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Lemkin winners

April 27, 2009

Passing the torch

They may have started with inquiry and then put their words to paper and even presented their findings to anyone who would listen. But beyond their meticulous research, Raphael Lemkin Essay winner Emily Marks ’10 and second place recipient Adam Griffith ’09 took on the bigger challenge of taking the torch of scholarly pursuit from previous generations. Both hope to pursue a PHD and ultimately teach.

The fourteenth annual Lemkin Essay contest is a competition at PLU, joining a group of other prestigious colleges with Holocaust Studies, which asks students to write essays on the topic of genocide. Lemkin was an international lawyer who initiated the term “genocide” and in 1948 succeeded in persuading the United Nations to adopt the Genocide Convention which outlawed the destruction of races and groups. Last week the two top essayists presented their findings and were recognized for their work.

Marks began her essay “Identity and Genocide: The Armenian Genocide and the Role of Turkish National Identity” by redefining genocide.

She didn’t throw any of the previous definitions away, but simple said the “what” and “how” have been pretty well-covered, maybe it’s time to really look at the “why.”

Marks then, using that premise, examined the Armenian genocide in Turkey at the turn of the 20th century.

“People focus on the Holocaust, and rightfully so, but other genocides get neglected,” she said.

Her research came to life for her when she was able to interview the son of a survivor of the Armenian genocide.

“His input just opened this other dimension to my research,” Marks said. “It essentially brings history to life.”

It may seem confusing why the systematic death of almost 600,000 Armenians took place. Through Marks own research she found the area to be quite “cosmopolitan.”

But as the Ottoman Empire begin to recede into the desert, the rise of Turkish nationalism felt threatened by any different identity – especially the Armenians.

While Marks took on the challenge of understanding why, Griffith looked at how Lemkin’s own legal definitions would relate to the capture of Adolf Eichmann in his essay “Bringing Adolf Eichmann to Justice: Would Dr. Raphael Lemkin Approve?”

“I learned about a lot of legal technicalities,” he said, “as well as legal and moral implications (of Eichmann’s capture).”

Griffith asked if Lemkin would approve because the lawyer had died before Eichmann, who was in charge of keeping the trains to the death camps on time, was captured.

He was captured in Argentina and taken to Israel for trial without the consent or help of Argentina. Ultimately Griffith came to the conclusion that Lemkin would agree with the Israeli’s actions.

Its deep examinations into a tough topics like genocide that is making the Holocaust Studies program at PLU better and better every year, said Robert P. Ericksen ’67, Professor of Holocaust Studies.

“We have lots of good entries every year and I think they are getting better,” he said. “The momentum has been very nice.”

Previous Lemkin Essay winners at PLU already have been accepted or are working in top notch Holocaust Studies graduate programs throughout the country.