Dr. Otto L. Walter
Otto and Frances Doonan Walter
Driven from his native Bavaria by Nazi hatred, Otto Walter became a powerful voice
for German-American reconciliation in the decades following World War II.
Disbarred by Hitler’s anti-Jewish decrees from practicing as an attorney in Germany,
he studied law again in the United States and became a renowned international
jurist. Confronted by ugliness, he became a patron of the arts. Persecuted, he
responded with charity.
Otto Walter was born in Bavaria in 1907. The son of an attorney, Otto was groomed
to follow in his father’s footsteps. He studied economics and civil and canon law at
the University of Munich and earned a doctorate of law from the University of
Erlangen in 1930, but when the Nazi government passed the Nuremberg laws which
forbade Jews from professional employment, Otto was arbitrarily disbarred and his
career plans dashed. He worked as a law clerk for a few years and then,
accompanied by his parents, emigrated to New York City in 1936.
Otto initially worked as a bookkeeper while he studied for the CPA exam. He started
an accounting firm, and some might have said that he had made the American
dream come true, but he believed that his interest in the law should not be ignored.
Finally, when he had saved enough money, he attended New York Law School,
where he made Law Review and was graduated with a J.D. in 1954.
Dr. Walter and his law partner, Henry Conston, founded their law firm the next year.
Backed by the enthusiastic support of his wife, Frances Doonan Walter, and fueled
by Otto’s contacts back in Germany, the practice grew. The law firm’s reputation
was enhanced by Otto’s unique blend of knowledge and experience in German and
American law, international taxation and accounting. Today, that law firm, once
known as Walter, Conston & Schurtman, is part of Alston & Bird LLP, with an
international client base and reputation. And when the Nuremberg laws were finally
repealed in the post-war period, Otto followed through with his original career plans
and joined the Munich law firm of Ott, Weiss, Walter, Fischer-Zenm, Rechtsanwaelte.
Not only was Dr. Walter one of just a handful of attorneys to be admitted to practice
law in both Germany and the United States, but with his death in 2003 the cycle of
hatred and reconciliation is closed: Otto Walter is believed to have been the last
surviving Jewish lawyer to have been disbarred by the Nazis.
Otto worked tirelessly to improve relations between his native and adopted
countries, especially in the area of international taxation. He served as an advisor to
the German Ministry of Finance during the negotiation of the 1954 United States-
German Income Tax Treaty and its 1965 amendment, as well as to the German
government with respect to the United States-German Estate, Inheritance and Gift
Tax Treaty of 1980. He was the co-author of a four-volume definitive work on the
German American Tax Treaty.
In recognition of his achievements, Germany awarded him the Grand Cross of the
Order of Merit in 1980. Among other honors, New York Law School awarded Otto
the honorary degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, and in 1999 Mayor Rudolph
Guiliani named him one of New York City’s “Ageless Achievers.”
Dr. Walter had been schooled in the classics and was a font of information about
the arts, music and literature. Humanist and intellectual, he and his wife were also
artists: Otto was an accomplished pianist who performed in chamber music
concerts, while Fran was a talented watercolorist.
He and his wife were also philanthropists, and together, they established the Otto
and Fran Walter Foundation. During their lifetimes, Otto and Fran took personal
interest in each of the Foundation’s grants; since their deaths, the Foundation
board has endeavored to carry on the traditions and philanthropy exemplified by