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David M. Crowe presents research on international law

One of Elon University's top scholars shared new work this fall into the evolution of Nazi laws that stripped Jews of their possessions during Hitler's reign and of the first genocide trials conducted after World War II.

Professor David M. Crowe

Elon University Professor David M. Crowe, who holds joint appointments in the Elon University School of Law and the Department of History and Geography, made two presentations this fall at conferences in Boston and Kansas City.

Crowe delivered a paper titled "Plunder and Theft of Jewish Property in the General Government" at an invitation-only conference sponsored by the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at Boston University.

Crowe's paper dealt with the evolution of Nazi laws and decrees in the General Government (that part of Poland created to be Germany's "racial laboratory" and site of four of its six death camps) that stripped 2 million Jews of all property and possessions. He discussed each of these laws and decrees and concluded with a look at unsuccessful efforts by Jews to recover such property and/or restitution for such losses in post-1989 Poland.

Crowe also delivered a paper at the 38th annual conference of the German Studies Association titled "The First Genocide Trials in History: Poland v. Artur Greiser and Amon Goeth." Crowe based his paper on research he conducted in Poland last summer on both trials.

Genocide was a term coined and defined by a Polish-Jewish lawyer, Rafal Lemkin, in his Axis Rule in Occupied Europe (1944). This led to the United Nations' passage of the Genocide Convention in 1948 in an effort to provide the world with a legal definition of what is internationally acknowledged as the "crimes of crimes."

It is generally thought that it would be another four decades plus before genocide was used as a charge in international trials before the ICTR and the ICTY. Crowe's research, however, notes that in 1946, Polish prosecutors were the first to use the charge of genocide in a series of trials involving extradited German war criminals.

The reason was simple. Lemkin, who practiced law in Poland until 1939, knew and worked with several of the Polish prosecutors and judges involved in these trials. They used Lemkin's definition of genocide because they thought it was a more appropriate legal definition of the crimes committed by these alleged German war criminals than the traditional charge of crimes against humanity.

Eric Townsend,
Staff
11/20/2014 9:05 AM