Raphael Lemkin at Duke University: The Immediate Pre-History of the Concept of Genocide

January 15, 2020 - 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Ernest Zitser, PhD
Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall

By now, most people probably know that Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959), the Polish-Jewish jurist who is often referred to as the "Father of the UN Genocide Convention," was briefly affiliated with the Duke University Law School (1941-1942). We also know that this refugee from Nazi-occupied Europe got the gig thanks to the efforts of one of Duke's faculty members, Malcolm McDermott. And we also know that Duke was the place where Lemkin did some of the research for Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944), the book in which he coined the term "genocide." But until recently, there has been no archive-based study of this phase of his life, not even at Duke itself. The main reason for the dearth of archival research on the topic is the fact that neither Lemkin nor McDermott left their papers to Duke University. As a result, anyone seeking to reconstruct the details of Lemkin's stint at Duke on the basis of something other than his rhetorically-charged personal reminiscences must rely on scattered and often indirect sources of evidence, such as University administrative records, campus publications, and local newspaper accounts. This presentation will provide a synopsis of the published results of this research, which first appeared in a 2019 article in The North Carolina Historical Review.

This presentation is sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Center, the Duke University Center for International and Global Studies, the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies, the Duke Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies, the Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute, and Duke University Libraries. A light lunch will be served. Parking is available in nearby Trent Rd. and Erwin Rd. parking decks. The series provides 1-hour parking vouchers to guests.

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  • Duke University Center for International and Global Studies
  • Center for Slavic Eurasian and East European Studies
  • John Hope Franklin Center
  • Wednesdays at the Center Series