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East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide…

East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity (2016)

by Philippe Sands

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This book contains both biographies of men and history of ideas. The author is not a professional historian but a specialist on the international law and his method of finding details about his subjects is more similar to a sleuth story: he goes around, asks questions, finds old photos and notes, sits in archives, links them together.
The book is centered on biographies of three men: author’s maternal grandfather Leo, Rafael Lemkin (who introduced term ‘genocede’) and Hersch Lauterpacht (who promoted ‘crimes against humanity’). All three in different periods of their lifes lived in Lviv (Lemberg, Lwów, Lvov) and studied there. All three were Jewish, but cosmopolitan and not religious. All lost most of their relatives in the WW2.
The book is lively written, the stories are quite interesting as well as details about the Nuremberg trial. I think that the author omitted some stuff, which may give his readers a wrong or one-sided impression on some issues but I don’t think that was intentional.
Recommended to anyone interested in history of XX century central Europe, personal stories of holocaust survivors, as well as about the Nuremberg trial.
( )
  Oleksandr_Zholud | Jan 9, 2019 |
I am indebted to my good friend Janine Rizetti for bringing this important book to my attention. Janine reviewed it on her blog The Resident Judge of Port Phillip and I reserved it at the library straight away. Written by the high profile international lawyer Philippe Sands, East West Street , On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity won the 2016 Baillie Gifford prize (which used to be the Samuel Johnson Prize) and by coincidence I read it in a week where Australia’s high profile international lawyer Geoffrey Robertson was in town spruiking his memoir about his work in human rights. In a further coincidence, in the same week I received a letter from Israel in reply to my appeal on behalf of a Palestinian dissident whose detention seems onerous and whose trial has been far too long in coming. Yes, even in complacent suburban Melbourne, attention can be paid to human rights by obscure citizens like me. (Join PEN if you want to do it too.)
East West Street is not a book that purports to explain the reasons for genocide or crimes against humanity. It’s about charting the course of the legal development of these crimes. Sands personalises it with the story of his own family, some of whom made it out of Nazi Germany just in time, and others he had not known about because his grandfather, Leon Buchholz, never spoke of their murders. But that is not the main focus of this book. It’s really about the two men who worked long and hard (and not in cooperation with each other) to bring crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide into international law during the Nuremberg Trials and the formative years of the United Nations.
(Readers of this review will have to forgive my fascination with jurisprudence. I had a brief flirtation with an LLB at the University of Queensland and though I ultimately decided that I did not want to switch careers to one involving lawyers, I retain an abstract interest in the intellectual gymnastics that lie behind the development of laws.)
International law for the protection of minorities became a focus in the wash-up of WW1. Until then any country could treat those living within its borders as they pleased. But the Polish Minorities Treaty was imposed on the newly constituted independent state of Poland to protect the rights of its citizens who were a mix of Poles, Ukrainians and Jews, and that was the first time that a nation’s sovereignty was subject to international law in this way. The concept had surfaced before (in the context of the murder of Armenians in Turkey in 1915), but it had never been legally binding. A young Jewish lawyer called Hersch Lauterpacht who lived in the same Polish city as the author’s grandfather became interested in this issue and its complexities: he thought that it was important to protect the rights of minorities to speak their own language and educate their children in special schools, but he worried that the concept of a group identity could also foster the dangers of nationalism.
German atrocities in WW2 brought the issue to the fore. At Yalta, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin agreed that German leaders would be prosecuted and the Four Powers (UK, US, France & the USSR) had to agree about how this would be done. They had to agree on basics like which legal system to use – because judges in the French system do the cross-examination whereas in the US & UK, it’s prosecutors who do it and judges have to keep out of it. The Four Powers also had to agree on what crimes the defendants were to be charged with. These issues were resolved by deciding that new terms were needed: the crime of war; war crimes; and crimes against humanity. There would be eight judges, two from each of the four Allies, and each of the Four Powers would also nominate a prosecutor.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/03/15/east-west-street-on-the-origins-of-genocide-and-crimes-against-humanity-by-philippe-sands-bookreview/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Mar 15, 2018 |
Philippe Sands has produced a gem of a book, in which he combines an account of the development of the international law addressing crimes against humanity and genocide, with a history of the city known at different times by the names of Lvov, Lemberg and Lviv (among others) and a heart-rending account of the fate of several members of his family in the Holocaust.

The city now known as Lviv is currently in Ukraine, though at different times in the past it was in Poland and the Soviet Union, and had fallen under the control of several different forces and regimes. It was also the birthplace in 1897 of Hersch Lauterpacht, a leading academic lawyer of the early twentieth century who would be one of the principal architects of the internationally recognised law covering crimes against humanity. Later it would be the home of Rafael Lemkin, another academic lawyer, who would champion the importance of prosecuting genocide.

