Raphael Lemkin and the Invention of 'Genocide'

Published: 1981-04-01

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Late in November 1944, midway during what the bible of the publishing industry, Publishers Weekly, prominently promoted as "Jewish Book Month" (10 November-10 December), Columbia University Press was credited with quietly releasing, without prestigious fanfare, a large (712pp) volume titled Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress. Authored by a nearly total unknown in the U.S.A., one Raphael Lemkin, it has in reality become one of the most fateful works in the history of political thought in the 20th century.

Identified some months later as a refugee Polish Jew, a lawyer and a holder of a European Law doctorate, it took a while before the credentials of the author and the significance of his work began to sink in. In addition, the publication auspices of the work went unnoticed by nearly all, but they were ominous: Axis Rule was directly sponsored by the Division of International Law Publications of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, staffed with some of the most prestigious and implacable exponents of global war with Germany, long before it came about. Late in 1944 it was taking a leading position in the manufacture of postwar plans and schemes for rigging a world in harmony with and contributory to the interests of its prestigious sponsoring forces.

Though a succession of reviewers of his book turned cartwheels in parading a non-stop collection of superlatives over its alleged virtues, a vociferous accolade which continued for the better part of two years, Lemkin remained a mystery man for the most part, and it was some time later before self-revealed details enabled anyone to know even the most elementary facts about who he was and where he came from. But in a succession of magazine articles he published after his book came out, the various editors disclosed that for a recent immigrant into the country, Lemkin had risen fast and traveled far. First identified as a former member of the International Office for the Unification of Criminal Law, a front for the old League of Nations, it was not long before more revealing material surfaced about his more recent employment.

Though he had arrived in the U.S. just a few months before American formal belligerency in the war in December 1941, he had vaulted upward with celerity for a refugee immigrant who presumably was not fluent in English, to judge from his publication record. By the time the book was published, over a year after it was completed, he had already served as the "head consultant"to the Foreign Economic Administration of the Roosevelt War machine, an agency mainly concerned with assignment and future ownership of the confiscated assets of the enemy. He also held jobs as an advisor to the Bureau of Economic Warfare and the War Department. Sandwiched in among these was a stint as a "foreign affairs" advisor to the State Department. Then came an appointment as lecturer before the School of Military Government at Charlottesville, Virginia, helping to train the men who were to become the administrators of conquered Germany in the time to come. Other prestigious appointments lay ahead, but these were his primary involvements during the time he was at work on his book.

There is no way of knowing whether the views credited to him were exclusively his own, or whether he was the mouthpiece through which the dominant forces behind the wartime establishment and the coming direction and control of much of Western Europe were announcing their positions. If this were true, his pedigree made some sense, as well as his lightning-like appearance and the swift dissemination of what he had to say in print. The combination was a sophisticated product which was aimed to hit the national community in one well-synchronized joint disquisition.

From information which was disseminated after his major successes in the United Nations, we know something about Raphael Lemkin's origins and background. He was born on 24 June 1901 near the town of Bezwodene in eastern Poland, which was part of Imperial Russia in that time. Neither Lemkin nor his tireless public relations people ever said much about his youth or what he did in the tumultuous years of Russia's participation in World War One, the era of violence and chaos marking the collapse of the Romanov dynasty and the creation of Bolshevism. It appears that he was studying abroad during some of the time, in three countries, and was credited with having earned law doctorates at the Universities of Heidelberg, and of Lemberg, in his native Poland. Though Lemkin declared that his father was just a farmer, there seemed to be steady funds for expensive education abroad.

