Raphael Lemkin first coined the term, genocide,
to make sure that perpetrators of atrocities against innocent victim
groups would be prosecuted and thus serve as a deterrent. Lemkin, a
Polish lawyer and a Jew, had for years studied the victimization of the
Armenians and other groups that had been targeted for persecution and
mass murder in history, As a lawyer, he believed that finding the right
name for this category of ethical violation and creating international
legislation against it would amount to prevention. When the Nazis and
their collaborators came for the Jews of his native Poland, Lemkin fled
to the United States and watched from a distance as the Holocaust
continued to unfold. He lost his parents, among other family members.
Following the Holocaust and WWII, Lemkin’s word, genocide, was used
at the Nuremberg Trials against the few Nazi perpetrators of the
Holocaust who were ever called to account for their choices. Lemkin soon
campaigned for the United Nations Genocide Convention,
which clearly and publicly defined genocide and called on signatory
nations to take action wherever it happens. The Convention was ratified
by several countries in 1948 and by the United States in 1986.
Unfortunately, genocides have continued to occur. Too few individuals
and governments have acted to stop genocides while they have happened,
and too few perpetrators have ever been held accountable.
The Texas Holocaust, Genocide, and Antisemitism Advisory Commission
operates on the premise that educating about genocides is essential to
fulfilling Lemkin’s dream of a world where ethnic, religious, national,
and racial groups will no longer be targeted as victims.