Raphael Lemkin: An Introduction

After the Armenian Genocide, Raphael Lemkin asked, "why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the killing of an individual?" This film and the accompanying activities explore Lemkin's effort to establish an international law to prevent mass violence against a group of people.


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Lessons and Activities

  1. Create an identity chart for Raphael  Lemkin. Identity charts are graphic tools that help students consider the many factors that shape who we are as individuals and as communities. These charts can be used to deepen students’ understanding of themselves, groups, nations and historical and literary figures.
  2. What are some of the factors that played the most significant role in who he became? What words and adjectives did you use to describe him?
  3. What did Lemkin define as the problem? What actions did he take to address it? What challenges did he face? How did he try to overcome them?
  4. As he learned more about the Armenian genocide, Lemkin struggled with the question: “Why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the killing of an individual?” He asked a law professor how it was possible for Turkish leaders to kill Armenians without someone from the outside stopping them.  The professor compared a leader in his own country to someone who owns chickens, saying that a leader had the right to do what he/she wanted within his or her own nation.  This raised the problem of sovereignty. What does the law professor mean when he gives the example of the chickens?
  5. Define sovereignty.  What conflict does Lemkin have with this concept? Do you think there should be limits placed on national sovereignty? How should they be established and monitored? By whom?
  6. Lemkin dedicated himself to developing an international law which addresses the pattern of slaughter that he had seen throughout history. In the film he says, “Crime should not be punished by victims but should be punished by law.” What does he mean? Why is the establishment of a law important?
  7. Lemkin decided that he needed a word to describe mass slaughter, one which would capture the crime and which would connote moral judgment.  He chose genocide. Why would a word be important? What can you do with a word?

Related Facing History Resources

This resource challenges students to consider how individuals, groups, and nations can take up Raphael Lemkin’s challenge to eliminate genocide.


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