His first employment was as Secretary to the Court of Appeals in Warsaw, rising rapidly to become Public Prosecutor in that city in 1925. Lemkin in the 1950s claimed to have represented Poland at international conferences in several Western countries, becoming involved in Polish League of Nations activities, and in 1929 served as Secretary to the Commission of the Laws of the Polish Republic. In this capacity he represented Poland in the Fifth International Conference for the Unification of Criminal Law, held in Madrid in 1933. It was here that he is supposed to have made his first proposal, entreating the League to draw up a treaty to ban "mass slaughter." When one examines the documents involving his original presentations to the Legal Council of the League, however, they do not contain that language. Instead we find a document proposing the outlawing of 6'acts of barbarism and vandalism," and a study of "terrorism," which are quite removed from something as incendiary as "mass slaughter."

Lemkin separated from Polish State service, and, presumably, from all other related labors connected with the League of Nations, in 1935, returning to private law practice in Warsaw. In 1938 he was the editor of a 725-page book published in Krakow, titled Prawo karne skarbowe. This tome dealt almost exclusively with Polish internal revenue laws and tax evasion in that country (probably an aggravated matter as a consequence of the behavior of all its many unhappy minorities, fully a third of the population in the Polish state which emerged after 1919, thanks in large part to President Woodrow Wilson of the U.S.A. and his ineffable advisor on Polish affairs, Harvard's Robert H. Lord). In 1939, Lemkin was especially busy. He got out, in an unlikely collaboration with Malcolm McDermott, a member of the North Carolina Bar, and also a faculty member of the Duke University Law School, a 95-page translation into English, titled Polish Penal Code of 1932, and the Law of Minor Offenses, issued simultaneously in the U.S.A. and England. The importance of this relationship will be described shortly.

Still another, and somewhat more substantial, work by Lemkin was published in 1939, this one in France, titled La Règlementation des Paiements internationaux, a 422-page work devoted to a problem of increasing importance in the disorderly financial world of the 1930s, and presumably of particular concern to the growing flow of emigres and refugees interested in getting their money out of one national state and into another, while presumably crossing the frontiers of one or more national states in doing so. It was Lemkin's major interest now, one to which he returned repeatedly thereafter.

Lemkin never discussed publicly or officially what he was doing during the Polish-German diplomatic crisis of the late summer of 1939, and the subsequent state of war. But a decade later he told a New York Times interviewer that he joined the civilian guerilla underground, after the Polish armed forces had ceased to fight, and the country occupied in toto by German and Russian armies, and fought, presumably only against the Germans, for six more months. Thus the proper international lawyer became a violator of the very first article of the Hague Agreements of 1899 and 1907 with respect to lawful civilian participation in war, and if captured might have been subject to summary execution as a franc-tireur. Smuggled out of Poland via Lithuania to the Baltic and thenceforth to Sweden in 1940, Lemkin, instead of being interned as a belligerent in a neutral land, promptly resumed his academic career in law in Stockholm. In 1941 his lectures, presumably based on his book published in Paris in 1939, were issued in book form in Swedish, titled Valutareglering och Clearing.

At about this time Lemkin's famous migration to the U.S.A. took place, details of which were never publicized. The presumption is that he was spirited out of Sweden across the length of the Soviet Union to the American West Coast, and thence across the U.S.A. to the confines of Duke University, where he had already made contacts through his previous collaboration with Prof. McDermott. And shortly after arrival, Lemkin was installed as a Professor in the Duke Law School. A few days later, Lemkin was recruited to make a major address before the American Bar Association at their annual meeting, this one in Indianapolis, 29 September-3 October 1941, where his topic was "The Legal Framework of Totalitarian Control Over Foreign Economies." Disregarding that he confused "totalitarian" with "authoritarian," it revealed the persistence of his specialty in his public work. His branching out into the creation of new law was just around the corner, however.

