Oral History

Thomas Buergenthal reflects on the importance of memorials

Judge Thomas Buergenthal was one of the youngest survivors of the Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 17. Judge Buergenthal has devoted his life to international and human rights law. A former chairman of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience, he is currently the Lobingier Professor of Comparative Law and Jurisprudence at the George Washington University Law School and served for a decade as the American judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. He served as a judge and president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and of the Administrative Tribunal of the Inter-American Development Bank, and was the first US national to be elected to the UN Human Rights Committee, a member of the UN Truth Commission for El Salvador, and vice chairman of the Claims Resolution Tribunal for Dormant Accounts in Switzerland. With a unique perspective shaped by his experiences as a Holocaust survivor and international jurist, Judge Buergenthal has taught at several leading law schools and written more than a dozen books and numerous articles on international law and human rights.


When the Holocaust Council was first established and they began talking about building a memorial in Washington, I was very much opposed to it. I thought it should be built in Germany, there was no reason to build it in Washington, D.C. But when I saw the thousands and thousands of young people, schoolchildren, come to the Museum in the mornings when I would go to a meeting of the Council, I thought, "This is worth it." It's important, and we should have it every place, in every place in the world whether they had victims or not because it also establishes a certain universality of commitment against those crimes to have those things in many many places where these crimes weren't necessarily committed.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum

This content is available in the following languages

Thank you for supporting our work

We would like to thank Crown Family Philanthropies and the Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for the Holocaust Encyclopedia. View the list of all donors.