Totally Unofficial


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The Autobiography of Raphael Lemkin

Edited by Donna-Lee Frieze

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The never-before published autobiography of Raphael Lemkin, a giant among twentieth-century ethical thinkers

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he left behind a model for a life of activism, a legacy of major contributions to international law, and—not least—an unpublished autobiography.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.

Raphael Lemkin (1900–1959), US jurist and Holocaust survivor, served as adviser to the U.S. War Department during World War II and played a crucial role in the discussions leading to the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Donna-Lee Frieze taught a graduate unit on genocide at Deakin University in Melbourne, lectures frequently on the Holocaust and genocide, and is a 2013 Prins Foundation Senior Scholar at the Center for Jewish History in New York City. She has digitized Lemkin’s entire autobiography, the original of which is held in the New York Public Library.

"We have studied much about the mentality of those who perpetrate genocide but know little about that of the man who named the crime and did most to combat it. Raphael Lemkin was one of the great intellectual heroes of the 20th century. In this stirring memoir Lemkin tells us how he combined his experiences as a Polish-Jewish survivor of the Nazis, a legal scholar, and a passionate defender of human rights to articulate a concept that has been all too crucial in our time. Doing that required him to undergo a profound extension of his personal identity that could enable him to apply his ethical imagination to the entire human species. Donna-Lee Frieze has performed a remarkable scholarly task in rescuing a manuscript that might otherwise have been lost, and in meticulously preparing it for a wide reading audience. We encounter a man who, whatever his vulnerabilities and defeats, persists doggedly, courageously, and at considerable personal cost, in a lifelong mission to give international legal status to resisting the most extreme expression of human evil. The entire story is strangely hopeful."—Robert Jay Lifton, author of The Nazi Doctors and (with Eric Markusen) The Genocidal Mentality

"Raphael Lemkin fought a battle—one that cost him his health, if not his life—to educate the world about genocide and create mechanisms to punish the perpetrators. All who are dismayed that, in the years since the Holocaust, “Never Again” is, in fact, “Again and Again” would do well to read this important book."—Deborah E. Lipstadt, Emory University

"Totally Unofficial is a unique and compelling memoir of the twentieth century. Lemkin’s blend of narrative strategies gives voice, shape, and scope to his remarkable life and large achievement—an achievement that has come to define something essential about our age and the urgency of human rights. In writing about his tireless lifelong efforts to make genocide a crime in international law, Lemkin shows us a rich and textured world, from his flight from Nazi occupied Poland, through northern Europe, the Soviet Union and Japan to the United States, and then to corridors of international political process in Paris, Geneva, and at the U.N. This is essential reading. Donna Frieze has done a remarkable job unearthing it from the archives and bringing it to the world.”—Peter Balakian, author of The Black Dog of Fate and The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response.

Totally Unofficial is a comprehensive and knowledgeable book from Raphaël Lemkin, who not only coined the term “genocide” but also gave it a legal definition. Lemkin’s impressive heritage, the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, helps us understand the most horrible crime of the human history, and thus try to prevent its recurrence."–Hayk Demoyan, Director of the Armenian Genocide Museum & Institute

“Unfinished at his death, Lemkin’s autobiography gives a detailed account of his tireless advocacy. It will prove useful to generations of historians.”—Yascha Mounk, Wall Street Journal, 25th July 2013

“When Raphael Lemkin died at a bus stop on 42nd Street in New York on August 28, 1959, he was on his way to or from a meeting with his publisher. He had with him two chapters of a proposed autobiography. From then until now, the story of his life has gone untold, at least by himself. It is a story worth the telling and worth the wait.” —Martin Bell, The Times
“Lemkin wisely sought to extend the protection of the law internationally. The tragedy of his efforts is that, in an anarchic order if nation-states that has no sovereign supranational authority, genocide has persisted – most recently in the Balkans and Rwanda in the 1990s. By the exertions of this extraordinary man, we know this crime and call it for what it is. Thankfully his story now lives, in his own words.” —Oliver Kramm, Jewish Chronicle
"If the history of the Western moral imagination is the story of an enduring and unending revolt against human cruelty, there are few more consequential figures than Raphael Lemkin—and few whose achievements have been more ignored by the general public. . . . Totally Unofficial is at its most alive when he evokes his childhood in the Jewish world of Eastern Europe before World War I. . . . Vivid chapters of Lemkin's autobiography describe the incredible odyssey of his escape."—Michael Ignatieff, New Republic

'The publication of Lemkin’s autobiography…is…a welcome event.'—Lawrence R. Douglas, TLS 

Won Honorable Mention for the 2013 Southern California Book Festival, in the Biography/Autobiography category, sponored by JM Northern Media LLC.
Won an Honorable Mention for the 2013 New England Book Festival given by the JM Northern Media Family of Festivals, in the Biography/Autobiography Category.
ISBN: 9780300186963
Publication Date: June 24, 2013
328 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4