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A Lucky Child: The Journey of Thomas Buergenthal

Date of Exhibition Opening: Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Place: The Dr. Yehuda Nir and Dr. Bonnie Maslin Special Collection Exhibit Hall at the Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library, 7th Floor

The students of Professor Walter Reich’s course at GW on “Holocaust Memory” invite you to the an exhibition they have created at The George Washington University about the life and achievements of one of the great human beings in Washington and, indeed, the world.

The exhibition—by undergraduates at The George Washington University-- is about Thomas Buergenthal, the Lobingier Professor of Comparative Law and Jurisprudence at GW. The undergraduates focus on Professor Buergenthal because, in his life, he tells an important story of the Holocaust.

Professsor Buergenthal was not yet six years old when he was forced into a Jewish ghetto in Poland, and four years later was sent to Auschwitz. As the Soviets advanced westward, he was put on a death march into Germany. Again and again he survived impossible odds, was liberated, and was found by his mother.

Moving to America, Professor Buergenthal blazed an illustrious career as one of the world’s most distinguished authorities in international and human rights law. In addition to his position at GW, he has served as a judge on the International Court of Justice at The Hague and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and on the United Nations Truth Commission for El Salvador. He was also the first permanent chairman of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council and the first U.S. member of the U.N. Human Rights Committee.

As a former dean of the G.W. Law School said of him, “Tom is a world historical figure, someone who, by his life experience and enormous accomplishments, has changed the world…From his eloquent testimony regarding the horrors of the Holocaust to his work essentially inventing the modern field of international human rights law, to his championing the cause of international justice as a judge and scholar—he is the rare thing: a true hero. We are honored to have him on our faculty at the Law School.”

The exhibition is based on Professor Buergenthal’s powerful memoir, A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy. Cynthia Ozick described the memoir as “A work of visionary compassion….In the plainest words and the steadiest tones, Thomas Buergenthal delivers to us the child he once was.”

In creating this exhibition, the students in the “Holocaust Memory” course learned—and now offer to teach us—about the Holocaust, and about how this “lucky child” managed to emerge from its horrors utterly committed to protecting humanity and defending civilization.

Professor Reich is indebted to Laura Epstein, a student in GW’s Museum Studies Program, for her help with the exhibition, as well as Kym Rice, that program’s director.

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