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Human rights discourse has been criticized for being legalistic, decontextualized, and failing to focus on factors explaining violations. Victor Klemperer’s diaries chronicled the life and suffering of a German Jew in Nazi Germany and the manipulation of language by a totalitarian regime. Ernst Fraenkel’s Dual State and Franz Neumann’s Behemoth set out theories offering profound insights into the legal and political nature of the Nazi system. Revisiting their work from a human rights perspective is richly rewarding, providing examples of engaged scholarship that combined documentation and critical analysis. Their writings hold important lessons for contemporary human rights engagement and its critics.