Lessons of the Holocaust
Last night’s program with Thomas Buergenthal was one such example. Judge Buergenthal, a Holocaust survivor who now serves as the single American judge on the International Court of Justice, recounted his personal narrative about how he survived as a child the death camps of Poland. Buergenthal was interviewed by Howard Reich, Tribune journalist and author, about his new memoir A Lucky Child. Buergenthal, who was just 10 when he was separated from his parents and sent to die in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, survived by his wits and—as any survivor knows—shear luck.
The audience of nearly 200 people who gathered at the brand new Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie was riveted by Buergenthal’s story—from his narrowly escaping the gas showers, to surviving the Auschwitz death march, to being reunited with his mother after the war. What made Buergenthal’s account even more astounding was the cool, clear, and tempered manner in which he delivered his saga. He, like many survivors of the Holocaust, has been able to master and redirect his anger and bitterness and has made it a personal mission to educate people about genocide and the need for reconciliation.
The horrors of the past were tied to the atrocities of the present when one audience member asked a question to Buergenthal about the necessity for investigating the instances of torture of detainees at the hands of Americans during the War on Terror. Judge Buergenthal, who made clear that he was unable to address the propriety of legal action against interrogators and those who authorized harsh tactics because of his position with the International Court, instead offered commentary about a nation’s need to confront its own injustices. He opined that, whether or not convictions are made, it is in our nation’s best interest to have the full truth come to light—and that knowing and understanding what happened is the only way to address and correct any wrongdoing. Like any road to recovery, the first step is acceptance.