Alfred-Maurice de Zayas

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Alfred-Maurice de Zayas

Professor Dr. jur. et phil. de Zayas

United Nations Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order
In office
1 May 2012 – 30 April 2018
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Livingstone Sewanyana

Born 31 May 1947 (1947-05-31) (age 76)
Havana, Cuba
Nationality Cuban American, Swiss ()[1]
Political party Republican (since 1968)[2]
Spouse(s) Carolina Jolanda Edelenbos ​(m. 1996)[3]
Alma mater
  • Harvard Law School
    (Juris Doctor)
  • University of Göttingen
    (Doctor of Philosophy)

Alfred-Maurice de Zayas (born 31 May 1947 in Havana, Cuba) is an attorney, historian and writer. He is a Professor of International Law (since 2003). De Zayas' work into the expulsion of Germans from areas of eastern Germany and Eastern Europe at the end of World War II is extensive. Although the Federal Government of West Germany had published numerous volumes on the expulsions in the 1950s, de Zayas wrote the first scholarly work on German expellees to appear in English, breaking what had long been an academic taboo topic outside of Germany. He was friends with James Bacque for many years and they exchanged ideas regularly.


He grew up in Chicago, Illinois. A graduate of Harvard University's Law School (1970) and a member of the New York and Florida Bar, de Zayas worked as an attorney on Wall Street before going to Germany in 1971 as a Fulbright Graduate Fellow at the University of Tübingen (Baden-Württemberg) and taking a doctorate in History at the University of Gottingen (where he had studied since 1974) in 1977 with his doctorate Nemesis at Potsdam. He was also research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, Germany. In 1975, de Zayas published a study in the Harvard International Law Journal, questioning the legality of the expulsion of possibly as many as 15 million Germans from their homes after World War II, invoking the Atlantic Charter, the Hague Conventions, and the Nuremberg Principles.

He worked with the United Nations from 1981 to 2003 as a senior lawyer with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Chief of Petitions. He then taught law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy, and History at the American College of Switzerland (Leysin). Since his early retirement from the UN in 2003, de Zayas has been a vocal critic of the 2003 Iraq War.

He has been a member of the P.E.N. Club International since 1989 and regularly supports imprisoned writers. From 2006 to 2009 and again from 2013 to 2017, he was chairman of the P.E.N. section for Switzerland. De Zayas is also a founding member of the United Nations Society of Writers, a private association of UN employees in Geneva who work as writers and organize literary events at the UN. Since 1990, he has been the editor of the annual magazine Ex Tempore, which has been published more than 30 times.

In addition to his own poems and short stories, de Zayas worked as a translator and published the first English translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's Larenopfer. 2nd supplemented edition 2008 with a foreword by Ralph Freedman, as well as translations of other poems by Rilke, Hermann Hesse and Joseph von Eichendorff from German into English, French and Spanish. He also wrote political anti-war poems.

De Zayas is a member of Amnesty International, Points Coeur and Millennium Solidarity and sits on the board of trustees of the International Society for Human Rights and the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities. In 2005, he was one of the signatories of the Appel de Blois, which generally rejects any state intervention in historical research, but is particularly directed against the French Loi Gayssot, which criminalizes denial of the Holocaust.

He is a member of the Spanish human rights organization Asociación Española para el Derecho Internacional de los Derechos Humanos (AEDIDH) and is a signatory to its Luarca declarations of 30 October 2006 and Bilbao of 24 February 2010 on the human right to peace. He is also a member of the advisory board of the Center against Expulsions of the Association of Expellees (BdV) in Berlin. In 2009, he advocated that Erika Steinbach (then CDU, now AfD), an expellee official and member of the Bundestag, should also be given a seat on the foundation's advisory board.

Alfred de Zayas is involved in the International Bill of Rights Association, an international initiative of international lawyers who are collecting signatures worldwide for an updated international human rights declaration, which in particular provides for the establishment of an international human rights court. In March 2018, the academic AfD-affiliated Desiderius Erasmus Foundation (Desiderius-Erasmus-Stiftung) announced that it had appointed Alfred de Zayas to the foundation's board of trustees.

