Armin Theophil Wegner
Intellectual, doctor in law, photographer, writer, poet, civil rights defender and eyewitness to the Armenian Genocide.
Armin T. Wegner was born on October 16, 1886 in the town of Elberfeld / Rhineland (Wuppertal) in Germany. At the outbreak of World War I, he enrolled as a volunteer nurse in Poland during the winter of 1914-1915, and was decorated with the Iron Cross for assisting the wounded under fire. In April 1915, following the military alliance of Germany and Turkey, he was sent to the Middle East as a member of the German Sanitary Corps. He used his leave to investigate the rumors about the Armenian massacres that had reached him from several sources. Disobeying orders intended to stifle news of the massacres, he gathered information on the Genocide – collected notes, annotations, documents, letters and took hundreds of photographs in the Armenian deportation camps – visible proof of the first systematic genocide of the twentieth century. At the request of the Turkish Command, Wegner was eventually arrested by the Germans and in December of the same year he was recalled to Germany. Hidden in his belt were his photographic emulsions with images of the Armenian Genocide.
In an open letter, which was submitted to American President Woodrow Wilson at the peace conference of 1919, Wegner protested against atrocities perpetrated by the Turkish army against the Armenian people, and appealed for the creation of an independent Armenian state. The tragedy of the Armenian people to which he had been eyewitness in Ottoman Turkey haunted him for the rest of his life. In the 1920s Wegner reached the height of his success as a writer. He became a celebrity with his Russian book, Five Fingers Over You, which foresaw the advent of Stalinism.
Wegner was also one of the earliest voices to protest Hitler’s treatment of the Jews in Germany. He was the only writer in Nazi Germany ever to publicly protest against the persecution of the Jews. In 1933 he was arrested by Gestapo, a few weeks after he sent an open letter to Hitler protesting the state-organized boycott against the Jews of Germany. He would suffer incarceration in seven Nazi concentration camps and prisons before he could make his escape to Italy.
In 1956 Wegner was awarded the Highest Order of Merit by the Federal German government. The city of Wuppertal, where he was born, decorated him with the prestigious Eduard-Von-der-Heydt prize in 1962.
Armin T. Wegner dedicated a great part of his life to the fight for Armenian and Jewish human rights. In 1967 he was awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem in Israel, and in 1968 he received an invitation to Armenia from the Catholicos of All Armenians and was awarded with the Order of Saint Gregory the Illuminator. Furthermore, a main street in Yerevan was named after him in his honor.
He died in Rome at the age of 92 on May 17, 1978. In 1996 part of his Ashes were taken to Armenia, where a posthumous state funeral took place near the perpetual flame of the Armenian Genocide Monument.
In 2003 the Armin T. Wegner Award was created by the Arpa Foundation for Film, Music and Art in Hollywood, as a humanitarian honor, awarded to a motion picture that contributes to the fight for social conscience and human rights, a struggle to which Armin T. Wegner devoted his life.
In 2008 the Armin T. Wegner Gesellschaft in Wuppertal, Germany, introduced a literary competition prize carrying Wegner’s name.