Thomas Buergenthal Presents Memoir, "A Lucky Child"

AUWCL hosted Thomas Buergenthal, former dean and former judge of the International Court of Justice, for a presentation on the writing of his memoir, “A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy.” 

Buergenthal arrived at Auschwitz at age 10 after surviving two ghettos and a labor camp. Separated first from his mother and then his father, Buergenthal was able to survive on his own. Almost two years after his liberation, Buergenthal was miraculously reunited with his mother and in 1951 arrived in the U.S. to start a new life. 

“One summer in the Hague I had a few weeks free and I just sat at the computer and [the book] just flowed,” said Buergenthal of his decision to tell his story. “What worried me at the time was whether writing it in itself would do to me what I was always worried about—to get the nightmares. I had defeated my nightmares a long time ago.”

Considered one of the world’s leading international human rights experts, Buergenthal served as a judge on the International Court of Justice from 2000 to 2010 and was dean of Washington College of Law from 1980-85. He was a judge and president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as well as president of the Administrative Tribunal of the Inter-American Development Bank, and a member of the UN Human Rights Committee and the UN Truth Commission for El Salvador. He is a member of the Ethics Commission of the International Olympic Committee and the honorary president of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights in San José, Costa Rica.

Buergenthal was introduced by Dean Claudio Grossman as a “superb example of a person who refused to be destroyed.” According to Dean Grossman, Buergenthal’s presence at AUWCL encouraged him to join the AUWCL faculty.  Professor Peter Jaszi, director of the Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Clinic, led the book discussion, noting that the story “shows us something about the potential of the human spirit.”

Buergenthal answered several audience questions and shared his thoughts on themes from the book, such as the nature of luck. 

“In the camp it was simply being someplace at the right time and not at the wrong time, appealing to some person to help you, and having a background that was different,” said Buergenthal. “I was a child of the camps. That was luck in misery and there are so many of those instances.”