RIEGNER, GERHART (1911–2002), Jewish public figure. Born in Berlin and trained as a lawyer, from 1936 Riegner was associated with the World Jewish Congress: first as legal officer and then as director of the Geneva office (1939–48), as a member of the World Executive and as director of coordination (1959–64), as secretary-general (1965–83), and as cochairman of the Governing Board from 1983. He was directly involved in virtually all major Jewish problems from the middle 1930s on. As international chairman of the World University Service (1949–55) and as president of the conference of nongovernmental organizations in consultative status with the UN (1953–1955) and with UNESCO (1956–1958), he established a wide network of international relations among the international leadership and became a leading specialist in this field. The main features of his activities in the service of the Jewish people include protection of Jewish rights in the League of Nations under the minorities treaties; decisive information and rescue activities during and after World War II, when he was the first to uncover the plan of systematic extermination of the Jews by the Nazi government in August 1942; active involvement in important international conferences, such as the Paris Peace Conference and UN meetings, where he was influential in the shaping of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights; a pioneering role in interreligious consultations with the Catholic Church (before, during, and after Vatican Council II), the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the Orthodox churches, and the Anglican Communion; and participation in the foundation of and, from 1982 to 1984, chairmanship of, the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), which was created in 1969 as a representative platform of the Jewish community in its relations with official church bodies. In 1992, the Vatican conferred on him a papal knighthood of the Order of St. Gregory.
Christian Jewish Relations, vol. 24:1–2 (1991). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Picard, Die Schweiz und die Juden (1992), index; G. Riegner, Ne jamais déséspérer: soixante ans au service du peuple juif et des droits de l'homme (autobiography) (1998; German trans. 2001).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.