Winner of the 2017 Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize
"A monumental achievement...a profoundly personal account of the origins of crimes against humanity and genocide, told with love, anger and precision ." -John le Carre
"A narrative, to my knowledge unprecedented. Read more...
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Winner of the 2017 Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize
"A monumental achievement...a profoundly personal account of the origins of crimes against humanity and genocide, told with love, anger and precision." -John le Carre
"A narrative, to my knowledge unprecedented. It] should not be ignored by anyone in the United States or elsewhere." --Bernard-Henri Levy on the front cover of The New York Times Book Review
"Exceptional...has the intrigue, verve and material density of a first-rate thriller." --The Guardian
"Astonishing...An outstanding book...A story of heroes and loss." --The New Statesman
A profound and profoundly important book--a moving 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.
East West Street looks at the personal and intellectual evolution of the two men who simultaneously originated the ideas of "genocide" and "crimes against humanity," both of whom, not knowing the other, studied at the same university with the same professors, in a city little known today that was a major cultural center of Europe, "the little Paris of Ukraine," a city variously called Lemberg, Lwow, Lvov, or Lviv.
The book opens with the author being invited to give a lecture on genocide and crimes against humanity at Lviv University. Sands accepted the invitation with the intent of learning about the extraordinary city with its rich cultural and intellectual life, 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 who then had 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 as a child surviving Nazi occupation, Sands searched further into the history of the city of Lemberg and 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 at Lviv University in the city of his grandfather's birth, each considered to be the father of the modern human rights movement, and each, at parallel times, forging diametrically opposite, revolutionary concepts of humanitarian law that had changed the world.
In this extraordinary and resonant book, Sands looks at who these two very private men were, and at how and why, coming from similar Jewish backgrounds and the same city, studying at the same university, each developed the theory he did, showing how each man dedicated this period of his life to having his legal concept--"genocide" and "crimes against humanity"--as a centerpiece for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.
And the author writes of a third man, Hans Frank, Hitler's personal lawyer, a Nazi from the earliest days who had destroyed so many lives, friend of Richard Strauss, collector of paintings by Leonardo da Vinci. Frank oversaw the ghetto in Lemberg in Poland in August 1942, in which the entire large Jewish population of the area had been confined on penalty of death. Frank, who was instrumental in the construction of concentration camps nearby and, weeks after becoming governor general of Nazi-occupied Poland, ordered the transfer of 133,000 men, women, and children to the death camps.
Sands brilliantly writes of how all three men came together, in October 1945 in Nuremberg--Rafael Lemkin; Hersch Lauterpacht; and in the dock at the Palace of Justice, with the twenty other defendants of the Nazi high command, prisoner number 7, Hans Frank, who had overseen the extermination of more than a million Jews of Galicia and Lemberg, among them, the families of the author's grandfather as well as those of Lemkin and Lauterpacht.
A book that changes the way we look at the world, at our understanding of history and how civilization has tried to cope with mass murder. Powerful; moving; tender; a revelation.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-04-04
- Reviewer: Staff
Sands (Torture Team), a human rights lawyer and professor of international law at University College London, takes readers on a labyrinthine journey into the personal histories of three men whose lives were forever altered by the Nuremberg trials of October 1946. Two of them—Rafael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht—were founding luminaries of the new field of international human rights law; the third, Hans Frank, was Hitler’s personal legal counsel. Sands intertwines their stories with his own tragic family history, and seeks to illuminate the guiding principles of humanitarian law while unearthing the forgotten stories of the men who fought for its establishment in the wake of Nazi devastation. Part detective story and part heart-wrenching family history, the teeming narrative is anchored in the Ukrainian city of L’viv (alternately Lwów, L’vov, or Lemberg), hometown of Lemkin and Lauterpacht, and an emblem of the changing face of 20th-century Europe. Yet despite this attention to place, the book feels curiously unmoored, with the personalities and ambitions of its three main characters getting lost under a glut of biographical detail. Sands clearly revels in discovering long-lost family secrets; unfortunately, he also loses sight of the innovations in legal theory that Lemkin and Lauterpacht helped usher in, the ostensible focus on which is arguably the book’s most original aspect. (June)