Every time Mark Grossmann travels to the Shanghai office of his law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, he visits what was once the Jewish quarter where his paternal great grandparents sought refuge, fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II.
In his acceptance speech for the Torch of Liberty Award presented by the Midwest region of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on Thursday evening in Chicago, Grossmann honored the lives of Heymann and Else Grossmann, who escaped the certainty of torture if not death in Europe as Shanghai refugees more than 70 years ago. An anti-hate organization, which combats anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination and bigotry, the ADL annually recognizes individuals who demonstrate exceptional commitment to diversity, equality and justice, and whose everyday actions exemplify the principles on which the ADL was founded.
"The ADL reminds us that we must support all people no matter what their background or beliefs are," said Grossmann, global head of Katten's corporate practice. "Without organizations like ADL, we have no chance to prevent hate and defamation from overtaking our society."
Lonnie Nasatir, ADL Midwest regional director, said Grossmann was an obvious choice for this year's award.
"Mark joins a long list of honorees who embody what we stand for," Nasatir said "To be a good citizen, to lead by example, to uphold the values of equality and respect, these are the qualities we look for in an honoree. This is what made Mark such an easy choice for this award."
Grossmann, a married father of two teenagers, said he is guided by the league's ideals in his professional career and personal life. He is actively involved in philanthropic efforts in the local community including supporting Camp Kesem, which operates free summer camps for children who have been impacted by a parent's cancer, and Gardeneers, a nonprofit organization that cultivates school gardens to give students in food desert communities access to healthy food, hands-on food education programming and gardening skills. As a practice leader and a member of the firm's board of directors, he has shown a strong commitment to diversity in recruiting, promoting and retaining talented attorneys and to justice through pro bono matters he has handled as a lawyer.
"I'm humbled and deeply honored to be recognized this way," Grossmann said. "I will continue to support the ADL and other organizations like it, and I will try to live my day-by-day life to accept all and to treat everyone the way that I want to be treated regardless of who they are and where they came from."
As partner at the Chicago-based Katten, Grossmann's downtown office, adorned with family photos, framed state bar certificates and mementos, is down the hall from former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley whom Grossmann considers a mentor. Grossmann said the former mayor has opened new doors, helped him meet new people and solidify relationships. Daley, who retired from public office in 2011 after 22 years in office as Chicago's longest-serving mayor, is of counsel at the firm.
"When Rich joined our law firm, my mother said to me, 'Mark, you are going to develop a close friendship with Rich.' I did not believe that could be true, but she was 100 percent correct," Grossmann said.
Call it a mother's intuition. Or perhaps it was meant to be. Grossmann's maternal grandfather Jack DuBow attended DePaul University law school with Daley's father, former Mayor Richard J. Daley.
In November, Grossmann and Daley will embark on a work trip together to Shanghai where a monument and memorial sit at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum dedicated to the Jews who found a safe haven there during the Holocaust.
Amid the more than 13,500 names etched on the 111-foot-long copper wall are two special ones to Grossmann, serving as a permanent reminder of his family's story of survival despite intolerance they faced in the world.