East West Street: On the Origins of "Genocide" and "Crimes Against Humanity" (Hardcover)
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Winner of the 2016 Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction
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 Carré
“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, Lwów, 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.
About the Author
PHILIPPE SANDS is an international lawyer and a professor of law at University College London. He is the author of Lawless World and Torture Team and is a frequent commentator on CNN and the BBC World Service. Sands lectures around the world and has taught at New York University and been a visiting professor at the University of Toronto, the University of Melbourne, and the Université de Paris I (Sorbonne). In 2003 he was appointed a Queen’s Counsel. He lives in London, England.
Acclaim for Philippe Sands’
EAST WEST STREET
“An indispensable book.”
—Jack Fischel, Hadassah Magazine
—Christopher R. Browning, The New York Review
“An intimate and important tale . . . vivid . . . engaging . . . A kind of mystery-solving journey . . . remarkable.”
—John Tirman, The Washington Post
“A tour de force . . . penetrating . . . A pillar of the emerging genre of third-generation investigation into the legacy of the European Jewish apocalypse . . . This is a history that is both personal and universal . . . Equal parts legal scholarship, memoir and multitude of mysteries, told with admirable suspense and elocution . . . Here we find both the detail of concepts and the detail of personal lives and geographies . . . Sands acts as archivist and archaeologist, traveler and historian—but also as horrified observer.”
—Sarah Wildman, Jewish Daily Forward
“A monumental and profoundly important book . . . A brilliant account that reads as part history, part human rights theory, and part thriller . . . Sands writes like a skilled archeologist digging into the bloodied soil of Europe . . . A riveting melding of memoir and history . . . A powerful book, exquisitely written and profound in its implications and importance . . . A singular accomplishment . . . An inspirational book that readers will cherish for years to come.”
—Michael N. Dobkowski, Jewish Book Council
“Dazzling, shattering. East West Street is one of the most extraordinary books that I have ever read.”
“A masterpiece that is part detective story and part exploration of family history, memory, crime, guild, loss and law . . . Exceptionally gripping and moving . . . East West Street is described by John Le Carré as ‘a monumental achievement’ and he is right. It is work of the highest order and it deserves to be as widely read as possible. It is, I reiterate, a masterpiece.”
—Iain Martin, Reaction
“Supremely gripping . . . Sands has produced something extraordinary . . . Sands tells it not just as history but as a family memoir, a detective thriller and a meditation on the power of memory . . . Written with novelistic skill, its prose effortlessly poised, its tone perfectly judged, the book teems with life and high drama . . . One of the most gripping and powerful books imaginable.”
—Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times
“Remarkable . . . a voyage of discovery . . . a riveting odyssey . . . Sands elicits the most extraordinary revelations from his subjects.”
—Isabel Hull, London Review of Books
“Magnificent and compelling . . . Sands has created a masterpiece . . . It should be read by everyone.”
—Marc Mangel, Distinguished Research Professor of Mathematical Biology at University of California, Santa Cruz
“A rare and unusual event: a book about international law that makes you want to keep reading.”
—Cullen Murphy, Vanity Fair
“Outstanding . . . Consistently intriguing . . . A fusion of personal and professional interest, with Sands delving into his family’s cordoned-off past to unearth concealed truths and trace the circumstances that led to the birth of his chosen field of humanitarian law . . . Powerful and poignant, but also original . . . Ultimately, Sands’s multifaceted book stands triumphantly alone. It even-handedly charts four separate lives and skillfully explores a beleaguered city with blurred borders . . . It amplifies the roar of history, dramatizes the depravity of, and the moral struggle against, what Primo Levi called the “infernal order” that is Nazism . . . It is a fact-finding mission, a gripping courtroom drama, a tale, ultimately and cathartically, of good triumphing over evil. In Sands’s pages, many beautifully adorned with photos, maps, letters—evidence—we see the piece-by-piece reconstruction of a lost world, and the development of ideas that would help safeguard a new one.”
—Malcolm Forbes, New Republic
“East West Street is the fascinating story of a distinguished jurist who tries to untangle the secret wartime history of his family, as he masterfully brings to life the riveting legal drama that forced the men who ordered genocide to face justice. His suspenseful investigative memoir breaks new ground on World War II, as he takes readers on a journey across Europe that is rendered in lush and vivid prose.”
—Anne-Marie O'Connor, author of The Lady in Gold
“Sands is a fine writer and sets his scenes so compellingly and earnestly that his enterprise succeeds . . . Engrossing, luminous and moving.”
—Samuel Moyn, The Wall Street Journal
“A compelling family memoir intersects with the story of the Jewish legal minds who sowed the seeds for human rights law at the Nuremberg trials . . . important and engrossing . . . The surprise is that even when charting the complexities of law, Sands’s writing has the intrigue, verve and material density of a first-rate thriller . . . He can magic whole histories of wartime heroism out of addresses eight decades old. Or, chasing the lead of a faded photograph, he can unearth possible alternate grandparents and illicit liaisons to be verified only by DNA tests . . . Exceptional.”