Crimes against Germans

De Zayas is credited with uncovering and publishing testimonies in German and American archives detailing shocking atrocities against German civilians by the communists in eastern Europe "adding a new chapter to the annals of human cruelty".[4] In his book A Terrible Revenge - The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans de Zayas documents how the closing phase and the aftermath of World War II saw millions of refugees and displaced persons wandering across Eastern Europe in one of the most brutal and chaotic migrations in world history. The fate of fifteen (some say seventeen) million German civilians who found themselves inside the Soviet Zone of Occupation remains little known. These were the inhabitants of communities that had been established for many centuries who were expelled or murdered. Over two (some say three) million Germans did not survive these atrocities. The second revised edition of his book contained additional information from new interviews with the children of the displaced and the deceased.


In 2003, de Zayas was visiting professor of international law at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and in 2004 he was visiting professor at the Geneva University Institute for International Studies. Since 2005, de Zayas has been a professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Since 2003, he has given lectures, among others. at the DePaul University in Chicago, at the Schiller International University in Leysin, at the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares in Madrid, the Académie Internationale de droit constitutionnel in Tunis, the National University of Ireland, at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of the University of Lund and at the University of Trier. He worked as an expert and consultant on human rights issues at Santa Clara University and at the Institut des droits de l'homme in Strasbourg.

Honours and Awards

  • 1980 Ehrengabe zum Georg Dehio-Preis für Geschichte (Künstlergilde), Esslingen
  • 1985 (September) Human Rights Award of the Danube Swabian Association of the United States and Canada
  • 1996 (June) VDA Cultural Award, Weimar
  • 1997 Plakette for the Right to Self-Determination, Berlin
  • 1998 Humanitas Award of the Ost-West Kulturwerk, Frankfurt am Main
  • 2001 Dr. Walter-Eckhardt-Ehrengabe für Zeitgeschichtsforschung für das Buch Heimatrecht ist Menschenrecht, Ingolstadt, reported in Die Welt, "Auszeichnungen" 24 November 2001, p. 27, and in the FAZ 4 December 2001 in the Feuilleton.
  • 2002 Cultural Award of the Landsmannschaft Ostpreußen, Leipzig
  • 2003 Scholarly Achievement Award of the Armenian National Committee of America, Los Angeles
  • 2004 elected to the Conseil Scientifique of the Académie internationale du droit constitutionnel
  • 2004 Human Rights Award of the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft, Munich, for his publications on human rights and human dignity
  • 2007 Human Rights Award of the Volksgruppe der Donauschwaben, Stuttgart, for his work on the Danube Suevians
  • 2008 Cultural Award of City of Geislingen an der Steige and the Landsmannschaft Südmähren for his Rilke translations
  • 2011 (31 March) Educator's Award, Canadians for Genocide Education, University of Toronto

Writings (small excerpt)