Nowadays, with the tragic proliferation of atrocities coming under the purview of the International Court, the terms ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ have come to be viewed in the public consciousness as similar, almost to the point of being synonymous. They are, however, markedly different. The former relates to crimes against groups (linked either by nationality, religion, or some other shared characteristic), whereas the latter covers the body of widespread murder and/or persecution that does depend upon a single shared identifying feature.

Sands tracks the development of Lauterpacht’s and Lemkin’s respective theories, including their spells working in the same universities (though at different times), and their attempt to draw support for their ideas about how those theories could be implemented. It is important to understand the historical context against which they were working. Hitler had assumed power in Germany and was already developing plans for what would evolve into the Final Solution.

Interwoven with the stories of Lauterpacht’s and Lemkin’s exploration of the legal implications of crimes against humanity and genocide, and the difficulties in establishing the culpability of nation states, is the story of Sands’s own family. This centres on the plight of his grandfather Leon, who was himself born in Lvov, but who fled to escape the increasingly vicious antisemitism that was manifesting itself there.

This may all sound rather dry, but nothing could be further from the case. Sands writes with clarity and flair. He is a practising barrister, with considerable experience of cases of international law, and also Professor of Law at University College London, so not only understands the importance of the distinction between Lauterpacht’s and Lemkin’s views, but is adroit at explaining them to the lay reader.

The overall impact of this book is astounding. Beautifully written, and deeply moving at times, Sands demonstrates the importance of law, and the necessity of clear thinking when drawing up legislation. I seem to be reading a lot more non-fiction than usual this year, and have read some absolute corkers, but I don’t think any have matched up to this one. ( )
1 vote Eyejaybee | May 10, 2017 |
The terms “Human Rights”, “Crimes against Humanity” and “Genocide” are today so familiar and ubiquitous, that we take them for granted without too much thought as to what they imply. Indeed, we are all too familiar with their misuse when they are deployed against Israel by its enemies. Yet these terms had to be explicitly argued into existence just 70 years ago in order to provide a legal justification for the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal, which tried the surviving leaders of Nazi Germany as war criminals. The Nuremberg Tribunal is at the center of Philippe Sands’ book but, although he is a barrister and prominent human rights lawyer, his is not an account of the proceedings of the Tribunal, already amply covered in book and film. Rather, his account is about the lives of four men, three of whom were key figures involved in the Tribunal and the fourth of whom was not, but he was the author’s grandfather, Leon Buchholz. He and one of the others, Hersch Lauterpacht, both grew up on the same East West Street of the book's title in the Galician town of Zolkiew. The third man was Rafael Lemkin; he and Lauterpacht were lawyers; both had deep intellectual and personal reasons for their involvement in what would be the first ever international criminal trial. Both men had studied law - at different times - at the university of Lviv/Lwow/ Lemburg, then the capital of Polish Galicia, now the largest city in western Ukraine.

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, when it was clear that they intended in some way to put their racist theories into practice, there was a growing academic interest, in western Europe and the USA, in defining the legal limits of national sovereignty. Was the government of a country really entitled to put into effect any type of law it liked, regardless of how that might affect the lives and welfare of some of its citizens? Because of their writings on this very question of law, the professional attainments of both Lauterpacht and Lemkin had independently achieved some renown abroad; thus, both men left their homes - Lauterpacht to come to England and Lemkin to the USA – to pursue their careers. Both men left behind them extensive families who – with very few exceptions – were subsequently murdered by the Nazis after the invasion of Poland. The family of the author’s grandfather suffered the same fate; Bucholz himself had moved to live in Vienna before the Nazis came to power, from where he fled to Paris before the trap shut closed.

The fourth man in this story was one of the perpetrators of the Nazi crimes, and one of the most notorious of the war criminals on trial at Nuremberg, Hans Frank. He had been Hitler’s personal lawyer, one of the prime drafters of the Nuremberg decrees that gave Nazi racial theories the force of law in Germany and, following the invasion of Poland in 1939, he was appointed Governor-General of German-occupied Poland. When Germany reneged on the infamous Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, and attacked and overran the Soviet Union positions in eastern Poland, Frank’s rule was extended to the whole of Poland- including Galicia. Thus it was that Hans Frank was the man responsible for the murder of the families of the other three men.

