ger016
German and Jewish Intellectual Émigré Collections
Collection ID: ger016

Alfred C. Oppler Papers, 1908-1982

Collection description

Summary

Creator:
Oppler, Alfred C. (Alfred Christian), 1893-1982.
Abstract:
Diary, 1950; correspondence, 1942–1981; and manuscripts of books (including "Prussian Bureaucracy and National Socialism"), lectures, and reports, 1947–1959. As a civilian employee of the U.S. Army from 1946 to 1952, Oppler was the principal architect of legal and judicial reforms in occupied Japan.
Extent:
2.75 cubic ft.
Language:
English and English German
Preferred citation:
Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, Alfred C. Oppler Papers, 1908-1982. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York (hereafter referred to as [shortened name]).

Access and Use

Conditions Governing Access:

Access to this record group is unrestricted.

Terms Of Use:

The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.

Background

Scope and Content:

This collection consists of professional correspondence, legal and scholarly writings, and research materials that Alfred C. Oppler created or collected while living and working in the United States and Japan. It best documents his work as a Harvard University research assistant and instructor and his activities as a civilian legal expert attached to the Far Eastern Division of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (1946-1952), the Far Eastern Command (1952-1957), and the United States Forces Japan (1957-1959). Scholars interested in the occupation of Japan, the Japanese legal system, and the security agreements between the governments of Japan and the United States may find the collection to be of considerable value. Researchers may also be interested in Oppler's unpublished notes generated by a committee of scholars funded by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and charged with planning the postwar reconstruction of Germany.

The collection contains scant documentation of Oppler's career as a jurist in Weimar Germany. As were many other Germans defined as Jewish under the terms of the Nuremberg Law, he was compelled to leave behind most of his belongings when he left the country. Consequently, the only documents in the collection that shed light upon his life and work in Germany are the unpublished autobiographical essays he wrote after his arrival in the United States. Additional information about Oppler's life and work in Germany is contained in the introductory chapter of his memoir, Legal Reform in Occupied Japan: A Participant Looks Back (Princeton University Press, 1976); however, the collection contains only a few typescript passages that did not appear in the published version of the book.

Apart from a photocopy of a volume of poems written by Oppler's father and a small amount of correspondence with, newspaper clippings annotated by, and materials pertaining to the professional activities of Oppler's daughter Ellen, the collection also lacks information about Oppler's family life.

Oppler corresponded with a number of prominent people, among them Lieutenant General Paul Caraway (September 25, 1974, in the Legal Reform in Occupied Japan series), United States Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (October 23, 1974, in the Legal Reform in Occupied Japan series), political scientist Ernst Fraenkel (January 16, 1943-April 27, 1943, in the Harvard University Series) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lyman L. Lemnitzer (September 22, 1960, in the Miscellaneous Writings series). Thomas Blakemore, Kurt Steiner, and Justin Williams, all of whom worked with Oppler in Japan, were Oppler's most frequent correspondents. One highlight is a ca. 1950 collection of statistics on occupied Japan published by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers.

All newsprint materials in the collection, including several published by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, have been photocopied for preservation purposes. Users should be aware that Oppler segregated almost all correspondence generated while working with the SCAP and the FEC and while writing Legal Reform in Occupied Japan and entries for The Encyclopedia of Japan and kept it with other papers pertaining to these activities. This arrangement has been preserved.

Biographical / Historical:

Alfred Christian Oppler was born in Alsace-Lorraine (then part of Germany) on February 19, 1893. His father, a judge, and mother were Jewish converts to Christianity, and he was raised a Protestant. He attended a Gymnasium and then studied law at universities in Munich, Freiburg, Berlin, and Strasbourg. He served in the German Army from 1914-18, saw combat at Ypres and Verdun, and rose to the rank of lieutenant. While on leave in 1915, he passed the first of two examinations required for admission to the German bar.

After the First World War ended, Alsace-Lorraine became French territory. Oppler's family was among the many ethnic German households forced out of the area. The family moved to Berlin, where Oppler completed the second examination required for admission to the German bar and practiced law for a short period of time. In 1922, he became an assistant judge with the German Ministry of Justice. In 1923, he was transferred to the Ministry of Finance, where for the next four years he served as legal advisor to the officials charged with brokering a financial settlement between the German government and the dethroned Hohenzollern family. He married Charlotte Preuss, a teacher and Berlin University graduate student, in 1927; their only child, Ellen, became an art historian at Syracuse University.

Between 1927 and 1930, Oppler worked as a research assistant at the Prussian Supreme Administrative Court (Oberwaltungsgericht). He then served for a year as a superior counselor (Oberiegierungrat) of the regional government at Potsdam. In 1931, he was appointed associate justice of the Supreme Administrative Court (Oberverwaltungsgericht); thirty-eight years old at the time of his appointment, he was the youngest person ever to hold the position. A year later, he became vice president of the Supreme Disciplinary Court (Dienststafhof). After the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, his career suffered. In 1933, he was demoted to a provincial position in Cologne. Defined as a Jew under the provisions of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, he was cast out of the civil service. After Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938), he and his wife, who was defined as "Aryan", decided to emigrate to the United States. Oppler, whose birth in Alsace-Lorraine enabled him to come to the United States under the French immigration quota, was able to leave in March 1939 and settled with relatives in Brookline, Massachusetts. His wife and daughter followed several months later.

