Fish-Harnack Lecture: Buergenthal to talk about Auschwitz, human rights

Thomas Buergenthal spent the first 11 years of his life under the cloud of Nazi Germany, growing up in the Jewish ghetto of Kielce, Poland, and later in concentration camps at Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen.

At age 17, Buergenthal immigrated to the United States, on a path to becoming one of the world’s leading international human rights experts.

Buergenthal will share his personal insights in the 2016 Mildred Fish-Harnack Lecture, “From Auschwitz to International Law and International Human Rights,” on April 20, at 4 p.m., at the Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St., on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus.

Sponsored by the UW–Madison Human Rights Program and International Division, this event is free and open to the public. An informal reception will follow the lecture.

This lecture honors Mildred Fish-Harnack, a Milwaukee native who was a UW student in the 1920s. While living in Germany, Fish-Harnack assisted in the escape of German Jews and political dissidents. She is the only American civilian executed under the personal order of Adolf Hitler.

Thomas Buergenthal
Thomas Buergenthal

Buergenthal, the Lobingier Professor of Comparative Law and Jurisprudence at The George Washington University Law School, served as a judge on the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands (2000-10).

His academic career includes serving as dean of Washington College of Law at American University and endowed professorships at the University of Texas and Emory University, where he was also director of the Human Rights Program of the Carter Center.

Buergenthal has served on several specialized international bodies, including as a judge on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (1979-91) and the Inter-American Development Bank’s Administrative Tribunal (1989-94), and as a member of the United Nations Truth Commission for El Salvador (1992-93) and the United Nations Human Rights Committee (1995-99).

His numerous prizes and awards include the Manley O. Hudson Medal of the American Society of International Law, the Gruber Foundation International Justice Prize, and the Goler Butcher Human Rights Prize.

He has received honorary degrees from many American, European and Latin American universities, including the University of Heidelberg in Germany, the Free University of Brussels in Belgium, the State University of New York, the American University, the University of Minnesota, and the George Washington University.

Buergenthal has written more than a dozen books and many articles on international law, human rights and comparative law subjects. His memoir, A Lucky Child, which describes his experience in German concentration camps, has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

He graduated from Bethany College in West Virginia and New York University Law School, where he was a Root-Tilden Scholar, and received his LL.M. and S.J.D. degrees in International Law from Harvard University.

The Human Rights Program was set up under a UW–Madison Mellon Foundation grant for the advancement of area and international studies. The program is coordinated by the Global Legal Studies Center.

For more information, contact Sumudu Atapattu, at

– by Kerry G. Hill