- Associated Press - Thursday, June 12, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Dozens of Kansas judges attending an annual educational conference Thursday pondered how their German counterparts before and during World War II abetted Nazi persecutions and the Holocaust.

The conference featured a two-hour presentation by William Meinecke Jr., a historian with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and Marcus Appelbaum, the museum’s director of law, justice and society initiatives.

The presentation came amid other workshops on topics such as legal ethics and managing job-related stress. Meinecke and Appelbaum said the history they’re presenting contains reminders that the judiciary must value and protect individuals’ rights and consider how even small decisions could have long-term ramifications.

They told reporters beforehand that they were struck by how pre-war Germany had a tradition of an independent judiciary and how many judges who were serving before Adolf Hitler assumed power in 1933 remained on the bench during his regime.

They said German judges often made seemingly small decisions bowing to concerns about security or helping the entire community that pushed their nation toward becoming a police state. They added that judges often seemed to act out of a desire to keep their positions or preserve a role for the judiciary in public life, rather than out of fear of death or imprisonment.

“If you’re part of the establishment, you don’t feel like you’re being threatened,” Meinecke said. “Granted, the Nazis often mobilized public opinion against the courts, but that’s not exclusive to the Nazis. Lots of governments do that.”

As an example of how judges aided Nazi persecutions, Meinecke pointed to how they interpreted the Nuremberg Laws, which in 1935 prohibited sexual relationships between citizens defined as Aryans and others to eventually bar even casual interactions with Jews that were more public and could be documented more easily and prosecuted.

Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said he heard about the Holocaust museum’s presentation - done for judges and law enforcement officers in other states as well - during a recent chief justices’ conference and said he believes it teaches judges “not to cut any corners.”

“I think it’s also helpful for citizens in general,” he said. “Make sure that you’re becoming informed on things, to speak out if you think there’s something that is not going correctly, certainly to vote.”

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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