Dr. Steven Leonard Jacobs holds the Aaron Aronov Endowed Chair of Judaic Studies and is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa. An ordained rabbi, Professor Jacobs is a specialist on the Holocaust and Genocide, Biblical Studies, Jewish-Jewish Christian Relations, and is one of the foremost authorities on Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959), who coined the term “genocide” and devoted his life to the enactment of an international law on the punishment and prevention of genocide.
Among his numerous publications, Prof. Jacobs is the author of the chapter entitled, “Lemkin on Three Genocides: Comparing His Writings on the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Genocides,” in the recently published book, Genocide in the Ottoman Empire: Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks 1913-1923, edited by George N. Shirinian (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2017, published in association with The Asia Minor and Pontos Hellenic Research Center and The Zoryan Institute).
George N. Shirinian: Your unique contribution to this new book is a comparative study of the writings of Raphael Lemkin on Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Genocides. Who was Raphael Lemkin, and why is what he wrote important?
Dr. Steven Leonard Jacobs: Lemkin (1900-1959) was a Polish Jewish lawyer who immigrated to the United States after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. His initial concerns during his teenage years with the gross inhumanity of groups of people in power to groups having little or none led him to a concern with international criminal law. After arriving in the US, he taught law at both Duke University and Yale University before joining the US Board of Economic Advisors in Washington, DC, and would later serve as an advisor to Justice post-WWII International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg, Germany, dealing with Nazi war criminals. He would devote the remaining thirteen years of his life to seeking the ultimately-successful ratification of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by the United Nations in December 1948. His coinage of the word “genocide” appeared in his magnum opus Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944), specifically Chapter 9 (pgs. 79-94). It is somewhat ironic that this small chapter in this massive volume of almost 650 pages became his life’s work.
His voluminous writings, and even a television appearance, on the subject of genocide brought the concept of mega-group murder to the attention of the world community of scholars, intellectuals, and the wider public, and began a debate about its various permutations and configurations which continues to this day. All this affirms him as the “Father of Genocide Studies,” an outgrowth and expansion of the field of Holocaust Studies.
GS: Lemkin wrote at a time when the study of the Ottoman destruction of the Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks was in its infancy. What sources did he use? Did he say anything that historians today find useful?
SLJ: In addition to his 1944 text, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, Lemkin also intended to publish a three-volume History of Genocide (Antiquity, Middle Ages, Modern Times), as well as a monograph, Introduction to the Study of Genocide. Neither was completed nor published. In 2012, it was my good fortune to edit, introduce, and bring to publication both sets of texts, even though incomplete, in one volume, titled Lemkin on Genocide (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books). As to his use of sources, it is important to keep in mind that Lemkin was a master of many languages—Polish, Russian, French, German, Hebrew, Yiddish (and others!)—and was thus able to draw upon numerous publications in those languages which addressed the thirteen genocides included. Most of the sixty-three genocides reflected in his Outline were never addressed. An in depth examination of more than 20,000 pages of his archives only barely hints at these other texts. Lemkin left a substantial, untitled, 120-page monograph on the Armenian Genocide, along with a six-page summary, and the monograph has been published (Raphael Lemkin’s Dossier on the Armenian Genocide, Glendale, CA: Center for Armenian Remembrance, 2008). I have written several articles about Lemkin and the Armenian Genocide. As regards the Assyrian Genocide, not one but two chapters—Chapter 2 (“Assyrian Invasions”) of Volume I, and Chapter 2 (“Assyrians in Iraq”) of Volume III—are included among his papers. The latter constitutes a forty-two-page chapter in Lemkin on Genocide. Most interesting of all, however, with regard to the Greek Genocide, five chapters are presented in the outline, more than any other case. These are titled, “Genocide in Ancient Greece”, “Genocide against the Greeks,” “Greeks under Franks, “Greeks in Exile from Turkish Occupation,” and “Genocide by the Greeks against the Turks.” Unfortunately, none of these is found among his papers. Instead, what we do have are a large text of so-called “Background” of fifty-seven pages and a later edited and slightly smaller version (fifty-five pages) entitled “Greeks in the Ottoman Empire,” the title of which is not listed in the outline. Three additional chapters in Volume III—“Bulgaria under the Turks,” “Genocide by the Janissaries,” and “Smyrna”—would have proven most helpful regarding his thinking about both the Ottoman Empire and the post-Ottoman Kemalist regime. But, alas, they, too, are not found among his papers, and, in all likelihood, were never written. One chapter that does exist is on the massacre of Greeks in Chios during the Greek War of Independence. It constitutes six pages in Lemkin on Genocide. I have also written separately on Lemkin and the Genocide of the Greeks.
To historians today, not only are his bibliographies of value in visiting the various genocides he examined, but his historical summaries, comments and critiques regarding victims, perpetrators, and bystanders enlarge the work beyond simply that of reporting the past. Moreover, Lemkin broadened his concerns to include the arenas of morality, ethics, and practical and political responsibilities, with which we continually wrestle today.