The Opplers settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Charlotte Preuss Oppler received an M.A. in education from Harvard in 1943. Alfred Oppler taught German at a Berlitz school and between 1940 and 1944 worked as a Harvard University research assistant and instructor. In 1944, he took a post with the Foreign Economic Administration in Washington, D.C.; the agency's functions were transferred to the War Department after V-J Day, and Oppler spent a few months working for the department.

In early 1945 Alfred and Charlotte Preuss Oppler became United States citizens. Later that year, Alfred Oppler was asked to join the Far Eastern Division of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP). Upon his arrival in early 1946, he was assigned to the Governmental Powers Branch of the Government Section and had a minor role in the drafting of Japan's new constitution. In early 1947, he was made head of the newly formed Courts and Law Division, which was transferred to the Legal Section on June 1, 1948. In this capacity, he cultivated ties to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Tanaka Kotaro and other prominent Japanese jurists and played a key part in reforming Japan's judicial system and civil law codes. An ardent civil libertarian, he also helped to establish the Japan Civil Liberties Union.

The SCAP was dissolved in April 1952, when the Allied Powers' peace treaty with Japan went into effect, but Oppler remained with the G-5 (later J-5) unit within the Far East Command (FEC). He served as chief of the Political and Legal Section within the Governmental Affairs Branch. The FEC was disbanded in 1957, but Oppler joined the newly-created United States Forces Japan (USFJ) and served as its International Relations Officer; according to his memoirs, he spent much of his time with the FEC and the USFJ drafting reports analyzing political developments in Japan, the Ryukyu Islands, and Korea.

Oppler retired to the United States in 1959 but remained actively interested in Japanese law, politics, and society. He attended numerous academic conferences dedicated to the study of Asian law, wrote several articles on the Japanese legal system, and in the 1970s wrote a memoir, Legal Reform in Occupied Japan: A Participant Looks Back. He spoke repeatedly about Japanese-United States relations, delivering his last public address a week before his death on April 24, 1982. He also remained committed to the defense of civil liberties and outspokenly supported numerous liberal political causes, among them passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, abolition of the death penalty, and legalized abortion. 1893: Alfred Christian Oppler is born to a middle-class family in Alsace-Lorraine, then part of Germany.

Chronology of Events : 1914 Oppler breaks off his legal studies and enlists in the German Army. He sees combat at Ypres, Verdun, and other places and rises to the rank of lieutenant.1915While on leave, Oppler passes the first of two examinations required for admission to the German bar.1918 Forced out of Alsace-Lorraine, Oppler's family settles in Berlin.1918-22 Oppler completes his legal studies, serves his three-year term as a judicial apprentice (Referendar).1922Oppler passes the second examination (Assessor) required for admission to the German bar. He practices law for a brief period of time and then accepts a position with the German Ministry of Justice.1924-27On behalf of the Ministry of Finance, Oppler works as legal advisor on the financial settlement between the German government and the dethroned Hohenzollern family.1927 Oppler marries teacher and graduate student Charlotte Preuss.1927-30Oppler works as a research assistant at the Prussian Supreme Administrative Court (Oberwaltungsgericht).1930-31Oppler serves as superior counselor of the regional government (Regierung) in Potsdam.1931 Oppler becomes an associate justice of the Supreme Administrative Court (Oberverwaltungsgericht).1932 Oppler becomes vice-president of the Supreme Disciplinary Court (Dienststafhof). He continues to serve as associate justice of the Supreme Administrative Court.1933Owing to his Jewish ancestry, Oppler is demoted to a provincial position in Cologne. (The National Socialist government purged the German civil service of most people it defined as Jewish, but until 1935 it made exceptions for Oppler and other combat veterans of the First World War.)1935In accordance with the Nuremberg Laws, Oppler is removed from the civil service.1939 Oppler emigrates to the United States in March 1939; his wife and daughter follow several months later.1940-44 Oppler works as a Harvard University research assistant and as instructor at its School for Overseas Administration.1944 Oppler takes a position with the U.S. Foreign Economic Administration in Washington, D.C.1945 Oppler becomes a United States citizen. In late summer, the Foreign Economic Administration is merged with the War Department, for which Oppler works for several months.1946 Oppler arrives in Tokyo in January and is assigned to the Government Section of the Far Eastern Division of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP).1947 Oppler becomes head of the newly established Courts and Legal Division.1950 Oppler leads a delegation of Japanese Supreme Court Justices on a tour of the United States.1952 The occupation of Japan ends in April and the SCAP is dissolved. Oppler joins the G-5 (later J-5) newly established Far Eastern Command (FEC) and becomes chief of the Political and Legal Section within the Governmental Affairs Branch.1957 The FEC is dissolved and Oppler becomes International Affairs Officer for the newly established United States Forces Japan.1959 Oppler retires and returns to the United States, settling in Hightstown, New Jersey.1972 Oppler begins work on his memoirs of his experiences in Japan.1976 Legal Reform in Occupied Japan: A Participant Looks Back is published.1982Oppler suffers a fatal heart attack one week after giving a speech on Japanese-United States relations.

Acquisition information:

The materials in this collection were donated to the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives by Ellen C. Oppler in 1982. Correspondence between Oppler and Walther Buchholz was added to the collection by Gregory Lubkin in 2006.

Processing information:

Processed in 1999 by Bonita L. Weddle, July 1, 1999; revised by Sandra Hunt Hawrylchak, October 2005.

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Restrictions:
Access to this record group is unrestricted.
Terms of Access:
The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.
Preferred citation:
Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, Alfred C. Oppler Papers, 1908-1982. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York (hereafter referred to as [shortened name]).