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Book Notes: Raphael Lemkin and the Struggle for the Genocide Convention, John Cooper

William D. Rubinstein

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Raphael Lemkin and the Struggle for the Genocide Convention, John Cooper (Palgrave Macmillan 2008) isbn 978-0-230-51691-5, pp. 334, ?59-53 Raphael Lemkin (1900-58) was a Polish-born Jew whose life was sad, but ultimately universally significant. Prior to the Second World War he worked for the Polish government and, even in the 1930s, attempted to convince the League of Nations to adopt a ban on the deliberate killing of civilians. He managed to reach America in 1944, but his family in Poland perished. In that year Lemkin published Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, in which he coined the word 'genocide' to describe Nazi policy. During the late 1940s he convinced the UN General Assembly to adopt its famous 'Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide', the first international agreement defining and outlawing deliberate mass murder. His achievement - as a penniless refugee lacking a significant base of orga? nizational support, at a time when the start of the Cold War was making virtually any far-reaching international agreement impossible - was truly remarkable. But no real rewards came his way, and Lemkin died penniless in a shabby one-room apartment in New York at the age of fifty-eight. If ever a man died before his time it was Lemkin: had he lived only a few years longer, during and after the Eichmann Trial of 1960-2, he probably would have been world-famous. John Cooper's outstanding book recounts the intense struggle which faced Lemkin in his efforts to enact an international genocide treaty. It examines the obvious inadequacies of the UN Convention (which, for instance, excluded political murders from its definition of'genocide' on 246</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes Stalin's orders), but also discusses how, despite its lapses, it has become one of the cornerstones of international law, in the wake of the universal inter nalization of the Holocaust as the archetypal genocide. An Oxford-educated lawyer, Cooper has undertaken herculean research on this work, which should become the standard biography of Lemkin. An active member of the Society, Cooper has produced several fine books on Jewish history, demon? strating that an independent scholar can make a serious and sophisticated contribution to our understanding of history without holding a university appointment. William D. Rubinstein 247</page></plain_text>