|Message From The President
Leslie J. Castaldi
My last two President’s Messages being somewhat philosophical and serious, I had decided that I would write this time about more uplifting and, perhaps, banal topics such as books, music, and film.
Then I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
I had been to the Holocaust Museum before, but each time I visit, I experience the same gut-wrenching astonishment at the lowest, most sinister level of human behavior. The graphic images of people being interred, trapped, tortured, and killed are unforgettable. One’s mind spins at the arbitrary selection of one human population as superior and others as disposable, the violence, the hatred, the injustice of it all.
The stories of countries all over the world, including the United States of America, spurning refugees are heart-breaking and embarrassing. Indeed, at the Evian Conference in 1938, thirty-two countries (including the U.S., England, France, Canada, Chile, Australia, Belgium, Mexico, Brazil, among others), over 60 organizations, and 200 journalists met to discuss the plight of the refugees from Germany and Austria. Only one — the Dominican Republic—agreed to accept refugees. The Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, 125,000 refugees applied for visas to the United States in 1938 and, by 1939, that number had risen to 300,000. Most were denied. In 1939, the “St. Louis” sailed across the ocean with 900 refugees, who were rejected by Cuba and then the United States. They returned to Europe, where at least 254 of those refugees died in the Holocaust.
The world knew about the “Kristallnacht Pogrom” in 1938, which wiped out Jewish businesses and schools. The world knew that hundreds of thousands of people were being herded to concentration camps and death camps. Yet, we stood by and watched as millions were murdered.
What struck me as I looked at photographs and watched videos of hordes of people being herded like cattle from train cars, were the suitcases and pillowcases filled with personal possessions – clothes, photographs, family heirlooms, and books. In those suitcases and bundles were packed, along with those very personal items, the innocence of the victims. Those unknowing souls could not possibly have contemplated their terrible fate. For how can any of us believe that other human beings could be so cruel?
Fortunately for us, we are not faced with such tyranny in our daily lives. But we do live among people who are the victims of abuse, exploitation, and neglect. As attorneys, we have a unique ability to help other people. Our education, training, and experience provide us with the tools to make a difference, to not stand by and watch injustice. Most of us, in some way, represent these people. We may take a pro bono case through Brevard County Legal Aid. We may volunteer at an advice clinic. We may offer our legal services and advice to a non-profit organization. We may, just out of the kindness of our hearts, take a pro bono case informally.
The lesson that I take away from the Holocaust Museum is that we should not ignore the suffering of others and that, as lawyers, we owe a duty to our society to take action. While I do not possess the courage of the Dutch family who hid Anne Frank in their Amsterdam home or of Oskar Schindler, people who risked their lives to protect the persecuted, I am determined not to sit idly by and ignore the defenseless. Rather, I will take that pro bono case; I will agree to represent people who are economically less fortunate than I. I will continue to volunteer in my community. I will speak out when I see injustice and mistreatment. I hope you will, too.
In my travels in life, when I open my suitcase, I hope just a little innocence is tucked away in the corner.