  • Building a Just World Order (1st ed.). Clarity Press, Atlanta, Georgia, 2021. ISBN 978-1-949762-42-6
  • 80 Thesen zur Vertreibung. Aufarbeiten anstatt Verdrängen, together with Konrad Badenheuer, Verlag Inspiration, London and Berlin, 2019: ISBN 978-3-945127-29-2
  • Völkermord als Staatsgeheimnis [Genocide as State Secret], Olzog Verlag, München, 2011; ISBN 978-3-7892-8329-1
  • The Genocide against the Armenians and the relevance of the 1948 Genocide Convention, Beirut, Lebanon: Haigazian University Press, 2010; ISBN 978-9953-475-15-8
  • The United Nations Human Rights Committee Case Law 1977-2008 (together with Jakob Th. Möller), N.P.Engel Publishers, Kehl/Strasbourg, 2009; ISBN 978-3-88357-144-7
  • 50 Thesen zur Vertreibung, London/Berlin: Verlag Inspiration Un Limited, 2008; ISBN 978-3-9812110-0-9 50 Theses on the Expulsion of the Germans from Central and Eastern Europe, Verlag Inspiration Un Ltd.: London and Berlin, 2012; ISBN 978-3-9812110-4-7
  • Rainer Maria Rilke. Die Larenopfer, Bilingual English-German edition with commentary. Los Angeles: Red Hen Press, 2005; ISBN 1-59709-010-7; second revised edition with a preface by Ralph Freedman, 2008.ISBN 978-1-59709-080-3.
  • International Human Rights Monitoring Mechanisms (with Gudmundur Alfredsson and Bertrand Ramcharan). The Hague: Kluwer, 2001; ISBN 90-411-1445-9. New revised edition, Brill 2009; ISBN 978-90-04-16236-5.
  • Heimatrecht ist Menschenrecht, Universitas Verlag, 2001; ISBN 3-8004-1416-3
    • The right to homeland is a universal human right, which is derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including its Article 9. The concept evolved in German jurisprudence and is recognized in German constitutional law.
  • Nemesis at Potsdam – The Anglo-Americans and the Expulsion of the Germans. Background, Execution, Consequences, Revised Edition, London, Boston and Henley 1979, ISBN 978-0897253604
    • 7th ed. Rockland, Maine: Picton Press, 2003; ISBN 0-89725-360-4. 14. revised German edition Die Nemesis von Potsdam, Herbig, Munich 2005.
  • A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994 (Archive); ISBN 1-4039-7308-3; second revised edition, Palgrave/Macmillan, New York 2006.
    • The author begins with the history of German settlement in Central and Eastern Europe since the 12th century, the impact of the Treaty of Versailles on German minorities in Poland and Czechoslovakia, the failure of the League of Nations system of minority protection, the outbreak of World War II and selected crimes committed by the National Socialists, followed by the story of refugees from the former Eastern parts of Germany (Silesia, East Prussia, Pomerania, East Brandenburg), as well as the fate of German minorities in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. In the book, de Zayas states that approximately two million Germans died during the post period of 1944–1949. Other sources have an even higher number.
  • The Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, 1939-1945 (with Walter Rabus). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989; ISBN 0-8032-9908-7. New revised edition with Picton Press, Rockland, Maine; ISBN 0-89725-421-X. German edition: Die Wehrmacht Untersuchungsstelle, 7th revised and enlarged edition Universitas/Langen Müller, Munich 2001; 8th revised and enlarged edition Lindenbaum Verlag, 2012; ISBN 978-3-938176-39-9.
    • The book examines the records of the work of the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, a body set up to collect evidence of war crimes committed by both the Allies and the Wehrmacht in World War II. Examples include the murder of Polish prisoners of war at Katyn in 1940, the murder of Ukrainians in Lviv by the NKVD in 1941, executions of German prisoners of war by the so-called French resistance in 1944, the sinking of the German hospital ship Tübingen by the Royal Air Force in 1944, and the Nemmersdorf Massacre (Massaker von Nemmersdorf). De Zayas was the first researcher to evaluate the extant 226 volumes; about half of the total records, the rest apparently having been burned in Langensalza, Germany, near the end of the war. These records, captured by the United States Army in May 1945, had been classified documents in the United States for several decades, and had been returned by the US National Archives to the German Bundesarchiv in 1975. The German version of the book was heavily criticised by the communist media of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The book has remained in print for over 30 years and reached the 8th revised edition in Germany (Lindenbaum Verlag, 2012) and the 4th revised edition in the United States (with Picton Press in Rockland, Maine).
  • The Wehrmacht Bureau on War Crimes, in: "The Historical Journal", Vol. 35, No. 2, (Jun., 1992), pp. 383-399
  • The Protection of Human Rights in the Administration of Criminal Justice (with Cherif Bassiouni). New York: Transnational Publishers, 1994 ISBN 094-1-320-87-1.
  • Die deutschen Vertriebenen – Keine Täter sondern Opfer: Hintergründe, Tatsachen, Folgen (in German, 1 February 2007). ARES Verlag. ISBN 978-3902475152.
  • Anmerkungen zur Vertreibung der Deutschen aus dem Osten, Stuttgart 1986 and Stuttgart 1987
  • The German expellees – Victims in War and Peace, New York, 1993


  1. “Working for human rights takes patience, perseverance and passion” – Interview with Professor Dr iur. et phil. Alfred de Zayas
  2. Asked in an interview over a month following the 2020 presidential election and about "the course of the election and Joseph Biden's victory", de Zayas stated: "First of all, I would like to say that I have been a member of the Republican Party since 1968. At that time I was a student at Harvard University, and my political persuasion aimed at a social, ethical market economy. Times have changed, and of course I am no longer a "Republican", although I have not formally abandoned my membership in the Republican Party. I no longer feel any necessity to "root" for any political party".
  3. Since 1996, de Zayas has been married to Carolina Jolanda Edelenbos, a Dutch national and UN official, with whom he had a son, Stefan (deceased).
  4. Publishers' Weekly magazine.