Expert opinion on jurists Otto Palandt and Heinrich Schönfelder


Who does not know them: the “Palandt” and the “Schönfelder”? For decades, Otto Palandt (1877–1951) and Heinrich Schönfelder (1902–1944) were the namesakes of the most important legal commentary on the German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch) and one of the most important collections of laws in the Federal Republic of Germany. Their names are still well known throughout Germany today – from law students to judges.

Even though the names “Palandt” and “Schönfelder” date back to the time of the “Third Reich”, there have been no in-depth scholarly works on either jurist to date that take a look at their legal thinking and work as well as their actions during National Socialism. Palandt´s example alone shows how necessary a well-founded academic examination of both biographies is. He made a clear career leap at the end of his professional career after Adolf Hitler took office as Chancellor in 1933: from judge at the Kassel Higher Regional Court to President of the Prussian State Examination Office for Law (Preußisches Juristisches Landesprüfungsamt) and in 1934, finally, to President of the newly created Reich Examination Office for Justice (Reichsjustizprüfungsamt). Thus Palandt – himself a member of the National Socialist German Workers´ Party – took over the Reich-wide leadership of the training of German lawyers.

The Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) will prepare an expert opinion on behalf of the Bavarian State Ministry of Justice in the coming months, in which it will make a differentiated assessment of the biographies of Otto Palandt and Heinrich Schönfelder. The aim is to conduct research into their significance as well as their work and actions under National Socialism, as well as to describe their legal thinking before and after 1933. How did they view the relationship between the realm of law and the worldview of the Nazi regime? From their point of view, what change in function did law undergo for the state and society after the end of the Weimar Republic in the “Third Reich”? What factors shaped the legal thinking of Palandt and Schönfelder before 1933 – and how did their legal (self-)understanding manifest itself after 1933?

© Institut für Zeitgeschichte