Today is Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time to commemorate the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Imagine having your family and childhood destroyed by the Nazis, only to be tormented by the crushing burden of poverty in old age. This is unfortunately the reality for a great number of survivors worldwide who live below the poverty line.
There are a range of opportunities for pro bono lawyers to help survivors with their legal needs. One inspiring example that has been in the news recently involves a team of pro bono lawyers from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld*†. Over the past decade, they have represented Holocaust survivors who were transported to Nazi camps by the French national railway. Their efforts gained an added sense of urgency when a corporate affiliate of the French railway company was invited to bid on a $6 billion project to build a light-rail line in Maryland. The railway, which was operated by the French government during the Nazi occupation and transported 76,000 deportees to death camps, had long refused to take responsibility for its role in the Holocaust. The French government recently agreed to pay $60 million in reparations. Those funds will be distributed by the State Department to several thousand American survivors of the rail system and their heirs.
Another way to get involved is through programs such as Bet Tzedek’s Holocaust Survivors Justice Network, which operates in more than 30 cities across the country and partners pro bono attorneys with Jewish social service providers to give free legal assistance to eligible survivors.
At this time of reflection and remembrance, let’s honor the memory of those who perished by providing pro bono legal services to those who survived so they may live their remaining years with dignity.
*denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
†denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project