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East West Street - Review

East West Street
On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity
Philippe Sands
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2017
Paperback, 464 pages
NIS44.72 from incl. free shipping
Reviewed by Shlomo Liberman 

Many books have been written about the Holocaust and the broader theme of genocide and human rights. Other books have been written about personal family memoirs before, during and after the Holocaust. But only one, to my knowledge, has managed to weave these three subjects together in such an impressive way as East West Street by Philippe Sands.

Author Philippe Sands ... searching for family roots
Raphael Lemkin ... prosecutor

Philippe Sands is Professor of Law at University College London and a practicing barrister. He has appeared in many human rights and genocide trials in recent years including those concerning Pinochet, Ruanda and the Yazidis. His grandfather, Leon Buchholz, was born in the city known as Lemberg, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. When Poland later controlled the city, it was called Lwów and when the Soviets took over, they called it Lvov. Today, it is part of the Ukraine and is called Lviv. To make it easy we will use Lemberg throughout.

Sands, in his search for his family's roots, discovers that two of the main legal experts at the Nuremberg tribunals after WWII were Jewish lawyers, each having connections with Lemberg and its Law Faculty: Hersch Lauterpacht, who became professor of International Law and an advisor to the British military at the trials, and Raphael Lemkin, a prosecutor and lawyer, who advised the American military at the trials. Lauterpacht is credited with having defined the legal concept of Crimes against Humanity, focusing on individual rights, while Lemkin is credited with defining the concept of Genocide, focusing on crimes against groups. In 1944, Lemkin published a book, entitled Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, where the term "genocide" was first coined.

A third protagonist with connections to Lemberg is Hans Frank, Hitler's personal lawyer, the Nazi-era Governor-General of greater Poland, who is credited with being the jurist who defined the legal basis for the Nazi atrocities of putting the rights of the community above individual rights. Hans Frank's son, Niklas Frank, was to become a prominent journalist, eventually serving as foreign editor of the Stern magazine in Germany.

Sands takes the reader on a winding road of searching for family roots, unearthing family secrets in the process, while in parallel, unravelling the complexities of international law, specifically in the field of human rights. He recounts the build-up to the Nuremberg trials and how the concepts of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity were influenced by the personal experiences of the two legal experts and were eventually enshrined in international law by the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the establishment of the International Court in the Hague. During the Nuremberg trials, Lauterpacht learned that forty-nine of his family members had perished in various Nazi atrocities.

The book received rave reviews when first published in 2016 and was awarded the Non-fiction Book of the Year in 2017 as well as winner of the prestigious Baillie Gifford Prize.

Even if you are not interested in the legal complexities of human rights, this book is a "must read" as a family memoir. But it is not a book you will finish in a few evenings of reading – it is 464 pages packed with details. 

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