By this time, Lemkin was already at work on his magnum opus, which was to be published as Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. At least he must have begun the collection of the laws, decrees, emergency proclamations, order and other kinds of regulations issued in the occupied areas of Europe by Germany and its allies. Not many of these were hard to find. Published sources on the Continent contained most of them, and routinely went to law libraries all over the world, so there was nothing especially arcane about the subject material. What was original about the project was Lemkin's effort to divine how Axis-occupied Europe was organized and administered while using only legal and quasi-legal source material on which to base his entire work. Nothing in his book was a result of his personal witnessing of their operation or enforcement, nor did he cite anyone else who had. Furthermore, though much of what he presented as "evidence" for operational reality was emergency policy innovation, he assumed in every case that such policy was carried out to the letter of its legal description and remained in force. Nowhere did he entertain the possibility that much of this may not have endured except for a few weeks or months, and might have been replaced, repealed, abandoned, modified drastically one way or another, unenforced, defied successfully, allowed to sit as mere formality, or any of several other possibilities.

This compendium of the above material accounts for two-thirds of the bulk of Lemkin's book, roughly the last 400 pages, arranged by country alphabetically and chronologically. How much of it he did cannot be established. Since he acknowledged the help of some 35 persons, and two of them were specifically designated as being responsible for the English style of the book, all of this is grounds for suspecting that his name was a cover for the work of a high-powered committee. Further emphasizing the likelihood of collaboration was the foreword to the book, written by George A. Finch, the director of the International Law Section of the parent Carnegie Foundation, a functionary of the organization for nearly 25 years. The lameness of his endorsement is not easy to describe; one can only wish that it were readily available for general consultation.

It is not possible to examine Axis Rule within the limits of this presentation insofar as its purported thesis is concerned, namely, as a study of the organization and administration of those areas of Europe occupied by the armed forces of Germany and its allies, 1939-44. Though Lemkin's introduction is dated 15 November 1943, the content of the book stops somewhat earlier than that. Nearly 70 percent of the documents concern only the years 1940-41, and only parts of those. There is little dealing with 1942, and the brief entries for 1943, which are virtually useless, are confined entirely to footnotes, mainly attached to the front part of the book, the 264 pages ostensibly written by Lemkin himself. Thus, the book tells us virtually nothing about German-occupied Europe after early 1942.

The principal task here is not an analysis of the main thesis of the book but a concentration upon a single aspect of it, in reality just a small fraction of the whole, but in terms of effect and consequence many times more fateful than the remaining pages of the volume combined. Because it is in this book that the invented word "genocide" is first used, and the outlines of the invented crime of the same name are first plotted out. The ominous portent of both has inspired a vast literature and an alarming volume of talk and political maneuvering in the last thirty years, with plenty more projected to come, since "genocide" has long been construed an international crime.

A preliminary examination of the 400 pages of legal documentation gathered at the end of Lemkin's Axis Rule reveals that nearly three-quarters of it is culled from sources published in the years 1940-1941 alone. A close reading of the material confirms that the subject matter of the total collection is 80 percent concerned with money, property, exchange rates, conditions of employment, labor rules and compensation, transfers of ownership, international exchange rates and their control, and many related matter-of-fact regulations of the dullest and most prosaic sort, accompanied by similar stipulations regarding citizenship and mobility, in Axis-occupied countries.

However, scattered through this maze of of legal verbiage are a few sections, comprising only three percent of the total, which bear the sub-section heading, "genocide legislation." Reading these carefully is a revelation; an insight into what a sophisticated, complex and subtle offense Raphael Lemkin was originally engaged in fabricating. Nothing involved came within a light year of the vulgar rhetorical metaphor that "genocide" has degenerated to over the last 30 years. Perhaps it would be instructive to summarize this slim catalog, which will at the same time demonstrate what a feeble foundation lay under Lemkin's ambitious but sprawling new "crime." It will also reveal what a comically small bag of substance he was able to muster after this immense diligence in turning over the mountain of Axis legal baggage he and his tireless helpers were able to assemble. (A doctor who invents a new disease is called a "quack." There is no equivalent term for a lawyer who invents a new crime.) Lemkin's essay in legal alchemy was quite remarkable: a casual effort to persuade people to believe that someone else's local legislation was an international felony simultaneously.

