|Genocide - A Modern
By Raphael Lemkin , April 1945
Genocide - A Modern Crime
"ONE of the great mistakes of 1918 was to spare the civil life of the enemy countries, for it is necessary for us Germans to be always at least double the numbers of the peoples of the contiguous countries. We are therefore obliged to destroy at least a third of their inhabitants. The only means is organized underfeeding which in this case is better than machine guns."
The speaker was Marshal von Rundstedt addressing the Reich War Academy in Berlin in 1943. He was only aping the Fuhrer who had said, "Natural instincts bid all living human beings not merely conquer their enemies but also destroy them. In former days it was the victor's prerogative to destroy tribes, entire peoples."
Hitler was right. The crime of the Reich in wantonly and deliberately wiping out whole peoples is not utterly new in the world. It is only new in the civilized world as we have come to think of it. It is so new in the traditions of civilized man that he has no name for it.
It is for this reason that I took the liberty of inventing the word, "genocide." The term is from the Greek word genes meaning tribe or race and the Latin cide meaning killing. Genocide tragically enough must take its place in the dictionary of the future beside other tragic words like homicide and infanticide. As Von Rundstedt has suggested the term does not necessarily signify mass killings although it may mean that.
More often it refers to a coordinated plan aimed at destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups so that these groups wither and die like plants that have suffered a blight. The end may be accomplished by the forced disintegration of political and social institutions, of the culture of the people, of their language, their national feelings and their religion. It may be accomplished by wiping out all basis of personal security, liberty, health and dignity. When these means fail the machine gun can always be utilized as a last resort. Genocide is directed against a national group as an entity and the attack on individuals is only secondary to the annihilation of the national group to which they belong.
Such terms as "denationalization" or "Germanization" which have been
used till now do not adequately convey the full force of the new phenomenon
of genocide. They signify only the substitution of the national pattern
of the oppressor for the original national pattern but not the destruction
of the biological and physical structure of the oppressed group.
Philosophy of Genocide
GERMANY has transformed an ancient barbarity into a principle of government by dignifying genocide as a sacred purpose of the German people. National Socialism is the doctrine of the biological superiority of the German people. Long before the war nazi leaders were unblushinghly announcing to the world and propagandizing to the Germans themselves the program of genocide they had elaborated. Like Hitler and Von Rundstedt, the official nazi philosopher Alfred Rosenberg declared "History and the mission of the future no longer mean the struggle of class against class, the struggle of church dogma against dogma, but the clash between blood and blood, race and race, people and people." As the German war machine placed more and more defeated nations under the full control of nazi authorities, their civilian populations found themselves exposed to the bloodthirsty and methodical application of the German program of genocide.
A hierarchy of racial values determined the ultimate fate of the many
peoples that fell under German domination. Jews were to be completely
annihilated. The Poles, the Slovenes, the Czechs, the Russians, and all
other inferior Slav peoples were to be kept on the lowest social levels.
Those felt to be related by blood, the Dutch, the Norwegian, the Alsatians,
etc., were to have the alternatives of entering the German community by
espousing "Germanism" or of sharing the fate of the inferior peoples.
Techniques of Genocide
All aspects of nationhood were exposed to the attacks of the genocidal
The political cohesion of the conquered countries was intended to be weakened by dividing them into more or less self-contained and hermetically enclosed zones, as in the four zones of France, the ten zones of Yugoslavia, the five zones of Greece; by partitioning their territories to create puppet states, like Croatia and Slovakia; by detaching territory for incorporation in the Greater Reich, as was done with western Poland, Alsace-Lorraine, Luxembourg, Slovenia. Artificial boundaries were created to prevent communication and mutual assistance by the national groups involved.
In the incorporated areas of western land, Luxembourg, Alsace-Lorraine, Eupen, Malmedy, Moresnet, local administrations were replaced by German administrative organization. The legal system was recast on the German model. Special Commissioners for the strengthening of Germanism, attached to each administration, coordinated the activities designed to foster and promote Germanism. They were assisted by local inhabitants of German origin. These, duly registered and accredited, served as a nucleus of Germanism and enjoyed special privileges in respect to food rations, employment and position.
National allegiances were impaired by creating puppet governments, as
in Greece, Norway and France, and by supporting national Nazi parties.
Where the people, such as the Poles, could not achieve the dignity of
embracing Germanism, they were expelled from the area and their territory
(western Poland) was to be Germanized by colonization.
