9 Oct 2018

“East West Street. On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.” by Phillipe Sands

“East West Street” is a really interesting and revealing book by Phillipe Sands, which consists of two main stories: the first one is Sands’ personal family story and about the lives of his Jewish relatives before, during and after the Holocaust. The second story is about the beginnings of international law in context of the Holocaust and how it formed our modern understanding of human rights.

Philippe Sands is a specialist for international law and was therefore invited by the National Iwan Franko University of Lviv to hold a presentation about the beginnings of international law. And with that invitation the whole story starts, as Sands did not just remember his own roots in Lviv, but starts to uncover diverse details of political and judicial history. In fact, not just does a part of Sands family come from Lviv and its outskirts, but also the two Jewish lawyers Raphael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht studied law at the University of Lviv. Both of them influenced fundamentally the concept of international law. Lemkin coined the term “genocide” (with a focus on groups) and Lauterpacht advocated for “crimes against humanity” (with a focus on the individual) – two different concepts which still influence our understanding of international law and human rights.

The book is particular interesting for genocide and human right scholars, but also everyone who is interested in history and international law. It gives a detailed insight into the life of Lemkin and Lauterpacht, but also explains their influence on the Nuremberg trials and its judgement. Despite the historical, juridical and political facts, “East West Street” is very readable and constraining, which is due to Sands personal memoirs.

“East West Street” consists of ten chapters plus Prologue and Epilogue and gives information, among others, about the life of Leon Buchholz (Sands’ Grandfather), Hersch Lauterpacht (crimes against humanity), Raphael Lemkin (genocide), Hans Frank (the butcher of Poland) and Miss Tilney (resistance fighter) as well as information about the Nuremberg trials and its judgement.

It was especially interesting to read that the Nazis were not charged on genocide (as is known), but that the term was still used by some judges and lawyers. On the other hand, crimes against humanity got a central role within the judgement. However, both concepts first entered the judicial record in the Nuremberg trials and became an element of international law.

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