Thomas Buergenthal

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Thomas Buergenthal (June 2010)

Thomas Buergenthal (born May 11, 1934 in Ľubochňa , Czechoslovakia ) is an American lawyer with German roots.


The father Mundek Buergenthal, born in Galicia and then a Polish citizen, had left Berlin shortly before Hitler came to power in 1933 and opened a hotel in the house of his friend Erich Godal in Ľubochňa ( Czechoslovakia ). His future German wife Gerda geb. Silbergleit from Göttingen came to the hotel as a guest; the marriage was concluded in 1933.

In 1938 the small family fled from the Hlinka Guard to Žilina, 50 km away . Attempts by the now stateless to cross the border into Poland in the spring of 1939 failed. German occupation troops arriving shortly afterwards forced entry to Poland. Visas for Great Britain were finally available for September 1, 1939. As a result of the German attack on Poland , Thomas and his parents evaded east to Kielce . In 1941 they were sent to the Jewish ghetto in Kielce .

In August 1944 they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Fortunately, there was no selection on arrival . Thomas Buergenthal was separated from his mother, whom he was not to see again until December 1946 in Göttingen. From autumn 1944 she was in Ravensbrück concentration camp and survived the death march to the Malchow subcamp . Mundek's father died in Flossenbürg concentration camp in 1945 .

With the evacuation of Auschwitz in January 1945, the 10-year-old Thomas was deported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp . Admitted to the infirmary with frostbite of his toes, he survived, among other things, thanks to the active help of fellow inmate Odd Nansen . After the liberation, he followed a Polish army unit to Poland and initially lived in a Jewish orphanage in Otwock . A year and a half later, mother and son were reunited through the Jewish Agency's tracing service . After finishing school in Göttingen, Thomas Buergenthal emigrated to the USA in December 1951.

Studies and professional career

Buergenthal studied at Bethany College in West Virginia (graduating in 1957) and then graduated from 1957 to 1960 with a law degree from the New York University School of Law, from which he graduated with the title Juris Doctor (JD). He then earned a Master of Laws (LL.M.) and Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) degrees in a postgraduate course at Harvard University School of Law .

From 1962 to 2000 he was a professor at various American universities:

In addition, Buergenthal was a judge at various international courts and dealt in particular with cases of human rights violations. In the 1970s he was part of a small group of American lawyers who specialized in international law. Its aim was to make the issue of human rights more important beyond the United States. In this sense, Buergenthal helped found the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and was appointed its judge in 1979.

In 1992 he was appointed to the Truth Commission for El Salvador by the UN . From March 2nd, 2000 he was a judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague . With effect from September 6, 2010, he resigned his judge's office, ending his term of office, which lasted until February 5, 2015, prematurely to return to George Washington University. Joan E. Donoghue was elected as his successor at the ICJ .

Honors (selection)

In 2008 the city ​​library in Göttingen was named after Buergenthal. During a ceremony and in his presence, the name was given on April 8, 2008.

Selected Works

Specialist literature

  • Law-Making in the International Civil Aviation Organization. 1969.
  • with LB son: International Protection of Human Rights. 1973.
  • with S. Murphy: Public International Law. 4th edition. 2007.
  • with D. Shelton and D. Stewart: International Human Rights. 3. Edition. 2002.
  • with D. Shelton: Protecting Human Rights in the Americas. 4th edition. 1995.



  • Profile: Thomas Buergenthal, United States. Judge of the International Court of Justice. In: Daniel Terris, Cesare PR Romano, Leigh Swigart: The International Judge: An Introduction to the Men and Women Who Decide the World's Cases. Brandeis University Press, Waltham 2007, ISBN 978-1-58465-666-1 , pp. 92-101.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Thomas Buergenthal: A child of fortune. Frankfurt am Main 2007, p. 19.
  2. ↑ oral history interview with Thomas Buergenthal. In: Sources on the history of human rights. Working Group Human Rights in the 20th Century, March 4, 2015, accessed on December 16, 2016 .