Author: Maria Santana
World War II was one of the largest and bloodiest conflicts in history. Significant battles, personalities, massacres and everything that fueled it changed the world forever. Many acts of violence took place that have not made a historical text or a memorial of some sort. These horrors inspired the formation of the United Nations. Specifically the task of determining what forms of crimes are to be considered those against human dignity.
The conflict saw the Holocaust, Rape of Nanking and others. These massacres demonstrate the intention of eliminating them. The Holocaust, under Nazi policy, did not only target Jews but also Slavs, Communists, Gypsy/Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others. It was done so not to only eliminate those inferior to the Aryans but for Nazi expansion plans known as lebensraum. Racial superiority was not exclusive to the Nazis but also the Japanese empire had it. Especially when it was used to fuel its expansion during the early 1930s.
In the postwar period, Raphael Lemkin was given with the daunting task of defining genocide. Lemkin, of Polish Jewish heritage, fled to the United States in 1940 from Nazi persecution. The UN Convention on the Preventionand Punishment of Genocide was held in 1948. The Genocide Convention determined the legal definition of genocide as ‘…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious groups as such’. This legal definition of genocide, like Norman M. Naimark argues on his book Stalin’s Genocides, ommitted political and spcial groups. These individuals who were more difficult to classify as an intent of genocide.
The exclusion of political and social groups from the legal definition of genocide was deliberate. Both the American and Soviet government officials lobbied to ensure those groups were not included so they would not face charges of genocide.
Stalin governed the Soviet Union from 1922 until his death in 1953. He is to be held responsible for killing ethnic minorities in the Soviet Union such as Ukrainians, Poles, Slavs, Koreans, NKVD and others. The US government could be charged with the fire bombing of Dresden and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and others.
Lemkin’s definition of genocide was influenced by his need of highlighting Nazi violence. He sought to change the definition after the Nuremberg trials but did not. Even if the crimes committed by the Truman and Stalin Administrations, would other crimes against humanity be tried? If so, will there be a specific type and would they have to have occured at a specific time? The legal definition of genocide according to the UN has and continuesto not bring justice to members of political and social groups.