Once the enormity of the Nazi crimes became evident, there was a broad consensus that individual human rights must transcend and take priority over the sovereign rights of a nation. However, the question arose as to whether international law should provide protection for the rights of the individual or for those of the group - ethnic, national, religious, or any other. While still ignorant of the fates of their families but fearing the worst, Lauterpacht and Lemkin were on opposite sides of this debate. Over-familiarity with the two terms prevents us today from seeing the very clear distinction between "crimes against humanity" and "genocide" – the latter a term first coined by Lemkin. Lauterpacht believed very strongly that defining protections for groups inevitably led to inter-group conflict; protecting one group would cause a reaction from groups not defined as protected; by focusing on the individual rather than the group, he felt that the scope for inter-group conflict would be minimised. Lemkin, on the other hand, believed that individuals were targeted because they were members of a group, and that to ignore this was unrealistic.

This debate is what makes the book more than just a very compelling set of biographies of parallel lives. In far less dramatic and tragic circumstances, the issue is still a live one today; the US policy of affirmative action, whereby discrimination against African-Americans is countered by deliberate policies to favour them with opportunities - in university admissions or government employment, for example - is opposed by many people on the grounds that it produces distortions and disadvantages other ethnicities; there is similar controversy over deliberate "diversity" policies in hiring. The issue is the same; do you protect members of specific groups, or all individuals irrespective of their group membership?

The diametrically opposed views of the two men were mirrored by two very different personalities and life-styles. Lauterpacht became a consummate insider; he was a highly respected professor at Cambridge, he had an official position on the British prosecution team and drafted much of the language of the chief British prosecutor’s speeches at Nuremberg. Lauterpacht was cool and detached in his manner, almost emotionless. In contrast, the highly emotional and frequently hyper Lemkin often alienated people with his insistence on the correctness of his views. Although he secured an academic position at a North Carolina college, and was initially part of the US government prosecution team, he was increasingly sidelined, and only managed to get to Nuremberg by using some fancy footwork. His concept of genocide had some traction with the French and Soviet prosecutors, but was rejected by the British and his own US team. He enjoyed a minor triumph when the chief US prosecutor did refer to genocide in his summing up, but the term was not in the indictment and none of the accused was convicted of genocide.

This is a strange book in many ways – part biography, part personal family memoire, part legal exposition; but it is fascinating and thought provoking. The research that has gone into documenting the lives of these four men, ferreting out long-lost individuals who could shed light on some of the dark places, is extraordinary. Two of Sands' informants were the sons of war criminals - one the son of Hans Frank, and the other of his main lieutenant in Galicia, Otto von Wachter. In a film Sands made with these two men, shown on the BBC last year, Frank's son completely repudiates his father, whereas Horst von Wachter still defiantly defends his. Nor does the author shrink from the salacious, revealing an extra-marital love affair of his grandmother while she was alone in Vienna, and the possibility of his grandfather having had a homosexual relationship. At many levels, it is a very good read. ( )
  maimonedes | Nov 23, 2016 |
Philippe Sands QC specializes in international law. He has always been interested in the 1946 Nuremberg trials, that established for the first time the principle that governments could be held responsible for crimes they commit against their citizens: expressed as ‘crimes against humanity’, then formulated by Hersch Lauterpacht and ‘genocide’ formulated by Rafael Lemkin and formally adopted by the U.N. late in 1946, their difference being that ‘crimes against humanity’ cover crimes against the individual whereas ‘genocide’ intends to destroy entire groups, ‘genocide’ being much more difficult to prove; there had also been U.S. resistance against its formal adoption because it would cover crimes against their black and indigenous populations.
Sands points out (380) unintended and unhappy consequences of the concept of ‘genocide’: (i) a hierarchy emerged in which crime against humanity is seen as the lesser evil and (ii) ‘genocide’ by focusing on the group “tends to heighten a sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’ making reconciliation more difficult and “may unwittingly give rise to the very conditions that it seeks to address.”

It so happened that both, Lauterpacht and Lemkin, had studied at the same University of the then Polish city of Lwów, now in the Ukraine and renamed Lviv . By coincidence, Sands’ grandfather on his mother’s side was born in the same city, then in the Austrian-Hungarian empire and at that time named Lemberg, but he never wanted to talk about the past. So when Sands was invited to give a talk at Lviv University this city had a personal significance and a remark by a student set him on a quest to research the past of his own family as well as the life of Lauterpacht and Lemkin. In this book we accompany Sands in his very personal quest into the lives of these 3 men which are tied together by the terrible fate their extended Jewish families suffered under Nazi occupation. The narrative is held together by the slow unraveling of past events in their and their families lives that cross and perhaps above all by the one man, Hans Frank, appointed by Hitler as governor-general of German occupied Poland, who was responsible for the murder of their families and who later in 1946 stood trial in Nuremberg during which the concepts of ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’ were formulated. I like it that Sands includes in his search and talks about persons, who are seemingly very much at the margin, like Elsie Tilney from Norwich who, as he discovers, had worked as a missionary in Africa and who in 1939 rescued his mother, then a small child, by taking her from Vienna to Paris. It is this very personal account that brings it to life. (VII-16)

