Discrimination — be it racial, sexual, economic or of any other sort — did not sit well with Atlanta attorney Charles Wittenstein.
Wittenstein spent more than 20 years working for the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith southern regional office in Atlanta. His contributions to the organization will never be forgotten, said Bill Nigut, the ADL’s southeast regional director.
“There are a number of civil rights issues that he worked on that we point to with a lot of pride and that the entire national organization looks at as being significant achievements,” Nigut said. “One of them is that Charles was one of the ADL staffers who worked to obtain a posthumous pardon for Leo Frank.”
Frank was accused and convicted of raping and murdering 13- year-old Mary Phagan and was sentenced to death in 1913. Gov. John Slaton commuted the sentence to life imprisonment because he had doubts about Frank’s guilt. But on Aug. 16, 1915, an angry mob of Marietta residents took Frank by force from a Milledgeville prison and lynched him.
“Charles played a significant role in encouraging the State of Georgia to acknowledge, essentially, that Leo Frank had been convicted during an unfair trial,” Nigut said. “The fact that Charles was the key to getting the pardon is something that means a great deal to the Anti-Defamation League.”
Charles F. Wittenstein died Monday at his Dunwoody home from complications of cancer. He was 85.
A funeral is planned for 11:30 a.m., Wednesday at The Temple, Atlanta. H. M. Patterson & Son, Spring Hill, is in charge of arrangements.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Wittenstein earned his undergraduate degree from Columbia University and graduate degree from Columbia Law School. In 1952, he married the former Elinor Heyman and moved to Atlanta to work for his father-in-law, who was a partner at a law firm. He stayed in private practice for a couple of years before he went to work for the American Jewish Committee and later the ADL, from which he retired in 1994.
Wittenstein also served on the Atlanta Charter Commission in the ’70s that changed the face of Atlanta’s government, his children said.
“He left us with a philosophy that it is every person’s responsibility to stand up when they see injustice,” said his daughter Ruth Musicante, of Silver Spring, Md. “And that to do nothing in the face of injustice is unacceptable.”
Robert Wittenstein of Dunwoody said a paraphrased version of Deuteronomy 16:20 that hung on a wall in his father’s office best sums up his life’s work.
“It said ‘Justice, justice shall thou pursue,’ and that is what he did.”
David Wittenstein said, though his father spent the better part of his years fighting injustice, he was a jovial man.
“He was a warm person who laughed all of the time,” said his son, who lives in Bethesda, Md. “He loved the Braves, loved bourbon, loved American history and loved to tell stories. He had a lot of good times.”
In addition to his wife and three children, Wittenstein is survived by six grandchildren.