In April 1951, Hersch Lauterpacht (1897–1960), a Jewish lawyer who at that time held the prestigious Whewell Chair in International Law at Cambridge University, wrote his legal opinion on a somewhat peculiar matter. He was responding to Mordechai Shenavi (1900–1983), one of the founders of Hashomer Hatzair, a socialist Zionist youth movement established in the 1910s, and the initiator of Yad Vashem, which came into official existence in 1953. Shenavi had asked Lauterpacht what he thought of his idea to posthumously grant Israeli citizenship to victims of the Holocaust.
Shenavi had already drafted a bill to this effect as early as May 1950. Ideologically, as a staunch Zionist, he believed the loss of millions of lives was a direct loss for the State of Israel since they were supposed to have become citizens of the future Jewish state. As a man dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust, he reasoned that conferring a postmortem citizenship was the best way to commemorate the murdered Jews, restore their dignity, and condemn the Nazi atrocities. Politically, Shenavi concluded that the law could moreover assist in Israeli negotiations for the restitution of Jewish heirless property in Europe. Thus, the Israeli claim would not be that the Jewish state was heir to the Jewish victims, but rather that it lawfully represented its deceased citizens. Practically, Shenavi assumed that once the law was passed, the state would finally and formally nominate Yad Vashem as the institution dedicated to conferring this postmortem citizenship. He therefore sought the legal opinion of prominent Jewish lawyers, chiefly Lauterpacht’s, hoping to convince the Israeli officials to move forward with the proposed law despite its exceptional nature.