Law student earns fellowship to study how professional ethics can help avert genocide

Sienna WhiteSienna White, a first-year law student at Case Western Reserve University, wants to better understand the failures that led to the Holocaust so she can work in her own career to prevent any repetition of such a horror.

White, 22, is one of 14 students from law schools nationally that the New York-based Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE) chose for a two-week program in New York, Germany and Poland. The group will study how ethical choices must be made so that genocide won’t happen.

“It should be fascinating,” said White, who learned of the opportunity through the law school’s career development office. “Lawyers have a unique responsibility, but it’s also a unique opportunity to step in and stop horrible things from happening.”

FASPE fellows study how professionals in law, journalism, medicine and the clergy experienced a moral and ethical breakdown with devastating consequences in Nazi Germany. By educating law students about the causes of the Holocaust and promoting their awareness of the world now, FASPE seeks to prepare them to make right choices.

The fellowship begins May 26 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York and continues through June 8. The fellows will travel to Oswiecim, Poland, the town the Germans called “Auschwitz,” where they will meet the education staff at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. The students will also visit Berlin and Nuremberg.

“Seeing where the Holocaust occurred, and where the Nuremberg trials happened, will just reinforce my conviction about being willing to have difficult conversations,” White said. “On a fundamental level, humans really have a lot in common, and this fact should be recognized and used to avert atrocities in the future.”

The fellowship ties in with White’s academic and personal interests. In her application essay, she wrote: “I have a deep concern for human rights and fundamental justice, which is balanced by a realist’s view of the international legal system and current political climate. I aspire to work in international law with a focus on global security and anti-corruption law.”

“We are very proud that Sienna was selected for this unique and extremely competitive program to study the genocide at Auschwitz—ground zero for the Holocaust,” said Michael Scharf, associate dean for global legal studies and John Deaver Drinko­–Baker and Hostetler Professor of Law.

The Case Western Reserve law school has a special tie to the pursuit of justice after the Holocaust. A former faculty member, the late Henry King, was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Tribunal, where the Nazi perpetrators were tried. The law school’s War Crimes Research Office has provided 284 research memos to the modern international criminal tribunals, 95 students have interned at the tribunals and six graduates have gone on to work as prosecutors and legal advisers at these tribunals.

“Sienna will be a great ambassador for our program,” Scharf said.

After the fellowship, White will spend the summer in Paris as an intern with the Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental organization that seeks to stop the money flow to terrorists and governments prone to use weapons of mass destruction. Professor Richard Gordon, director of the Institute for Global Security Law and Policy, guided White into this endeavor.

Between earning a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology at the University of Wyoming two years ago and enrolling in law school, White spent some time traveling. Among her stops was Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she learned first-hand about the sieges there from 1992-95. Thousands of people lost their lives. That Sarajevo lesson was eye-opening for a young woman from a small, peaceful town in Wyoming. She also visited New Zealand and Australia, and spent the much of her time in Indonesia teaching English.