Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Totally Unofficial

Totally Unofficial: The Autobiography of Raphael Lemkin

Edited by Donna-Lee Frieze
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bnzw
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Totally Unofficial
    Book Description:

    Among the greatest intellectual heroes of modern times, Raphael Lemkin lived an extraordinary life of struggle and hardship, yet altered international law and redefined the world's understanding of group rights. He invented the concept and word "genocide" and propelled the idea into international legal status. An uncommonly creative pioneer in ethical thought, he twice was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Although Lemkin died alone and in poverty, he left behind a model for a life of activism, a legacy of major contributions to international law, and-not least-an unpublished autobiography. Presented here for the first time is his own account of his life, from his boyhood on a small farm in Poland with his Jewish parents, to his perilous escape from Nazi Europe, through his arrival in the United States and rise to influence as an academic, thinker, and revered lawyer of international criminal law.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18806-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION. The “Insistent Prophet”
    (pp. ix-xxx)
    Donna-Lee Frieze

    When raphael lemkin collapsed at a bus stop on 42nd Street in New York City on August 29, 1959, he either had just visited the Curtis Brown Agency on Madison Avenue or was on his way there to discuss his autobiography,Totally Unofficial. The manuscript was nearly complete. According to those who knew him, Lemkin was taken by the nypd to the nearest police station, where he died. Abe Bolgatz, the son of friends of Lemkin’s, had the sad job of identifying the body at the Bellevue Hospital morgue. Bolgatz says that Lemkin might have been conscious after his collapse,...

  5. Preface
    (pp. 1-2)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Early Years
    (pp. 3-24)

    I was born in a part of the world historically known as Lithuania or White Russia, where Poles, Russians (or, rather, White Russians), and Jews had lived together for many centuries. They disliked each other and even fought, but in spite of this turmoil they shared a deep love for their towns, hills, and rivers. It was a feeling of common destiny that prevented them from destroying one another completely. This area was between ethnographic Poland to the west, East Prussia to the north, Ukraine to the south, and Great Russia to the east.

    The Russians and Poles had fought...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Flight, 1939
    (pp. 25-40)

    On september 6, 1939, i was walking through the blacked-out Marszalkowska Street in Warsaw to the railway station. It had been only six days since the Nazi armies had attacked Poland, but already the country’s defenses were disintegrating. The Luftwaffe struck simultaneously at various points around the country, especially the railway stations. The meaning of the blitz was made clear to every Pole—not through a definition in the dictionary, but by the ceiling of the state and of private life falling over his head.

    Nazi tanks rolled onto Polish highways from the west, north, and south. In the kind...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Flight, 1939–1940
    (pp. 41-59)

    The disaster that befell Poland continued in the midst of one of the most beautiful Septembers in the country’s history. Usually the rains start that month, transforming the bad roads into a porridge of loam and mud. This would have impeded the onward movement of the Nazi tanks. But the weather was on the side of the Nazis. The sky was immaculately blue in the daytime and full of stars at night. They twinkled indifferently at our fate. The only help we received was from the Great Bear, which marked our way eastward and southward.

    In the daytime the planes...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR A Refugee in Lithuania, Latvia, and Sweden
    (pp. 60-78)

    I arrived at vilnius several weeks before the Lithuanians took over the government.¹ The city was full of refugees. They intended to enjoy the benefits of neutrality, which were expected to fall on the city like manna from the sky.

    Meanwhile, Russian troops were dismantling machines in some of the factories and printing shops. They were buying everything in the stores: watches by the dozen, shoes, trousers, shirts, hats, underwear, violins, nails. Their hunger for consumer goods seemed insatiable. Rumors spread that they were delaying leaving the city in order to acquire even more. This was their second chance to...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE From Sweden to the United States
    (pp. 79-97)

    As 1941 started, two events helped me break out of my Swedish isolation. My appointment at Duke University came through. Also, rumors had started that the Soviet Union might permit refugees to travel through its territory. My friends at the Polish legation in Stockholm, which was in contact with the exiled Polish government in London, told me that a rapprochement between the Allies (including Poland) and the Soviet Union was possible, and that relations between Russia and Germany were steadily deteriorating. One of the conditions for obtaining a Russian visa, they told me, would be a Swedish passport for stateless...