Films and videos:
Philippe Sands: A Song of Good and Evil (2015)
A Song of Good and Evil is an original project by Professor Philippe Sands QC which tells the stories of three men at the heart of the Nuremberg trials: the Cambridge academic Hersch Lauterpacht, prosecutor Raphael Lemkin, and the defendant, Hitler’s lawyer, Hans Frank, uncovering the connections and conflict

Philippe Sands: To protect the individual, or the group? (2015)
Philippe Sands QC, author of Torture and Lawless World takes the emergence of ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’ at the Nuremberg trial, through the separate efforts of Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin, to explore the role and consequences of the law on international crimes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-7fDRXu8R0

David Evans and Philippe Sands: What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25_QcTWo-3s ( )
  MeisterPfriem | Jul 17, 2016 |
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The little town lies in the middle of a great plain...It begins with little huts and ends with them. After a while the huts are replaced by houses. Streets begin. One runs from north to south, the other from east to west.

Joseph Roth, 'The wandering Jews', 1927
What haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others.

Nicolas Abraham, 'Notes on the Phantom', 1975
For Malke and Rosa,
for Rita and Leon,
for Annie,
for Ruth
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A little after three o'clock in the afternoon, the wooden door behind the defendants' dock slid open and Hans Frank entered courtroom 600.
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Book description
When human rights lawyer Philippe Sands received an invitation to deliver a lecture in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, he began to uncover a series of extraordinary historical coincidences. It set him on a quest that would take him halfway around the world in an exploration of the origins of international law and the pursuit of his own secret family history, beginning and ending with the last day of the Nuremberg trial.

Part historical detective story, part family history, part legal thriller, Philippe Sands guides us between past and present as several interconnected stories unfold in parallel. The first is the hidden story of two Nuremberg prosecutors who discover, only at the end of the trial, that the man they are prosecuting may be responsible for the murder of their entire families in Nazi-occupied Poland, in and around Lviv. The two prosecutors, Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin, were remarkable men, whose efforts led to the inclusion of the terms 'crimes against humanity' and 'genocide' in the judgement at Nuremberg. The defendant, Hans Frank, Hitler's personal lawyer and Governor-General of Nazi-occupied Poland, turns out to be an equally compelling character.

The lives of these three men lead Sands to a more personal story, as he traces the events that overwhelmed his mother's family in Lviv and Vienna during the Second World War. At the heart of this book is an equally personal quest to understand the roots of international law and the concepts that have dominated Sands' work as a lawyer. Eventually, he finds unexpected answers to his questions about his family, in this powerful meditation on the way memory, crime and guilt leave scars across generations, and the haunting gaps left by the secrets of others. [www.Amazon.co.uk]
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385350716, Hardcover)

In 2010, Philippe Sands was invited to give a lecture on genocide and crimes against humanity at Lviv University in Ukraine, which he accepted with the intent of learning about the extraordinary city that was home to his maternal grandfather, a Galician Jew who had been born there a century before and who'd moved to Vienna at the outbreak of the First World War, married, had a child (the author's mother), and then moved to Paris after the German annexation of Austria in 1938. It was a life that had been shrouded in secrecy with many questions not to be asked and fewer answers offered if they were.

As the author uncovered, clue by clue, the deliberately obscured story of his grandfather's mysterious life and of his mother's journey (alone?) as a child surviving Nazi occupation, Sands realized that his own field of humanitarian law had been forged by two men--Rafael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht--each of whom had studied law with the same professors, in the city of his grandfather's birth, at Lviv University . . . Lemkin and Lauterpacht had not known one another at school and yet at parallel times had forged diametrically opposed revolutionary concepts of humanitarian law that had changed the world--and, Sands writes, that each had dedicated his life to having his legal concept incorporated as a centerpiece for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals . . .
The author writes of a third man, Hans Frank, Hitler's personal lawyer, who, as governor-general of Nazi-occupied Poland, ordered the death of more than a million Jews and Poles, among them the familes of the author, and of Lemkin and Lauterpacht.
Sands pieces together how all three lives converged in October 1946, in courtroom 600 of the Palace of Justice at the International Military Tribunals at Nuremberg.

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 06 Jan 2016 23:04:48 -0500)

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"A ... personal detective story, an uncovering of secret pasts, and a book that explores the creation and development of world-changing legal concepts that came about as a result of the unprecedented atrocities of Hitler's Third Reich"--Dust jacket flap.… (more)

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