Dr Raphael Lemkin

Dr Raphael Lemkin

Hrodzienskaja, Belarus
Death 28 Aug 1959 (aged 59)
Inwood, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
Burial Flushing, Queens County, New York, USA
Memorial ID 25927143 · View Source
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Raphael Lemkin was a Polish professor of law, a distinguished academician who spoke nine languages. He was a Jew. During the Holocaust the Germans murdered 49 members of his family; see how few words it takes to tell the whole story.

He escaped to Sweden, reached the United States, found good positions at Duke and Yale. He left them and gave himself over to his life's work.

His collected notes are available: http://archives.nypl.org/mss/1730#overview

A profile of him by Library of Congress: https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2019/05/dr-raphael-lemkin-the-totally-unofficial-man/?loclr=eaiclb

His work was to convince the nations of the world that they must make it a crime to plan or carry out another Holocaust of any people. He coined ''genocide'' from the Greek word for race and the Latin for killing. He wrote a convention, a treaty for the nations to sign.

Then he walked the corridors of the U.N. He stopped journalists, took junior delegates by the arm and hung on until they listened, at least a moment. To see an ambassador, he would plan and plot for weeks and sit for days in reception rooms.

He had no money, no office, no assistants. He had no U.N. status or papers, but the guards always let him pass. He carried a black briefcase stuffed with documents and his daily sandwich.

He knew that when he opened the door people would say: What, Lemkin, you here again? Sometimes it was said affectionately, sometimes with distaste. Then he would pretend he did not care. But there were many days when he sat slumped in the cafeteria over a cup of coffee, barely able to lift it for the weariness in him and the rebuff.

But if he had to wheedle and plead he did. If he met an arrogant delegate who had influence, he made himself small and fawned. Then he would turn away and make the small smacking noises of a man trying to get a bad taste out of his mouth.

He would bluff a little sometimes about pulling political levers, but he had none. All he had was himself, his briefcase and the conviction burning in him. We would say to him: Lemkin, what good will it do to write mass murder down as a crime; will a piece of paper stop a new Hitler or Stalin?

Then he put aside cajolery and his face stiffened.

''Only man has law. Law must be built, do you understand me? You must build the law!''

He walked the halls every day from the spring of 1946 until Dec. 9, 1948, when the General Assembly, in Paris, adopted a resolution approving his convention. That day reporters went looking for him to rejoice in his triumph. But we could not find him until, hours later, we thought to look into the darkened Assembly hall. He sat there weeping as if his heart would break. He asked please to be left in solitude. Then this Lemkin came back to the corridors for years, pleading with delegation after delegation to follow through on the U.N. resolution by getting their countries to sign the treaty. There was a time when he was considered for the Nobel Peace Prize; Winston Churchill backed him.

But he died alone on Aug. 28, 1959, without medals or prizes, in a hotel in New York. There were seven people at the graveside when Raphael Lemkin was buried.

Published: October 18, 1988 in the NY Times

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  • Added: 11 Apr 2008
  • Find a Grave Memorial 25927143
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  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Dr Raphael Lemkin (24 Jun 1900–28 Aug 1959), Find a Grave Memorial no. 25927143, citing Mount Hebron Cemetery, Flushing, Queens County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Donna (contributor 46910450) .