As defined by the United Nations, genocide involves “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” Although human beings have been victims of genocidal assaults throughout history—and prehistory—the word genocide itself is of relatively recent origin. A word from the Greek geno (meaning “race” or “tribe”) and Latin cide (meaning “killing”), it first appeared in print in 1944 in the book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, written by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer. Lemkin had already been studying the causes and consequences of mass slaughter when he witnessed the annihilation of his own community, Eastern European Jewry, during World War II. After the war, he dedicated himself to raising awareness of genocide. His efforts ...

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