Archival Collections
Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Raphael Lemkin papers, 1931-1947 

Lemkin, Raphael, 1900-1959,.
Phys. Desc: 
2.5 linear feet (2.5 linear feet 5 document boxes)
Call Number: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
View CLIO Record and Request Material >>

Online information

Biographical Note

Raphael Lemkin was born in June 1900 near Bezwodene, now part of Balarus. After studying law Lemkin became public prosecutor for the District Court of Poland in 1929. Lemkin had been developing an interest in crimes of racial mass murder, particularly after learning about the Armenian genocide when he was a teenager. By 1933 Lemkin was already arguing for the punishment and prevention of mass murder and he appeared before Legal Council of the League of Nations in Madrid with a legal proposal to this end, but could not find support for his ideas. After the Nazi invasion of Poland Lemkin fought for a time with Polish guerilla fighters until being wounded. Lemkin lived in the forest for months until he had a chance to leave the country. Lemkin would eventually lose 48 family members to the war and Nazi occupation. When Lemkin did flee Poland in 1940, he went to Sweden where he became a visiting lecturer of law at the University of Sweden, Stockholm and began collecting documents on Nazi regulations and law in the territories it was occupying. Lemkin then went to the United States in 1941 joining the law faculty at Duke University. In 1944 he published his most notable book, Axis Rule In Occupied Europe wherein he took a legal analysis of German rule in occupied countries and defined the term genocide. Due to his research in this subject Lemkin acted as an advisor to chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, Robert H. Jackson. Lemkin remained in the United States after the war and lectured on criminal law at Yale University from 1948 and became a Professor of Law at Rutgers School of Law in 1955. Lemkin also continued his campaign to have genocide recognized as an international crime. Lemkin turned to the United Nations and began spending time there trying to persuade the delegates of various countries to take up a resolution making genocide a crime under international law. The General Assembly adopted a resolution approving his convention in December of 1948 and in Ocotober of 1950, 90 days after ratification by a twentieth country, it became international law. 140 states have ratified or acceded to the international agreement, the United States ratified the treaty on November 11, 1988. Lemkin died in August of 1959.

Scope and Contents

The Raphael Lemkin Collection holds some of the documents related to lawyer and scholar Raphael Lemkin's research and writing on the topics of war crimes and genocide. Some of the documents Lemkin collected include the official regulations published by the Nazi government concerning its governance over occupied territories. Other documents in the Lemkin collection concern the International Military Tribunals, the war crimes trials at Dachau, and some documents concerning the discussion of war crimes produced by United Nations committees. There are also a set of articles dealing with Japanese militarization, propaganda, and war crimes. A small portion of Lemkin's writing is also present. Materials are primarily in English and German with some Polish.