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East West Street: on the origins of genocide…
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East West Street: on the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity (2016)

by Philippe Sands

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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. ( )
  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
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPh_JnCqppk

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 |
East West Street – A Profoundly Personal Story

On the 13th April 1940 in Skałat, my Great Grandmother was arrested by officers of the NKVD for the given reason her husband was a Police Officer in the border town of Podwołoczyska to the right of the river Zbruch and her son was in the Polish Army fighting for the enemy (Poland). She was transported to Siberia, in cattle trucks, that the following year would be utilised by the Nazi regime of Hans Frank in Galicia.

Skałat is 92 miles to the east of Lwów or as it was called from 1792, Lemberg, both are in what is referred to as the Kresy, the eastern borderlands of Poland were reborn in 1918 after 100 years of being partitioned by the occupying forces of Austria, Russia and Prussia. In the pre-war census of Lwów it was a City whose population was one third Polish, one third Jewish, 15 per cent Ukrainian with a mixture of German, Russians, Swedes, Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians making up the rest of the population.

The Lemberg that Philippe Sands introduces us to as the back drop to this personal story really was a multicultural City of learning, arts and cultures. But behind this though was a background of suspicion towards other cultures, and religiously different. Jewish pogroms were not unknown to many either side of the river Zbruch something even today people would rather forget or not talk about.

Like Philippe Sands and many others from the Kresy, those that lived through those times rarely if ever actually spoke about the period. My Grandfather was exactly the same as Leon, Sands Grandfather, but with less pictures, and not allowed to visit Poland until 1970. Fortunately, now those stories are being recorded and published as these stories must not die. One cannot allow either the Holocaust or the deportation of the Polish and Jewish Intelligentsia by both sides be forgotten.

In this very personal story we find that that Sands has been invited to give a lecture in Lwów or as it is now L’viv University, on international law. So he begins an investigation not only in to his own family’s link with the city but also the City’s links with the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity as part of international law. That these not only are inextricably linked with the Nuremberg Trials but also linked to the City, by two men born, educated in the borderlands, both Jewish both lawyers, both fortunate to escape the Nazi invasion.

What Sands uncovers is an absolutely fascinating story which he is able to tell without any personal animosity, but the great love and the lawyer’s precision brings all this to life. What he does do is weave together part family history, part historical detective and throw in to the mix the legal backdrop to the story. From introducing his search of what happened to his Grandfather Leon, we also follow the stories of Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin, both Polish Jews, both academics, both studied in Lemberg and then like Leon paths diverged.

While both Lauterpacht and Lemkin’s links to the Nuremberg Trails are either hidden or very much forgotten, it was due to these two jurists that we now have a human rights law and more importantly an International Criminal Court, even if it took well over fifty years to come in to existence. Without either we today would not have either ‘Crimes against humanity’ or ‘Genocide’ in the modern lexicon and more importantly in the legal lexicon.

While our three main characters did not know each other, their families were deeply affected by the actions and decisions of Hans Frank the Governor-General of Nazi occupied Poland. Whose story is told via his son Niklas which was interesting and especially his feelings towards his father.
The breadth and in a way the brevity of this very personal investigation makes for stunning and absolutely riveting read. Like any successful lawyer there are no wasted words or meaningless detours but the facts of the story laid bare which makes East West Street so engrossing.

Like many from the Kresy is I need to learn something that Sands has been able to do in this story, in the ability to forgive and move on something that is not easy, when members of your family are murdered because they are Jewish. But Sands does state that ‘forgetting is not an option’ which is so true and so important.

East West Street has transcended so many genres, and like his legal forebears he breaks convention and has created an engrossing read. He has managed to weave the highly personal stories of three people and the global impact of their times and what they achieved in to a success, and this in the face of evil, intent on killing them.

From first to last page the reader will be drawn in to a powerful story. East West Street is not a book I shall forget and shall never fail to recommend. ( )
1 vote atticusfinch1048 | May 31, 2016 |
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Epigraph
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
Dedication
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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