This section will explore how Germany moved into a post-Nazi era and how, when, and where former Nazis were brought to trial.
The term ‘genocide’ was created after the Second World War by the Polish-Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin.
In 1933, Lemkin published a pamphlet proposing that the League of Nations created new international laws relating to the mass murder of groups of people: ‘barbarity’ and ‘vandalism’. He hoped these new laws would prevent mass killings such as the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Although the pamphlet was circulated at a meeting of the League of Nations in the spring of 1933, it was not discussed and not accepted. Eleven years later, after investigating the fate of Jews in the Holocaust, Lemkin decided to coin a new term – genocide – to both define the crime of mass murder more clearly and raise awareness of it.
According to Lemkin, genocide can be defined as ‘a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves’ (Lemkin, Raphael. Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. Washington D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944, p. 79).
The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg used to term ‘genocide’ to describe the fate of Jews and others under Nazi rule but did not charge the defendants with it as a specific crime. Lemkin continued to lobby the United Nations (UN) to adopt the term. On 9 December 1948, the UN established genocide as a crime in international law.