Stephen Smith on the testimony of Armin Wegner

100 Days to Inspire Respect

In every genocide, in spite of the horror of human killing and the danger that poses, there are remarkable people that come to the fore.  Armin T. Wegner was in the German Sanitary Corps and was posted to Eastern Turkey during WWI.  There he was witness to the genocide of the Armenian people. Seeing the devastating consequences of the deportations he documented the genocide in photographs, keeping meticulous notes at great personal risk.

Wegner was arrested for his covert documentation, but was able to smuggle his photographs back to Germany. These photographs were later used in German Court as evidence that genocide had indeed taken place in Eastern Anatolia against the Armenian people.

Wegner became a tireless advocate for human rights and was one of the first, and only, German citizens to be outspoken against the Nazi persecution of the Jews as early as April 1933, when he wrote an open letter to Adolf Hitler. He spent time in seven concentration camps for his outspoken opposition to the Nazis.  He was awarded Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1967.

Armin T. Wegner continued his work advocating for the Armenian people until his death.  A friend of J Michael Hagopian, he encouraged Hagopian to use his art as a documentary film maker to ensure the witnesses of the Armenian Genocide were documented on film. The interview recorded in 1967 with Armin T. Wegner, was one of the first that Hagopian collected and documents one of the twentieth century’s greatest advocates for genocide prevention. Wegner demonstrated that it was possible to be an ordinary citizen and at the same time be an effective voice for the benefit of humanity.

Armin T. Wegner has been my role model for much of my career.  It is an honor to be able to introduce this clip, which places his voice in the public domain for the very first time, Exactly 100 years after he began his life's work as a witness to genocide.

Author: Stephen Smith, Andrew J. and Erna Finci Viterbi Executive Director at USC Shoah Foundation.

Language: English