  11. CHAPTER SIX First Impressions of America: APRIL–JUNE 1941
    (pp. 98-111)

    On april 18, 1941, i was sitting on a graceful terrace flooded with sunshine, facing a garden in which red and yellow roses fought coquettishly for my attention. In the distance I could see a hanging bridge cut the clear air with its shining steel. There were mountains in the background with snowy peaks that seemed to warn the vain roses of their mortality. An enveloping feeling of peace and dreamlike reality was everywhere. It was my first day in the United States.

    Only an hour earlier I had been introduced to my hosts by a fellow passenger from Poland....

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Alerting the World to Genocide
    (pp. 112-117)

    In june 1942, a telegram lay on my table that meant the beginning of a new phase in my life and work. The Board of Economic Warfare in Washington was offering me an appointment as chief consultant of the board. I wired acceptance.

    I came now to a different Washington from the one I had visited earlier. The city was teeming with people and energy. People walked in the streets and offices with busy faces, talking a lingo that was born almost overnight. The words “commission,” “report,” “production,” “appointment,” “secretary,” “typewriter,” “boat,” “plane,” “Germany,” “Japan,” “London” repeated themselves in all...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT The Birth of the Convention
    (pp. 118-132)

    The nuremberg judgment only partly relieved the world’s moral tensions. Punishing the German war criminals created the feeling that, in international life as in civil society, crime should not be allowed to pay. But the purely juridical consequences of the trials were wholly insufficient. The quarrels and other follies of the Allies, which permitted Hitler to grow and become strong, survived these proceedings and found expression in the Nuremberg Tribunal’s refusal to establish a precedent against this type of international crime. The Allies decided their case against a past Hitler but refused to envisage future Hitlers. They did not want...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Geneva, 1948
    (pp. 133-149)

    One morning in july 1948 I arrived at my office at Yale Law School and found a cable on my desk. Ambassador Perez Perozo, the Venezuelan delegate to the U.N., attending the session of the Economic and Social Council in Geneva, was writing to say that the council would take up the report on genocide.¹ The council’s approval of the Genocide Convention would help its adoption by the General Assembly, scheduled to meet in Paris in September. It was clear that I had to go to Geneva at once. Every action at the U.N. must be prepared. One must know...

  15. CHAPTER TEN Paris, 1948
    (pp. 150-179)

    It was drizzling in paris, but this did not destroy the feeling that everybody has when arriving in Paris, this peculiar feeling or lightheartedness and intriguing joy. One feels Paris in one’s bones—rather in the hips, which make you walk lightly and carefree. I wondered sometimes how people feel when they come to Paris for a funeral. Did they have the same feeling? In my many visits to Paris, this feeling never left me. I always liked to stay in one of the small hotels on the Left Bank, but this time I could not. I had chosen one...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN Climbing a Mountain Again
    (pp. 180-218)

    I was back with my yale students but could not regain my health completely until May of 1949. Then new life started on the campus and also in me. I always liked spring on the campus. The challenge of youth moving noisily with fast and sure steps matches the vigorous bursting of life into the trees, grass, and flowers. It matters little that the students themselves are not aware of this. Their minds are on examinations and graduation. They are as unconscious of their real contributions to campus life as the trees and the flowers, because they are life itself...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE Nearing the End
    (pp. 219-222)

    Editor’s note: a few typed pages of notes for this chapter—titled Chapter Thirteen by Lemkin—exist.

    The Korean ambassador, Dr. Chang, appeals to the U.N. to accelerate ratification of the Genocide Convention in order to protect his people in the Korean War. Truman sends a letter to the U.S. Senate, urging them to ratify. The Senate opposes the Genocide Convention and me. Arthur Spingarn, new man, takes his place, a very nice person.¹ Because of numerous handicaps to his work in New York, R. Lemkin decides to go to the “grass roots” of America with the problem of genocide....

  18. Appendixes
    (pp. 223-240)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 241-266)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-276)
  21. Index
    (pp. 277-293)