Before going into Raphael Lemkin's confused attempts to define what he called "genocide," it is appropriate to summarize the Axis laws he selected out and identified as "genocide legislation." The first of these (Axis Rule, pp. 399-402), consists of the first, second and sixth orders designated as "measures against Jews" issued by the German Chief of Military Administration in Occupied France on 27 September and 18 October 1940 and 7 February 1942. The first called for the registration of all Jews living in Occupied France and forbade those who had fled elsewhere from coming back. It also required that all profit-making businesses owned by Jews in Occupied France to be designated as such. The second was an expansion of the first insofar as it dealt with the subject of required registration of Jewish-owned businesses. The sixth established an 8pm to 6am curfew for Jews, as well as a prohibition against Jews moving from their residences as of 7 February 1942 to some other location. Violations of these orders involved fines and imprisonment if violators were detected and convicted.

The second "genocide" law (Axis Rule, pp. 440-443), was an order of 6 August 1940 by the German Chief of Civil Administration in Luxembourg, which stipulated that the official language of the country insofar as it was used in the judicial and educational systems, as well as official publications of all kinds, was to be German; this was spelled out in another order of 14 September 1940. In this same "genocide" section was an order of 31 January 1941 requiring Luxembourg nationals and aliens alike to adopt a Germanic first name, while "recommending" that they Germanicize their family name as well if it was not already a Germanic one. The final item in this section was a decree of January 1941 requiring the registration in Luxembourg of all persons engaged in the enterprises of painting, architecture, design and drawing, music, literature and the theater, on pain of being forbidden to work in these fields should they be detected failing to register.

The third listing of a "genocide law" (Axis Rule, p. 504), a peculiar one, was an order signed by Adolf Hitler himself, and bearing also the signatures of General Keitel and Hitler's deputy, Lammers, on 28 July 1942, which provided for a wide scale of economic benefits which would accrue to Norwegian and Dutch women nationals who became the mothers of children fathered by German occupation soldiers. Such subsidies, according to the language of the order, were intended to "remove any disadvantage from the mothers," while "promoting the development of the children."

Lemkin's fourth category of "genocide legislation" (Axis Rule, pp. 552-555), was along the lines of the one described immediately above, signed by the Governor General of occupied Poland, Hans Frank, making it possible for a person of German origin but not possessing German nationality, residing in Poland, to obtain a certificate which would document his German origin. This was accompanied by another order signed by Frank on 10 March 1942 establishing a grant of child subsidy to families of Germans resident in the Polish Government General, a large area of southern Poland occupied by German armies. To qualify for the small subsidy the family had to have at least three minor children already.

The fifth section of "genocide legislation" (Axis Rule, pp. 625-627), were three laws put into effect in the new state of Croatia, separated from Yugoslavia, signed by its chief of state, Dr. Ante Pavelic. One nullified any legal business transaction between Jews, or between Jews and non-Jews, made within two months of the proclamation of the independence of the State of Croatia, if its total value exceeded 100 000 dinars, unless it had previously been approved by the Croatian Minister of Justice. The second prohibited the use of the Cyrillic alphabet in Croatia, and the third prohibited Croatian nationality except for persons of "Aryan origin" and who furthermore had not participated in activities hostile to the establishment of the "independent state of Croatia."

As afterthoughts, Lemkin threw in other "genocide legislation" sections related to his text, which preceded the ponderous collection of laws, and which had been gathered before the text was written. One (Axis Rule, p. 601), was an order signed by the German commander in occupied Serbia of 22 December 1941, which established the death penalty for anyone apprehended sheltering Jews or hiding them, but mentioning no penalties whatever applying to the Jews themselves. Almost all of this order applied to Jewish property, not to their persons, calling for the registration of all such property, as well as contracts involving the purchase of, or barter for, Jewish assets on the part of non-Jews. The earlier part of the order seemed to be directed against the concealment of Jews returned as guerilla fighters, which hardly was uncommon.