The social structure of a nation is vital to its national development.
Therefore the German occupant endeavored to bring about changes that weakened
national spiritual resources. The focal point of this attack has been
the intelligentsia, because this group largely provides leadership. In
Poland and Slovenia the intellectuals and the clergy were to a large extent
either murdered or removed for forced labor in Germany. Intellectuals
and resistants of all occupied countries were marked for execution. Even
among the blood-related Dutch some 23,000 were killed, the greater number
of them being leading members of their communities.
In Poland, although Poles could receive vocational training, they were
denied any liberal arts training since that might stimulate independent
national thinking. To prohibit artistic expression of a national culture,
rigid controls were established. Not only were the radio, the press, and
the cities closely supervised, but every painter, musician, architect,
sculptor, writer, actor and theatrical producer required a license to
continue his artistic activities.
Wherever religion represented a vital influence in the national life,
the spiritual power of the Church was undermined by various means. In
Luxembourg children over 14 were protected by law against criticism if
they should renounce their religious affiliations for membership in nazi
youth organizations. In the puppet state of Croatia an independent, but
German-dominated Orthodox Church was created for Serbs, in order to destroy
forever the spiritual ties with the Patriarch at Belgrade. With the special
violence and thoroughness reserved for Poles and Jews, Polish church property
was pillaged and despoiled and the clergy subjected to constant persecution.
Hand in hand with the undermining of religious influence went devices
for the moral debasement of national groups. Pornographic publications
and movies were foisted upon the Poles. Alcohol was kept cheap although
food became increasingly dear, and peasants were legally bound to accept
spirits for agricultural produce. Although under Polish law gambling houses
had been prohibited, German authorities not only permitted them to come
into existence, but relaxed the otherwise severe curfew law.
The genocidal purpose of destroying or degrading the economic foundations
of national groups was to lower the standards of living and to sharpen
the struggle for existence, that no energies might remain for a cultural
or national life. Jews were immediately deprived of the elemental means
of existence by expropriation and by forbidding them the right to work.
Polish property in western incorporated Poland was confiscated and Poles
denied licenses to practice trades or handicrafts, thus reserving trade
to the Germans. The Post Office Savings Bank in western Poland taken over
by the occupying authorities, assured the financial superiority of Germans
by repaying deposits only to certificated Germans. In Slovenia the financial
cooperatives and agricultural associations were liquidated. Among the
blood-related peoples (Luxembourgers, Alsatians) the acceptance of Germanism
was the criterion by which participation in the economic life was determined.
The genocidal policy was far-sighted as well as immediate in its objectives.
On the one hand an increase in the birth rate, legitimate or illegitimate,
was encouraged within Germany and among Volksdeutsche in the occupied
countries. Subsidies were offered for children begotten by German military
men by women of related blood such as Dutch and Norwegian. On the other
hand, every means to decrease the birth rate among "racial inferiors"
was used. Millions of war prisoners and forced laborers from all the conquered
countries of Europe were kept from contact with their wives. Poles in
incorporated Poland met obstacles in trying to marry among themselves.
Chronic undernourishment, deliberately created by the occupant, tended
not only to discourage the birth rate but also to an increase in infant
mortality. Coming generations in Europe were thus planned to be predominantly
of German blood, capable of overwhelming all other races by sheer numbers.
The most direct and drastic of the techniques of genocide is simply murder. It may be the slow and scientific murder by mass starvation or the swift but no less scientific murder by mass extermination in gas chambers, wholesale executions or exposure to disease and exhaustion. Food rations of all territory under German domination were established on racial principles, ranging in 1943 from 93 per cent of its pre-war diet for the German inhabitants to 20 per cent of its pre-war diet for the Jewish population. A carefully graduated scale allowed protein rations of 97 per cent to Germans, 95 per cent to the Dutch, 71 per cent to the French, 38 per cent to the Greeks and 20 per cent to the Jews. For fats, where there was the greatest shortage, the rations were 77 per cent to the Germans, 65 per cent to the Dutch, 40 per cent to the French and 0.32 per cent to the Jews. Specific vitamin deficiencies were created on a scientific basis.
The rise in the death rate among the various groups reflects this feeding program. The death rate in the Netherlands was 10 per thousand; Belgium 14 per thousand; Bohemia and Moravia 13.4 per thousand. The mortality in Warsaw was 2.160 Aryans in September 1941 as compared to 800 in September 1938, and for the Jews in Warsaw 7,000 in September 1941 as against 306 in Septeniber1938.
