Definitions and Concepts of Genocide: Lemkin and the Concept of Genocide

  • Steven Leonard Jacobs


The Polish-American-Jewish international lawyer and scholar Dr. Raphael Lemkin (1900–1959) coined our word “genocide” and was the motivating force behind the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (commonly referred to as the Genocide Convention). He is also the scholarly parent of the emerging field of Genocide studies, an outgrowth and expansion of the earlier field of Holocaust studies. In examining his biography, one incident looms large: of a teenage boy who reads a novel about the Roman emperor Nero’s (37–68) horrendous treatment of the Christians in his realm, and, living in the world of pre– and post–World War I antisemitic Poland, begins a reading journey that will cause him to discover other examples of genocide throughout human history (e.g., the Armenian Genocide). Coupled with Lemkin’s escape during World War II and the tragedy of the Holocaust, tantalizing questions suggest themselves: What impact did his studies have upon him and his life’s work coupled with his own lived experiences? What role did his filtered memory of those events have upon his thinking? To what degree did they shape his commitment to international law as the vehicle to eliminate the scourge of genocide? These and other questions are explored, including the author’s own thinking vis-à-vis the relationship between genocide and memory.


Genocide History Lemkin Holocaust 


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Religious StudiesThe University of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA

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