“I went to law school to change the world, discovered that I really liked business—and that the world did not want to be changed the way I wanted it to change,” says Harriet Tamen ’69.
She settled into the world of finance and international business but finally got her shot at changing the world when a colleague asked for help in suing French banks on behalf of those whose accounts had been frozen during the war. “It started as an interesting intellectual issue,” Tamen says, “but the refusal of banks and others to accept responsibility—or even admit their actions—turned it into something more moral and more important.”
Today, the lead counsel in an ongoing lawsuit against the French Railroad, SNCF, for the deportation of French Jews and other “undesirables” to Auschwitz and Buchenwald, Tamen has spent most of the past 20 years representing, pro bono, Holocaust victims and their families seeking justice. “It is incredibly satisfying (even when we don’t win), and I have met some of the most wonderful people in the world,” she says.
A political science major at Bryn Mawr, Tamen earned her J.D. at George Washington University. Currently in private practice, she served previously as corporate counsel at Crédit Lyonnais and vice president and counsel in the Latin American Finance Division of Citibank.
Tamen credits Bryn Mawr with teaching her how to write clearly and think critically—skills critical to her professional success. Plus, she says, “Having a really good, rounded education is crucial. ... One of the reasons that I ended up doing war crimes work is because I studied French literature at Bryn Mawr. Spending my junior year abroad was crucial because it gave me language fluency and gave me the opportunity to live in another culture and learn from that.”