Mourning for Ernst Tugendhat

An advocate for persecuted and threatened minorities

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) is mourning for its long-standing advisory board member Ernst Tugendhat. The philosopher and consequent advocate for persecuted and threatened minorities died yesterday at the age of 93. “We will miss Ernst Tugendhat, our advisory board member, dearly. Further, we would like to express our deepest condolences to his family. As a human rights organization that advocates for persecuted and threatened ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples – and against war and expulsion – we could count on Ernst Tugendhat for many years. Up to old age, he always had an open ear for concerns of the STP, and he provided us with contacts, advice, and support,” stated Eytan Celik, Deputy Chairwoman of the STP.

As early as in 1979, Tugendhat had written the introduction to the first German-language documentation on the genocide crimes against the Sinti and the Roma during the Third Reich, which was compiled and published by the STP. His name had lent great weight to the cause. As a Jew who had survived the Shoah, he reached out to the victim group of the Sinti and Roma to show solidarity with them. His incorruptible humanitarianism was grounded on his ability to acknowledge the suffering of others and to advocate for their rights – beyond his own experience of suffering. In 1984, Ernst Tugendhat held a much-noticed speech at the at the concentration camp memorial Bergen-Belsen. The STP had invited around 500 Yazidi refugees from Turkey, as they were suffering from systematic persecution there. In September 2008, we were honored by Tugendhat’s visit to Göttingen. The following is a translated excerpt from his speech on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of our human rights organization:

“The injustice the STP has made its concern, the disenfranchisement and persecution of minorities, is mainly a matter of responsibility for governments – but it also permeates society, because of the unfortunate tendency of all groups of people to see themselves as superior and to denigrate others. The STP thus feels that it is necessary to denounce governments, but also to shine a light on biases within societies – starting with the own one – which is why self-enlightenment is one of the aspects of the STP’s moral self-conception. […] All in all, this explains why the commitment of the STP is not an ordinary one. Anyone who takes part in this has to run up against walls – walls of prejudices and power – and will suffer a bruised head.”

In times of serious wars and crises, the STP sees these words as an encouragement for its global commitment. We will keep Ernst Tugendhat in honorable memory.

Ernst Tugendhat – who was born in Brünn on March 8, 1930, as a son of German-Jewish parents – fled to Switzerland in 1938, together with his family, then to Venezuela in 1941. He studied in the United States and in Germany, and he later taught in Heidelberg, Berlin, and Tübingen. Visiting professorships took him to Santiago, Konstanz, Prague, and Porto Alegre. Ernst Tugendhat died yesterday, on March 13, in Freiburg im Breisgau.