And bringing up the tail end of this curious assemblage of "genocidic" legislation, as designated by Lemkin, was another which was not so identified in the appendix of laws, but referred to briefly in his text (Axis Rule, p. 249). This was a declaration by Lemkin that Jews in Serbia had been further disadvantaged by genocidic measures which deprived Jews of making a livelihood by specifically forbidding them to practice "professions." Lemkin's accompanying reference was to page 596 of the documents, which turned out to be an order signed by "The Military Commander in Serbia," dated 21 May 1941, which stated: "Jews and gypsies or persons married to Jews or gypsies shall not be admitted to the operation" of "cabarets, vaudeville houses and similar places of entertainment."

Upon contemplating this miniscule assemblage of ad hoc actions, common to military occupiers under differing circumstances for dozens of centuries in the past, one wonders how Lemkin was able to conjure up the dramatic definitions he was to loose upon the world of his new crime. What he found to support it of a legal nature rightly inspires hilarity, though it might be considered characteristic of what a pettifogger might dredge up in turning over the lesser debris of history. Now we may proceed to his general definitions of genocide," keeping all the foregoing in mind.

The first one is the elucidation in his preface to his book:

The practice of extermination of nations and ethnic groups as carried out by the invaders is called by the author [Lemkin] "genocide," a term derived from the Greek word genos (tribe, race) and the Latin cide (by way of analogy see homocide [sic], fratricide...

Ignoring that there was no analogy whatever between a specific crime such as homicide (Lemkin misspelled the word) or fratricide and a spongy, vague and opaque alleged offense such as he was inventing and attempting to promote, we may be led to wonder how he was able to conclude, from the pedestriaia collection of regulations he cited in his evidence, such a dramatic conclusion as that of extermination of entire ethnic groups and "nations." (From later contexts Lemkin apparently meant by "nation" about the same thing: an entity within a national state or community of some recognizable ethnic composition.) The assumption here is that by extermination he really meant what he was saying, instead of indulging in some talmudic flight of rhetorical exaggerated literary effect. If he were talking about facts instead of trying out an imaginative metaphor, he had presented absolutely nothing in evidence to document such a policy as extermination of anyone, anywhere.

To compound the confusion, however, Lemkin on page 78 of Axis Rule in his short chapter titled "Genocide," introduced another definition. "By 'genocide' we mean the destruction of a nation or ethnic group," which he clarified in this manner: "Genocide has two phases: one, the destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor." His final elaboration on this was as follows: "Denationalization was the word used in the past to describe the destruction of a national pattern."

It is obvious that these definitions are contradictory. Since the first, "extermination," taken in its dictionary definition to mean "to destroy utterly" (Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 5th ed., 1948, p. 354), has a finality about it which should recommend itself to the most sophisticated practitioner of barratry, there does not seem to be anything left to be concerned with. But Lemkin's second definition some 80 pages later clearly indicated "genocide" to be a process by which something was being transformed into something else, a group losing its "national pattern" and taking on that of its "oppressor." So what Lemkin was talking about in definition No. 2 was not "destruction" in a physical sense of the killing of everyone, or even anyone, only the imposition upon a "group" of a totally different cultural identity; in other words, assimilation. This was obviously a vast distance from extermination (actually, Lemkin had at his disposal an even stronger word, extirpation, which not only meant total and utter destruction, but the intentional and planned rooting out in a violent manner of something. Since Lemkin was to make it the first condition for something to be "genocide" that it had to be the planned, deliberate, intentional action destructive to a "national, racial, ethnical or religious" group, "extirpation" should have been his word.) And Lemkin added still another contradiction to his collection: after his efforts to create the impression elsewhere that "genocide" was a new "crime," he had to go and spoil it by a flat admission that it was the ancient practice of "denationalization" dressed out in a fright wig.

