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Oral history interview with Thomas Buergenthal

Oral History | Digitized | RG Number: RG-50.549.01.0005

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    Oral history interview with Thomas Buergenthal


    Interview Summary
    Thomas Buergenthal, born in 1934 in L'ubochna, Czechoslovakia (present day Slovakia), discusses his family moving to Poland in 1939; living in the Kielce ghetto beginning in 1942 and surviving by offering to work; serving as an errand boy for a German officer who ran the Kielce work camp; listening to the officer’s radio for news about the war and reporting back to his parents; running ahead to warn fellow prisoners when the officer was coming through; learning to ride a bicycle that belonged to an SS officer; being deported to Auschwitz and then surviving a death march to Sachsenhausen with injuries from frostbite; the liberation of Sachsenhausen in 1945; exploring deserted houses in Oranienburg, Germany looking for food; being found by a group of Polish soldiers who adopted him as the “mascot” of the scout company of the 1st Polish Division; being given a small uniform, pistol, and pony; being cared for by the Polish soldiers who fed him and tried to stimulate his appetite with vodka; associations he still has with foods from that time; witnessing the Battle of Berlin and interacting with German prisoners of war; staying for a year in a Jewish orphanage run by the Bund; his relationship with the Norwegian author Odd Nansen, who interviewed him at the orphanage and wrote about him; his reunion with his mother in Göttingen, Germany in 1946 after his name appeared on a list of children waiting to go to Palestine; attending school in Göttingen and finding that, while he did not encounter antisemitism, teachers never mentioned the war; receiving care packages from the United States and from Odd Nansen; going to the United States on the USS General A. W. Greely to live with his uncle and aunt, the Silbergs, in Paterson, NJ; attending Bethany College, then law school, and eventually receiving his doctorate in international law; becoming a US citizen in 1957; dedicating himself to the defense of human rights as he represented the United States at UNESCO and served on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and the El Salvador Truth Commission; establishing courses on international human rights law in United States law schools; talking to his children about his wartime experiences; his philosophy on human rights and his opinions about how neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers should be treated; dealing with difficult memories, especially since the death of his mother; how he avoids books and movies about the Holocaust; his own Jewish identity and raising his children in the Jewish tradition; and writing about his experiences.
    Thomas Buergenthal
    Katie Davis
    interview:  1995 November 28

    Physical Details

    3 sound cassettes (60 min.).

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Use
    Restrictions on use. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a nonexclusive license to use this interview for educational purposes in any medium and to sublicense the interview to other institutions and individuals for use in any medium for educational projects. Mr. Buergenthal retains the copyright to the interview.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum conducted the oral history interview with Thomas Buergenthal on November 28, 1995.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this oral history interview has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-24 13:53:00
    This page:

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