Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Lessons of the Holocaust

By Nathan
I think it would be nearly impossible to count how many stories, films, documentaries, books, memoirs, and works of art have been made that depict, discuss and analyze the Holocaust. And just when I thought that I had heard every unimaginable story of survival and pluck as well as every disgusting and deranged tactic to harm other human beings, some new tale surfaces that sheds new light on the breadth and depth of the horrors 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.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at