Though Lemkin went on to expand upon his second definition of "genocide," with a brief discourse concerning the various areas of a social system where impositions were being placed on "groups" which furthered their "genocide," it was plain from at least three areas in his book that the whole concept of "genocide" insofar as he had brought it together in 1943 was exceedingly thin, and was not a part of his original plan when he began Axis Rule in Occupied Europe.

Only once in his book did he admit that by "group" as he used it he meant only minority groups. His recipe included no brief for the protection of a putative majority anywhere; as a consequence of the way he approached the subject philosophically and psychologically, he was unable to conceive of a situation where a majority group might be the one in grave danger of disappearance.

Since only three percent of his entire work was devoted to the subject of "genocide," it was obvious that it was a very subdued matter for his concern originally, if not nearly incidental to his purpose in writing the book. Secondly, his chapter dealing with the legal position of Europe's Jews was only three pages long, and 80 percent of those three pages were devoted to various property considerations. And in the third place, when we come to the portion of his book entitled "Proposals for Redress," nearly all of that concerned his suggestions for the creation after the war of several complicated levels of "restitution courts," which would be devoted almost entirely to the job of restoring the material status quo ante bellum, if not going back all the way to 1933. His recommendations at this stage involved no "war criminal" charges, no suggestions for legal processes leading to execution or long penitentiary sentences for anyone, despite naming an occasional person in an invidious manner.

In view of his decision to include, in what is almost totally a dull treatise confined to a multitude of economic changes brought about in Axis-occupied Europe, his sensational "genocide" issue, one may wonder why there is so little time spent on it in such a large book; about in the threepound class. Since the idea is so meagerly spelled out to begin with, and since there is so little about it, one must conclude that it was an after-thought when placed against the main topic of Axis organization and administration of Occupied Europe. Since this subject is so sketchily developed as well, and includes nothing on it for about the last half of the war, one may also wonder whether the book has much value in any context.

It becomes apparent then that the idea needed a great deal more work. Therefore the expansion of the entire imaginative enterprise is found far more significant in a series of articles Lemkin wrote between 1945 and 1948 for periodicals ranging from the American Journal of International Law, American Scholar and the United Nations Bulletin, to the Nation, and the Christian Science Monitor, along with frequent column-and-a-half-long letters to the editor of the New York Times. During those three years, the big liberal-minority newspapers of the world made his new word famous.

The most curious aspect of his original efforts in fabricating "genocide" in Axis Rule concerns the few lines he entered therein on the subject of alleged mass slaughter of European Jews. His long legal section included not the faintest reference to any kind of law, decree, order, promulgation or whatever providing for putting to death anyone for any reason, unless it was as a result of prosecution and conviction for a violation of a plainly stipulated offense somewhere. Therefore, what was his justification of evidence for introducing the allegation at all? Here we run into a barrier. Although his book does not contain a word referring to anything he ever witnessed personally, the mass murder charge is even more remotely located from evidence. And if the "genocide" idea was an afterthought within the context of the entire book, then the mass murder allegation was itself an afterthought within the imaginative "genocide" confection. The subject is discussed very briefly in his text, the reference being the self-serving propaganda White and Black Books published under the auspices of the Polish government-in-exile in 1942, lodged in London. And it is brought up for consideration again in footnote references, where the sources referred to are the famous declaration of the wartime (allied) United Nations at Christmas time, 1942, published shortly after New Year's Day of 1943, and two small books issued by the even more self-serving Institute for Jewish Affairs of the American Jewish Congress, also in 1943. It is significant that these two books were published under the aegis of one Zorach Warhaftig, another Jewish lawyer from Warsaw, but also a fierce Zionist, who disappeared from Poland in 1939, surfacing in New York in 1943 as deputy director of this Institute for Jewish Affairs, a post he held until 1947. Feverishly active in the post-May 1945 effort to get as many as possible of Europe's displaced-person Jews to Palestine, Warhaftig subsequently followed them there. Becoming a signer of the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel in 1948, as well as a member of the executive council of the World Jewish Congress, Warhaftig from 1951-1965 was Deputy Minister of Religion in various Israeli governments. The two books issue under Warhaftig's direction, Hitler's Ten Year War on the Jews, and Starvation Over Europe; Made in Germany, were actually written by Boris Shub, whose father David authored a famous biography of Lemkin, wrote for the Social Democrat New Leader and was the chief editorial writer of New York City's Jewish Daily Forward, but are mentioned in Lemkin's book almost as additions to the corrected page proofs, so little do they have to do with his ongoing narrative.

