree. To protect him, his friend quickly arranged for his German wife to accompany Lande around, hoping the Jew from Israel would not arouse any suspicions in the heart of Nazi Germany. "He arrived at the ceremony, received his diploma, left the city and returned to Israel safely," said Levi.

For decades, Lande's doctoral diploma lay in the attic in the Tel Aviv home of Lande's daughter, Rina Gross, who is also a lawyer and married to retired Judge Yehoshua Gross. "We had a box with family documents, but we never bothered to open it," said Rina Gross as she leafed through the box. Nine months ago, after receiving a request from Germany, she looked around in the attic and found the box after years.

"We were shocked. My father never talked about it," said Gross. She was particularly shocked by the swastika adorning her father's diploma. Among the other documents she found in the family archive were his doctoral dissertation, in German; correspondence between her father and his adviser in preparation for receiving his degree; and price quotes from printers in Germany with whom he negotiated for the printing of his dissertation. One of the letters, which was also sent from Nazi Germany to Tel Aviv, ended with the salutation "Heil Hitler."

Hubert Lang, a German attorney from Leipzig is the one who reawakened the story. Lang wanted to include Lande's story in the "Lawyers without Rights" exhibition. The exhibition has been traveling the world for the past few years and recently reached Leipzig. Levi initiated the exhibition, which presents the stories of Jewish lawyers in Germany during the Nazi years.

Thanks to Levi's work, the University of Leipzig even restored the law degrees of 72 Jews who had them revoked under the Nazi regime.

As to how a Jew from Palestine could have received his degree in Nazi Germany, there is still no clear answer. Levi thinks there was simply a classic bureaucratic mistake. "The right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing," he said.

Lande, who was born in Warsaw in 1907, was born to a well-off family in the textile business. At the beginning of World War I his family moved to Moscow and in 1920 to Germany. Lande studied in Berlin and Leipzig and in 1933 finished his legal studies. By a relatively young age he had already served as a legal adviser to a large company, managed a law business, and served as a director of a bank.

His family says he knew seven languages fluently, including Latin and Greek, and he loved to travel. In 1935 Lande moved to Israel, passed the tests for foreign lawyers in 1940 and was accepted to the bar. He practiced civil and commercial law for years and was involved in compensation paid by Germany to Holocaust survivors. Lande died in 1971, aged 63.

Last month Rina and Yehoshua Gross flew to Germany with their children for a ceremony to open the exhibition in Leipzig.