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Photo: Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.

What would you risk to share evidence of injustice? A courageous medic is compelled to act as eyewitness.

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When the First World War began in 1914, pacifist Armin T. Wegner enlisted in the German army as a medic. In April 1915, his medical unit deployed to the Middle East.

Soon, Wegner began hearing rumours of persecution of Armenian people living in the region. At great risk to his own safety and against military orders, he set out to investigate and document these atrocities through photographs.

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Armin T. Wegner, 1916 in Baghdad.

Photo: Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.

I will never kill a human being, no matter where on earth it might be! Never to aim a cannon or a gun at my foreign brothers. So help me God!

Armin T. Wegner

Choosing to be an upstander

Why did Armin T. Wegner choose to document the genocide against the Armenian people, putting his own life in danger? The government of the Ottoman Empire, which directed the violence against the Armenian people, was an ally of Germany in the First World War.

As a medic in the German army, Wegner was strictly prohibited from speaking out against the actions of the Empire. Yet, through his photographs and his writing, Wegner bore witness to scenes of destruction and despair. He chose not to be a passive bystander. Instead, he took a stand against human rights violations, and became an upstander for human rights.

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Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC‐ USZ62‐48100.

My own conscience calls me as a witness.

Armin T. Wegner

In the years following the war, Wegner said he was compelled by his conscience to share the truth of what was occurring, in order to try to stop the suffering of the Armenians and to ensure the atrocities would not be forgotten. He took hundreds of photographs in the deportation camps where Armenians were imprisoned.

Secretly sharing evidence

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Photo: Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.

Through a series of safe routes and diplomatic connections, he was able to smuggle out some of his documentation to American and German sources. However, in 1916, one of his letters was intercepted. As punishment, he was made to serve in the cholera wards, where he became very ill. In late 1916, Wegner was recalled to Germany. On his return, he covertly smuggled photographs that he had taken of the brutal treatment of the Armenians.

Photo: Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.
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With the ardor of one who has seen their unimaginable sufferings and has felt them in his own heart, I speak in the name of those whose despairing cries I had to hear without being able to still them….

Armin T. Wegner

A lifetime of confronting injustice

Wegner was finally able to publish information about the Armenian genocide after the First World War. Throughout the 1920s, he gave lectures about what he had witnessed.

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Wegner was again compelled to speak out against injustice. Even though the Nazis brutally punished dissent, Wegner wrote a letter to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, imploring him to end discrimination against the Jewish people. This action resulted in his arrest, interrogation and imprisonment, eventually leading him to flee his homeland.

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Wegner during his imprisonment, 1933.

Photo: Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.
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Armenian child’s shoe found in 1915 in Anatolia beside the way of deported Armenians by the German eyewitness Armin T. Wegner. The shoe is photographed on the hand of Wegner’s daughter Sibyl Stevens, in England. She sent the shoe as a gift to the Armin T. Wegner Gesellschaft in Wuppertal (Germany), the birth town of Wegner, where the shoe is saved in the Armin T. Wegner Zimmer museum, in the municipal library.

Photo: Ulrich Klan, 2004.

Wegner carried the experience of witnessing the Armenian genocide throughout his life. In 1915, he discovered a small child’s shoe along a path used to march Armenians into exile. He kept this shoe with him wherever he went.

Armenian child’s shoe found in 1915 in Anatolia beside the way of deported Armenians by the German eyewitness Armin T. Wegner. The shoe is photographed on the hand of Wegner’s daughter Sibyl Stevens, in England. She sent the shoe as a gift to the Armin T. Wegner Gesellschaft in Wuppertal (Germany), the birth town of Wegner, where the shoe is saved in the Armin T. Wegner Zimmer museum, in the municipal library.

Photo: Ulrich Klan, 2004.

Although his efforts to document the Armenian genocide went unacknowledged for many years, Wegner is now widely recognized as one of the most important chroniclers of the suffering experienced by the Armenian people.

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Wegner visits the monument to the Armenian Genocide, Yerevan, 1968.

Photo: Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach.

When you witness injustice, what do you do?

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