A Conversation with Thomas Buergenthal


Thomas Buergenthal, Holocaust survivor and former judge of the International Court of Justice, is one of the world's most distinguished jurists.

In this conversation with ICTJ President David Tolbert, Judge Buergenthal reflects upon the harrowing story of his own survival, including the incredible process of being found by his mother after they were separated by war, and explains the meaning behind the title of his memoir, A Lucky Child, which chronicles the astonishing story of his life.

In conversation, Tolbert and Buergenthal reflect together on the changing landscape of transitional justice around the world, including in El Salvador, where Buergenthal served as a member of the country's truth commission. He shares lessons he has learned in his distinguished tenure as a judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

When asked about the current challenges facing international justice institutions such as the International Criminal Court, Buergenthal acknowledges the difficulties, but declares he remains optimistic. "Transition requires a long view," he says. "It takes time."

Buergenthal was born on May 11, 1934, to German-Jewish/Polish-Jewish parents in Lubochna, Czechoslovakia. After growing up in two ghettos and surviving a labor camp, he was taken to Auschwitz, where he was one of only three children to survive the three-day death march. He was deported to Sachsenhausen, where he was liberated by Soviet troops in April 1945. In 1951, he arrived in the United States with his mother. A former member of the Human Rights Council, Buergenthal is currently the Lobingier Professor of Comparative Law and Jurisprudence at The George Washington University Law School.

Photo: Judge Buergenthal at ICTJ's headquarters, June 19, 2013, New York. ICTJ