With this in mind, one may ponder how Raphael Lemkin got the reputation for being the first to allege that National Socialist Germany and its allies had massacred this or that many million Jews. This has been declared as fact in a variety of volumes, and there are mistakes related to Lemkin's book repeated in several places. It is plain that he was far from the first to make this charge, and derived all he pretended to know about it from previously published sources. In this department he even trailed badly the charge made in the London Jewish Chronicle as far back as 11 December 1942 that 2 000 000 Jews had already been put to death on the Continent of Europe. And this source in turn was well behind others made prior to that date. Even the figures Lemkin repeated from the books published by the Institute for Jewish Affairs, some time later, were smaller than these, as well as several others.

It is possible that Lemkin, after realizing what a pallid and colorless account was emerging from his diligently assembled but essentially unsubstantial legal construct, decided that it needed fanciful decoration to instill some drama into it. Hence the addition of the sensational mass murder allegations, despite their brevity and obscure placement. There appear to have been limitations on his imagination and his poetic resources, however. He did not employ any word resembling "holocaust" in his elaborations either in Axis Rule or his prolific serial publications efforts later on, despite his attraction to Greek-root word origins. Since the dictionaries specifically defined "holocaust" as wholesale destruction of life by fire, something the Germans and Japanese were actually undergoing as a result of Allied strategic bombing, it might have been construed as improper to appropriate that word in his decision to go along with Zionist propaganda of the hour in alleging Jewish annihilation.

Perhaps this pretentious but essentially weak and insubstantial sortie into the thicket of sensational propaganda claims of vast loss of life sustained by European Jewry is an index to his entire labor from then on until the enshrinement of "genocide" as an international crime, and the creation of a global agreement to make its suppression or punishment an extension of international law.

Raphael Lemkin's vigorous and ceaseless propagandizing of the representation in the new United Nations after 1945, until it agreed to consider "genocide" as a possible candidate for fleshing out, the incredible amount of time and energy spent in a committee of the United Nations expanding the definition of "genocide" for two years, and eventual adoption by the General Assembly on 9 December 1948, is a long and involved narrative. Just as long and exhausting is the story of the continuing drive to bring about its ratification by sufficient member States of the UN to make the Genocide Convention actual international law. This was achieved in January 1951 when some 20 States, representing about 3 percent of the world's population, made it all possible. This number had been attained by October 1950, and the Convention became automatically in force 90 days later.

The next scene of the drama was the incredible effort made to secure ratification of the Genocide Convention by the United States Senate, a drive in which Lemkin suffered his first but disastrous defeat. His campaign never recovered from this rejection. Though the number of ratifying states worldwide now approximates 80, the U.S.A. still is numbered among the non-ratifiers, and the chances of this course being abandoned diminish with each passing year.

So the world is left clutching a husk, an unenforced and unenforceable piece of synthetic minority international law, in reality a tasteless reminder and remnant of World War Two in the form of an ugly neologism, but evidence that, with vast labor and proper publicity, something can still be made out of almost nothing.

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): James Joseph Martin
Title: Raphael Lemkin and the Invention of 'Genocide'
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 2, no. 1 (spring 1981), pp. 19-34
Published: 1981-04-01
First posted on CODOH: Nov. 7, 2012, 6 p.m.
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