—Lisa Appignanesi, The Guardian
“Sands proceeds in the manner of certain historians . . . he also works in the manner of the author of thrillers . . . In Sands’s history, as in all great novels, we encounter characters who, though seemingly secondary, are essential to the plot . . . And all the while Sands works in the way of artists like Filippo Lippi, who painted himself into the corner of his ‘Coronation of the Virgin’ and ‘The Funeral of Saint Stephen’ . . . The result is a narrative, to my knowledge unprecedented . . . We have in Sands’s East West Street a machine of power and beauty that should not be ignored by anyone in the United States or elsewhere who would believe that there are irreparable crimes whose adjudication should not stop at the border . . . Barack Obama and his successors would be well advised to move to the top of their reading lists this account of the birth, amid the darkest conceivable shadows, of an unprecedented body of rights-based law, whose application has scarcely begun.”
—Bernard-Henri Lévy, New York Times Book Review (cover review)
“Vivid and readable . . . East West Street weaves lives together in a kind of collective biography of a generation . . . remarkable . . . compelling . . . moving and powerful.”
—Mark Mazower, Financial Times
“A story of heroes and loss . . . An outstanding book; a moving history [that] at times, reads like a detective story . . . Sands’s greatest achievement is the way he moves between his family story and the lives of Lauterpacht and Lemkin and how he brings their complex work to life . . . This is the best kind of intellectual history . . . a clear, astonishing story.”
—David Herman, New Statesman
“Gripping, profound and deeply personal . . . Excellent.”
—Mark Harrison, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
“Remarkable . . . vivid . . . complex and gripping . . . East West Street is a fascinating and revealing book, for the things it explains: the origins of laws that changed our world, no less. Thoughtful, and compassionate, and important.”
—Daniel Hahn, The Spectator
“Moving and deep . . . an astonishing work in many ways: on the personal level, on the level of coincidence, on the epic level involving most people on earth, and on the philosophical and legal level. That Sands managed to pull it off and pull it all together is remarkable. Lemkin and Lauterpacht are drawn with an artist's eye and are indelible—Lauterpacht's reserve juxtaposed against Lemkin's nervousness . . . The issue of the prosecution of genocide versus crimes against humanity is fascinating and was made clear to me for the first time . . . Bravo! . . . A gargantuan achievement.”
“This remarkable book is partly a lawyer's quest to understand the roots of international law (one that is surprisingly fascinating for the non-legal reader) and a riveting family memoir . . . Extraordinary . . . astonishing . . . a considerable feat . . . profoundly moving.”
—Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller (Book of the Month)
“A book like no other I have ever read—unputdownable and unforgettable.”
“Beautiful and necessary.”
“Astonishing and important.”
“East West Street is a strange and beautiful object: at once a genealogy of international human rights law, and a delicate family portrait . . . Meticulous, moving, compulsive.”
“This book transcends genre, breaking convention to create something fascinating and engrossing. Sands manages to weave the most personal of stories through the most globally impactful: the inclusion of the term ‘crimes against humanity’ in the judgement at Nuremberg.”
—Steven Cooper of Waterstones, The Bookseller
“Engrossing . . . remarkable . . . part family memoir, part biographical essay, part historical exploration . . . A reminder of the incredible riches that are to be found in archives, parish records, attics and old suitcases when there is the energy and persistence to keep digging.”
—Caroline Moorehead, Literary Review
“In East West Street, Philippe Sands brings all the power of his formidable intellect, his inquisitive spirit and his emotional imagination to bear on a complicated tangle of personal, legal and European history. In a gripping narrative that is tender yet dispassionate, intensely felt and meticulously researched, Sands uncovers the surprising affinities and divergences among the parallel lives of three men, two celebrated, one unknown, whose struggles, sorrows, accomplishments and defeats, large and small, help us to understand and, more, to feel the mittel-European civilization their lives embodied, a whole world that was destroyed and reinvented within the span of a single lifetime.”
—Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
“Gripping . . . Sands’s study achieves a balance between the individual and the political that brings the events of the Holocaust into new focus . . . Readers interested in history, political science, and/or religion shouldn’t miss this compelling work with unforgettable characters.”
—Margaret Heller, Library Journal
“In a triumph of astonishing research, Sands has brilliantly woven together several family stories which lead to the great denouement at the Nuremberg tribunal. No novel could possibly match such an important work of truth.”
—Antony Beevor (English Military Historian)
“An engrossing tale of family secrets and groundbreaking legal precedents . . . a tense, riveting melding of memoir and history . . . From letters, photographs, and deeply revealing interviews, the author portrays Nazi persecutions in shattering detail . . . Vastly important.”
—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“A monumental achievement … a profoundly personal account of the origins of crimes against humanity and genocide, told with love, anger and precision.”
—John le Carré