Hans Kelsen's Jewish parents arrived in Vienna in 1884, when he was three years old. He attended one of the city's most demanding schools, the Akademisches Gymnasium, converted in 1905 to Roman Catholicism (mainly for "reasons of expediency"), took his doctorate in law at the University of Vienna in 1906 and became a full professor there in 1919. A Social Democrat, he drafted a key part of the country's new constitution and was appointed in 1920 to the constitutional court of the rump Austrian state which emerged from the First World War. With the ascent of the Nazis to power in Germany, he moved first to Geneva and, in 1940, to the US.
Kelsen was the author of one of the 20th century's major texts of legal philosophy, A Pure Theory of Law. The essence of his theory was that an obligation to obey the law does not stem from national sovereignty but from a fundamental norm. In practical terms, this led after the First World War to his advocacy of an Austrian constitutional court as part of the Austrian constitution and, after the Second World War, to support for the idea of an international court with compulsory jurisdiction as a key part of the framework of the United Nations.
In 1919, a 22-year-old graduate student arrived in Vienna for doctoral studies under Kelsen. Hersch Lauterpacht was a middle-class Jew from a small town near Lviv. Until the First World War, this had been part of Austro-Hungary. He became the founding president of the World Federation of Jewish Students (Einstein in Berlin was the honorary president) and married a fellow student who had come to Austria from Palestine. Lauterpacht's dissertation combined his interests in jurisprudence and Zionism with an argument about mandates granted by the League of Nations which implied that the mandate given to Britain to govern Palestine did not give Britain sovereignty. Rather, this rested, argued Lauterpacht, with the League of Nations. In 1923, Lauterpacht moved first to the London School of Economics and then to Cambridge, rapidly winning academic laurels as an international lawyer. In 1933, he completed his major work, entitled The Function of Law in the International Community.
Despite the failure of the League of Nations to prevent Nazi aggression, the Second World War and the murder of his family in the Holocaust, Lauterpacht remained attached to notions of an international legal order. Before his early death in 1960, he served as a judge on the International Court at The Hague. Lauterpacht was devoted to the view that fundamental human rights were superior to the laws of individual states and were protected by international criminal sanctions even if the violations had been committed in accordance with existing national laws. He advised the British prosecutors at Nuremberg to this effect. Together with another Jewish lawyer from the Lviv area, Raphael Lemkin, Lauterpacht had a major role in the passage by the United Nations General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Lauterpacht's publication in 1945, An International Bill of Rights, also had a formative influence on the European Convention of Human Rights drawn up in 1949 and ratified in 1953.
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