Contrary to what many people think, the Nazis were not tried for genocide. The crime of genocide did not exist in the “London Agreement,” which is the charter of the Nuremberg Military Tribunal. They were tried instead for the crime of extermination. But after Nuremberg, the argument arose that the crime of extermination was not enough, and that it did not grasp the peculiarity of mass extermination designed to wipe out a human group.
This was a fascinating debate between two Jewish jurists, both Holocaust survivors from Lviv in what is today Ukraine: Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term “genocide,” and Hersch Lauterpacht, who coined the term “crime against humanity.” Their disagreement revolved around whether murdering a million people, because they belong to a certain group and with the aim of eradicating that group, is worse than murdering a million people without this specific intention.
Lemkin’s interpretation was not expressed in Nuremberg, but later the UN decided to designate genocide as a special category in and of itself, often calling it “the crime of crimes.” It is defined as an act of extermination, or creating conditions that will annihilate a particular group with the intention of eradicating that group or even a distinct part of it.
The Convention, which was integrated into Israeli law in 1950, states that a soldier or civilian who kills a person, even one, while aware that he is part of a system aimed at annihilation, is guilty of the crime of genocide. In Israeli law, the punishment for this is the death penalty. This also applies to those who conspire to commit genocide, those who incite genocide, and those who attempt to participate in genocide. [Continue reading…]