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April is Genocide Awareness Month, Part II


Genocide Defined

Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish legal scholar coined the term “genocide” by combining the ancient Greek word genos (race, nation or tribe) and the Latin caedere (killing, annihilation) in his book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation Analysis of Government Proposals for Redress in 1944. This study was an elaboration of ideas he first proposed in 1933 in his address to the Fifth International Conference of the Unification of Penal Law which argued that attacks on racial, religious and ethnic groups should be considered international crimes. Important for the prosecution of the Nazis, it helped to establish the framework for all subsequent efforts to punish crimes against humanity.


Axis Rule in Occupied Europe contains Lemkin’s idea of genocide as an offence against international law and became widely accepted by the international community and was one of the legal bases of the Nuremberg Trials. This book is one of the foundational texts in Holocaust studies, and the study of totalitarianism, mass violence, and genocide studies.


Lemkin presented a draft resolution for a Genocide Convention treaty to a number of countries, in an effort to persuade them to sponsor the resolution. With the support of the United States, the resolution was placed before the General Assembly for consideration. The “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” was formally presented and adopted on December 9, 1948.


Lemkin’s broader concerns in Axis Rule embraced what may be considered as non-physical, psychological acts of genocide. The book also detailed the various techniques which had been employed to achieve genocide, summarized here:


SOCIAL: The social structure of a nation being vital to its national development, the occupier endeavors to bring about such changes as to weaken the national, spiritual resources.


CULTURAL: The local population is forbidden to use its own language. In order to prevent the expression of the national spirit, a rigid control of all cultural activities is introduced.


ECONOMIC: The destruction of the foundations of the economic existence of a national group necessarily brings about a crippling of its development, even a retrogression. The lowering of the standards of living creates difficulties in fulfilling cultural-spiritual requirements. Furthermore, a daily fight literally for food and for physical survival may handicap thinking in both general and national terms.


BIOLOGICAL: In the occupied countries of “people of non-related blood,” a policy of depopulation is pursued. Foremost among the methods employed for this purpose is the adoption of measures calculated to decrease the birthrate the national groups of non-related blood, while at the same time steps are taken to encourage the birthrate of the occupiers. The birthrate of the undesired group is being further decreased as a result of the separation males from females by deporting them for forced labor elsewhere. Moreover, the under nourishment of the parents, because of discrimination in rationing, brings about not only a lowering of the birthrate, but a lowering of the survival capacity of children born of underfed parents.


PHYSICAL: 1) Racial Discrimination in Feeding—Rationing of food is organized according to racial principles throughout the occupied places. The result of racial feeding is a decline in health of the nations involved and an increase in the deathrate. 2) Endangering of Health—The undesired national groups are deprived of elemental necessities for preserving health and life. The latter method consists of requisitioning warm clothing and blankets in the winter and withholding firewood and medicine, for example. 3) Mass Killing—Employed mainly against leading personalities from among the non-collaborationist groups—intellectuals are “liquidated” because they are considered as the main bearers of national ideals and suspected of being the organizers of resistance.


RELIGIOUS: Occupant tries to disrupt the national and religious influences.


MORAL: In order to weaken the spiritual resistance of the national group, the occupier attempts to create an atmosphere of moral debasement within this group. According to this plan, the mental energy of the group should be concentrated upon base instincts and should be diverted from moral and national thinking.


Lemkin writes, “Nations are essential elements of the world community. The world represents only so much culture and intellectual vigor as are created by its component national groups. Essentially the idea of a nation signifies constructive cooperation and original contributions, based upon genuine traditions, genuine culture, and a well-developed national psychology. The destruction of a nation, therefore, results in the loss of its future contributions to the world.”


The United States, Lemkin’s adopted country, did not ratify the Genocide Convention during his lifetime. He believed that his efforts to prevent genocide had failed. “The fact is that the rain of my work fell on a fallow plain,” he wrote, “only this rain was a mixture of the blood and tears of eight million innocent people throughout the world. Included also were the tears of my parents and my friends.” Lemkin was not widely known until the 1990s, when international prosecutions of genocide began in response to atrocities in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and “genocide” began to be understood as the crime of crimes.


“The entire problem of genocide needs to be dealt with as a whole; it is too important to be left for piecemeal discussion and solution in the future. At present there is no means of providing for alleviation of the treatment of populations under occupation until the actual moment of liberation. It is then too late for remedies, for after liberation such populations can at best obtain only reparation of damages, but never restoration of those values which have been destroyed and which cannot be restored, such as human life, treasures of cultural significance, and historical and intellectual cultural archives and materials.


How do these techniques of genocide Lemkin defines apply to Native Americans? Look for Part III next week.

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