The recently-released Totally Unofficial: The Autobiography of Raphael Lemkin begins with an introduction by editor Donna-Lee Frieze into the life of the “Insistent Prophet,” international crusader against genocide, Raphael Lemkin. The chapter opens with Lemkin’s death from a heart attack, as he stands alone at the 42nd Street bus stop in New York City on August 29, 1959. This tragic opening sets the tone for Lemkin’s own narrative — the story of a single man, on a crusade to change the world against all odds and with tremendous sacrifice.
Born in 1900, Lemkin was the son of Polish-Jewish parents. He was a gifted child with a keen interest in literature and the ability to read and converse in multiple languages. He spent the first 10 years of his life on a farm called Ozerisko in what is present-day Belarus.
As a young man, Lemkin was keenly interested in events surrounding the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks and the subsequent suppression of these events in public consciousness.
He studied at the John Casimir University in Lviv and then the University of Heidelberg in Germany, returning to Lviv eventually to earn his law degree. He then began work as a public prosecutor in Warsaw and started to develop language and case studies for presentation on what he would later deem “genocide” to present at various global assemblies, including the League of Nations conference.