The link between the mass slaughter of human beings and attacks on cultural heritage was famously made in 1821 by the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine when he wrote, “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” More than a century later, in 1933, Heine’s books were among those burned on Berlin’s Opernplatz, presaging the murder of more than six million Jews in a vicious and calculated campaign of genocide.

In this, the second paper in the J. Paul Getty Trust Occasional Papers in Cultural Heritage Policy, Edward C. Luck examines five lenses through which the international community defines the nature and scope of attacks on cultural heritage—legal, accountability, security, counterterrorism, and atrocity prevention—and proposes a sixth, cultural genocide, as a first step toward recasting the debate in a more productive way.

Throughout, Luck draws on the seminal work of Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer of Polish Jewish descent who coined the term “genocide” and, in the shadow of World War II and the Nazi regime, applied it to “the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group.” More recently, Irina Bokova, while director-general of UNESCO, used a similar term, “cultural cleansing,” which, although not a legal term, as noted by Thomas Weiss and Nina Connelly in the first paper in the Occasional Papers series, resonates with “ethnic cleansing.” Luck argues here that “genocide” is more to the point, given its place in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

This publication has been funded by the President’s International Council, J. Paul Getty Trust. Our thanks go to the author, Edward Luck, and to the working group with whom we have been discussing these questions for more than two years, especially Simon Adams, Lloyd Axworthy, Vishakha Desai, Hugh Eakin, Karl Eikenberry, Jonathan Fanton, Richard Goldstone, Sunil Khilnani, Luis Monreal, Thomas Weiss, and Tim Whalen.

  • James CunoPresident and CEOJ. Paul Getty Trust