Dublin Unitarian Book Club’s
choice for September 2021.

East West Street
Philippe Sands

This is a book about the Holocaust. Not my subject of choice, having read a lot (enough) about it over the past 60 years...! It is a formidable piece of research, but the author unfortunately doesn’t know that a story is snappier and more engaging if you don’t include every single fact you have discovered. For example, did he really think we wanted to know the names and professions of seven or eight neighbours of one of his characters?
          To save you the trouble of reading this slow book, here are the few interesting facts that were new to me:

1) Two Polish Jewish lawyers (both escaped from Poland, but their families didn’t) were responsible for inventing the terms ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’. They didn’t approve of each other’s opinions. Both terms were used at the Nuremberg trials.
          2) in either 1941 or 42, Baedecker produced a tourist guide to German Occupied Poland. !!!!
          3) The author defines ‘sovereignty’ as being allowed to treat your citizens however you wish. The international courts haven’t fixed this problem.
          The rest of the book is nothing new. Nothing was particularly moving as the style was so dry.
          I am told that the author gave a lecture giving the same material. This is probably a better bet, being, I presume, much shorter. I won’t be watching it myself, but urge you to rather than use up hours of valuable time wading through the book. Unless you love and admire research for its own sake - in which case, why not go and research your own family history?
          It would be a better use of your precious time!

Madeline Stringer
Dublin Unitarian Church

Phillppe Sands is an International Human Rights lawyer and Professor of Law at University College London.
          In 2010 he was invited to give a lecture at Lviv University now in the Ukraine on the concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity. The city of Lviv, formerly Lemberg changed hands eight times between the two world wars, Sands says that
          “The streets of Lviv are a microcosm of Europe’s turbulent twentieth century, the focus of bloody conflicts that tore cultures apart”.
          It is no surprise that the ‘fathers’ of the concepts of genocide which is attributed to Rafael Lemkin and crimes against humanity to Hersch Lauterpacht formulated their ideas as both had studied at Lviv University during the 1920’s and would have witnessed first hand those ‘bloody conflicts’.
          Sands explores how both men developed these concepts and their determination to have them included as indictable crimes to be charged against the Nazi regime and it’s practitioners at the Nuremberg Trial in 1946.
          This is very detailed and could have been a very dry account but Sands also delves into their personal lives and family histories giving us very human minibiographies of the men whose legacy was to strengthen international law and whose hope was to safeguard the citizens of the world.
          Sands also has his own personal reasons for his research as his maternal grandfather, Leon Buchholz was born in Lviv. Leon also lived in Vienna where he married Sands’ grandmother Rita and it’s where his mother was born in 1938.
          The family ended up in Paris for most of the war years , but Leon and Rita never talked about the years prior to 1945, there was a veil of silence surrounding them. Sands goes on his own personal ‘Who do you think you are’ journey which is very poignant as we get to know members of his family from Lviv and neighbouring Zholkiew. Seventy or more of his relatives who lived in Lviv, Zholkiev and Vienna during the war were murdered in the Holocaust. Sands visits the killing fields of Zholkiev and says that for a brief moment he understood Leon’s and Rita’s ‘silence’.
          There is a fourth protagonist in this story, Hans Frank who was Hitler’s lawyer in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Frank was the Governor General of Poland and oversaw the systematic murder of three million jews in Poland. He was found guilty at Nuremberg of the legal charges that had been formulated by Lauterpacht and Lemkin. Lauterpacht’s parents and all of his siblings were murdered while Lemkin lost 49 relatives in the Holocaust. Lauterpacht was present in the courtroom during the trial while Lemkin listened on a wireless from a hospital bed in Paris.
          Sands does not go on a crusade against Frank which would be understandable, but he tells us his story within the bigger Nazi horror story in order to try understand one of the darkest times in human history.
          Sands meets Niklas Frank, Hans Frank’s son at the Nuremberg Palace of justice in 2014 in courtroom 600 where his father ‘s trial took place, Niklas was 7 years old in 1946, he says “This is a happy room, for me, and for the world.”
          East West Street is lengthy and detailed but also fascinating and very moving and more than worth while read.

Alison Claffey
Dublin Unitarian Church

I found East West Street so gripping that I could hardly put it down; I was fascinated by the author’s grasp of the complex issues involved (legal and humanitarian), the clarity of his writing, and above all by the meticulous research which has preserved the stories of a number of people who contributed in very different ways to life in Europe during the second world war and afterwards.

Jennifer Flegg
Dublin Unitarian Church

I read East West Street just after it was published in 2017. Shortly afterwards the author, Phillippe Sands was invited to speak at the Dalkey Book Festival where I heard him speak passionately about the history of his family and about the law.
          Following an invitation to give a lecture in Lviv, Sands delves into the past to discover what had become of his relatives who came from the region and as Jews had been torn apart by the second world war.
          He gives a detailed legal history of the terms ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ as formulated by Rafael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht respecfully, and both coincidentally had studied in Lviv University.
          I found the book immensely interesting and despite the very detailed legal history a good read, particularly as Philippe Sands talks today about his work in the International Courts of Justice where crimes so prominent at Nuremberg are unfortunately very relevant today.

Margaret Leeson
Dublin Unitarian Church