The Autobiography of Raphael Lemkin
Yale University Press 2013
New Books in BiographyNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in Genocide StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Jewish StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books Network May 1, 2014 Kelly McFall
It’s hard to overestimate the role of Raphael Lemkin in calling the world’s attention to the crime of genocide. But for decades his name languished, as scholars and the broader public devoted their time and attention to other people and other things.
In the past few years, this has changed. We now have a greater understanding of Lemkin’s role in pushing the UN to write and pass the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Moreover, researchers have a newfound appreciation for the depth and insights of his research. Genocide scholars talk about their field experiencing a ‘return to Lemkin’
It seems an appropriate time, then, to reexamine Lemkin’s ideas and career. We’re doing so in a special, two-part series of interviews with scholars who have edited and published Lemkin’s writings. Earlier this month, I posted an interview with Steve Jacobs, who carefully edited and annotated an edition of Lemkin’s writings about the history and nature of genocide, simply titled Lemkin on Genocide.
This time, I talked with Donna-Lee Frieze, who has meticulously edited Lemkin’s unpublished autobiography Totally Unofficial: The Autobiography of Raphael Lemkin (Yale University Press, 2013). The book gives us a new appreciation for Lemkin’s work. It offers us a deeper insight into who he was and how he fit into his times. And it shows how his experiences shaped his lifelong crusade to create an framework within international law that would protect persecuted ethnic and religious groups.
One brief note about the sound. We taped this interview in what was late winter in Wichita. Bizarrely enough, New York that day was evidently much warmer than Wichita. Donna accordingly taped this interview sitting next to an open window. Occasionally, you can hear the passing traffic in the background. If you’re not in New York, consider this local color. If you are, feel free to brag that spring comes early in your town. You don’t get that chance often.