Friday, August 4, 2017

Loeffler on a Forgotten Zionist Thinker and the Crime of Genocide

Although we often don’t note gated articles, we’re making an exception for Becoming Cleopatra: The Forgotten Zionism of Raphael Lemkin, by James Loeffler, University of Virginia, which appears in the volume 19 of the Journal of Genocide Research:
The biography of Raphael Lemkin has emerged of late as a highly contested lieu de memoire in charged political debates in Europe, the United States and the Middle East about the meaning, past and present, of the Holocaust and genocide. At the same time, scholars have attempted to demythologize Lemkin by reinscribing his life into its pre-World War II Polish context. Yet thus far no one has identified the precise political activities and affiliations that shaped Lemkin’s concept of genocide. In this article, I show that Lemkin, far from being a Jewish Bundist, a Polish nationalist or an apolitical cosmopolitan, was an active member of the interwar Polish Zionist movement, from which he drew the ideas that inspired his idea of the crime of genocide. In the first part of this article, I use his published writings from the 1920s and 1930s in Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish to recover a rich Jewish political framework in which his concepts of barbarism and genocide first began to emerge. In the second section, I ask how this crucial dimension of Lemkin’s life and thought vanished from the historical record, and why it has yet to be recovered in spite of the boom in biographical scholarship. Finally, I suggest how the recovery of Lemkin’s Zionism helps to reframe the current political impasse in the historiography of Holocaust and genocide studies.

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