Such elementary necessities of life as warm clothing, blankets and firewood in winter were either withheld or requisitioned from Poles and Jews. Beginning with the winter of 1940-1941 the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto received no fuel at all. Even God's clean air was denied - the Jews in the overcrowded ghettos were forbidden the use of public parks. The authoritative report of the War Refugee Board published in November 1944, and the overwhelming new evidence that appears daily of the brutal mass killings that have taken place in such notorious "death camps" as Maidanek and Oswiecim are sufficient indication of the scope of the German program.
In Birkenau alone between April 1942 and April 1944 approximately 1,765,000
Jews were gassed. Some 5,600,000 Jews and around 2,000,000 Poles have
been murdered or died as a result of the extermination policies. Whole
communities have been exterminated. It is estimated, for instance, that
of the 140,000 Dutch Jews who lived in the Netherlands before occupation,
only some 7,000 now survive, the rest being transferred to Poland for
WHY should genocide be recognized as an international problem? Why not treat it as an internal problem of every country, if committed in time of peace, or as a problem between belligerents, if committed in time of war?
The practices of genocide anywhere affect the vital interests of all civilized people. Its consequences can neither be isolated nor localized. Tolerating genocide is an admission of the principle that one national group has the right to attack another because of its supposed racial superiority. This principle invites an expansion of such practices beyond the borders of the offending state, and that means wars of aggression.
The disease of criminality if left unchecked is contagious. Minorities of one sort or another exist in all countries, protected by the constitutional order of the state. If persecution of any minority by any country is tolerated anywhere, the very moral and legal foundations of constitutional government may be shaken.
International trade depends on the confidence in the ability of individuals participating in the interchange of goods to fulfill their obligations. Arbitrary and wholesale confiscations of the properties and economic rights of whole groups of citizens of one state deprives them of the possibilities of discharging their obligations to citizens of other states, who thereby are penalized.
A source of international friction is created by unilateral withdrawal of citizen rights and even by expulsion of whole minority groups to other countries. The expulsion of law-abiding residents from Germany before this war has created friction with the neighboring countries to which these people were expelled. Moreover mass persecutions force mass flight. Thus the normal migration between countries assumes pathological dimensions.
Our whole cultural heritage is a product of the contributions of all
peoples. We can best understand this if we realize how impoverished our
culture would be if the so-called inferior peoples doomed by Germany,
such as the Jews, had not been permitted to create the Bible or to give
birth to an Einstein, a Spinosa; if the Poles had not had the opportunity
to give to the world a Copernicus, a Chopin, a Curie, the Czechs a Huss,
and a Dvorak; the Greeks a Plato and a Socrates; the Russians, a Tolstoy
and a Shostakovich.
Safeguards and Remedies
THE significance of a policy of genocide to the world order and to human culture is so great as to make it imperative that a system of safeguards be devised. The principle of the international protection of minorities was proclaimed by post-Versailles minority treaties.
These treaties, however, were inadequate because they were limited to a few newly created countries. They were established mainly with the aim of protecting political and civil rights, rather than the biological structure of the groups involved; the machinery of enforcement of such political rights was as incomplete as that of the League of Nations.
Under such conditions the genocide policy begun by Germany on its own Jewish citizens in 1933 was considered as an internal problem which the German state, as a sovereign power, should handle without interference by other states.
Although the Hague Regulations were concerned with the protection of civilians under control of military occupants, they did not foresee all the ingenious and scientific methods developed by Germany in this war.
Genocide is too disastrous a phenomenon to be left to fragmentary regulation. There must be an adequate mechanism for international cooperation in the punishment of the offenders.
The crime of genocide includes the following elements:
RAPHAEL LEMKIN is Polish but his viewpoint is international and his understanding of the nazi menace is of more than recent date. This former League of Nations specialist was a member of the International Bureau for Unification of Criminal Law. At the Madrid Conference of 1933 he introduced the first proposal ever made to outlaw nazism by declaring it a crime. His idea was that any Nazi who put his foot abroad should be punished by the government of the country he entered.
Dr. LEMKIN, now teaching at Duke University, has served as a consultant to the United States on economic warfare and on military government. His article in this issue coins a new word for the English dictionary to fit nazi organized brutality. He calls it genocide.
text in the Series:
Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944)