Almost 90 years ago, a young student in Poland, Raphael Lemkin, became intrigued – and deeply troubled – about the case of an Armenian youth accused of murdering the Turkish official responsible for the 1915 genocide of the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire.  

He was perplexed by the question of why it is a crime for one  person to murder another, but not a crime for a government to destroy more than a million people. Lemkin gave this sort of mass destruction a name:  genocide.

What, Lemkin asked, are the economic, social, and cultural repercussions of genocide? How many ways are there to destroy a people?  How can states be held to account for their actions?   

He devoted most of his life to studying and writing about the issue. He also actively campaigned for international laws that would protect ethnic, racial, religious and national groups. His most intensive efforts focused on the drafting, adoption, and ratification of the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention.  

When Lemkin died in 1959, he left an extensive trove of correspondence and papers documenting his work, as well as treatises on the meaning and impact of genocide.  Today, many of those papers are held in the archives of the American Jewish Historical Society at the Center for Jewish History in New York City, from which most of the artifacts used in this exhibition are drawn. Additional collections are located at the New York Public Library and the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati.

Together, they provide an important resource and source of inspiration for new generations of scholars, human rights advocates, diplomats, and activists who continue to wrestle with the crime of genocide, which, sadly, continues to occur in the world today. 




This exhibition and the international conference,
Genocide and Human Experience: Raphael Lemkin's Thought and Vision,
was made possible through the generous support of:

The David Berg Foundation The Einhorn Charitable Trust The Pershing Square Foundation
Anonymous The Alan B. Slifka Foundation
The Jaffe Family Foundation
Mitzi & Warren Eisenberg Family Foundation, Inc.
The Kimerling Foundation