East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

Author(s): Philippe Sands

History | Marilyn Recommends

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.


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A uniquely personal exploration of the origins of international law, centring on the Nuremberg Trials, the city of Lviv and a secret family history

Winner of Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2016.

A monumental achievement: profoundly personal, told with love, anger and great precision -- John le Carre Supremely gripping ... There are, of course, plenty of books about the Nazis, the Holocaust and the Nuremberg trials. When I picked up Sands's, I have to confess that my heart sank at the thought of another. Then I started reading. A few hours later, I looked up and realised that it was past midnight. When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I did was to reach for the book, and then I kept reading until I had finished it ... Sands has produced something extraordinary. Written with novelistic skill, its prose effortlessly poised, its tone perfectly judged, his book teems with life, from the bustling streets of Habsburg Lviv, with its handsome cafes and grand new opera house, to the high drama of the Nuremberg trials, with their rich cast of colourful characters. Often it is almost intolerably poignant ... But it is also a reminder that, even in the deepest darkness, there were glimmers of extraordinary heroism. One short chapter alone ... is one of the most moving accounts of human compassion I have ever read. For Sands, given his family's history, this must have been an enormously painful endeavour. But the result is one of the most gripping and powerful books imaginable. -- Dominic Sandbrook SUNDAY TIMES 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 ... EAST WEST STREET is an exceptional memoir -- Lisa Appignanesi THE OBSERVER Engrossing ... Sands has written a remarkable and enjoyable book, deftly weaving his own family history into a lively account of the travails of the early campaigners for international human rights law -- Caroline Moorhead LITERARY REVIEW EAST WEST STREET is a magnificent book. A work of great brilliance. There is narrative sweep and intellectual grip. Everything that happens is inevitable and yet comes as a surprise. I was moved to anger and to pity. In places I gasped, in places I wept. I wanted to reach the end. I couldn't wait to reach the end. And then when I got there I didn't want to be at the end -- Daniel Finkelstein THE TIMES EAST WEST STREET is a fascinating and revealing book, for the things it explains: the origins of laws that changed our world, no less. It's also a readable book, and thoughtful, and compassionate. Most fundamentally, though, it's a book that tells a few individual human stories that lie behind the world-changing ones. That storytelling isn't redemptive - what could be, in this context? - but it confronts all those silences and challenges them. That challenge makes it an important book too -- Daniel Hahn THE SPECTATOR A vivid and readable contribution, part memoir, part documentary, to the history debate ... Much of the most compelling material in this book is personal ... Moving and powerful -- Mark Mazower FINANCIAL TIMES Outstanding ... This is the best kind of intellectual history. Sands puts the ideas of Lemkin and Lauterpacht in context and shows how they still resonate today, influencing Tony Blair, David Cameron and Barack Obama. When we think of the atrocities committed by Slobodan Milosevic or Bashar al-Assad, it is the ideas of these two Jewish refugees we turn to. Sands shows us in a clear, astonishing story where they came from -- David Herman NEW STATESMAN 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 A book like no other I have ever read - unputdownable and unforgettable -- Orlando Figes EAST WEST STREET pulls off the considerable feat of interweaving the lives of these three men with a brief history of international law and its origins, and some profoundly moving revelations about Sands' own forebears ... [It] is also an eminently topical book because it directly considers the impact of the past on our present -- Caroline Sanderson THE BOOKSELLER 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 THE BOOKSELLER, Book of the Month 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 ...read(s) more like a thriller or a spy story: not many barristers have their books endorsed by John le Carre. -- Joshua Rozenberg PROSPECT 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 ... For the future of humanity, forgetting, Sands insists in this vastly important book, is not an option KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review There is growing suspicion that there are no stories left to tell of the Holocaust; all the pain and horror has been revealed to the point of repetition. But human-rights lawyer Sands proves that there is still room for thoughtful writers to educate, engage and even beguile readers on this terribly important subject ... An unexpected page-turner, EAST WEST STREET is a book for the twenty-first century that reminds us that the cruel lessons of the twentieth still have much to impart and must not be ignored -- Colleen Mondor BOOKLIST Gripping ... This fascinating account of forgetting, forgiving and moving on ... achieves a balance between the individual and the political that brings the events of the Holocaust into new focus. ... [A] compelling work with unforgettable characters LIBRARY JOURNAL A beautiful and necessary book -- A.L. Kennedy 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 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 Levy NEW YORK TIMES 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 EAST WEST STREET is a landmark moment. From the ashes of the holocaust, the graveyards of Bosnia, and other places of mass killing, Sands gives a brilliant and uplifting insight into the birth of the crimes of "genocide" and "crimes against humanity" and the roles they played in bringing the agents of such slaughter to justice -- Jon Snow EAST WEST STREET is a strange and beautiful object: at once a genealogy of international human rights law, and a delicate family portrait. The common element to this apparently unrelated pair is genocidal persecution - and other assorted horrors of twentieth century history. It is meticulous, moving and compulsive -- Adam Thirlwell Gripping, profound and deeply personal ... EAST WEST STREET is especially interesting and readable as much of it is a detective story of Sands' investigation into his family history ... The unravelling of these secrets, and the remarkable way that Sands' family history interweaves with those of Lemkin and Lauterpacht, make for gripping reading HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY TRUST Beginning and ending with the last day of the Nuremberg Trials, several powerful, interconnecting stories unfold in parallel CHOICE Shattering, important and incredibly readable -- John Lewis-Stempel SUNDAY EXPRESS Philippe Sands' remarkable book is a voyage of discovery into the lost world of Lemberg/Lwow, its people, and their actions and ideas as these ripple out into the larger world we still inhabit. -- Isabel Hull LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS (But) if you think you have read enough on this subject, or know enough, then think again. In East West Street: on the origins of genocide and crimes against humantiy, the London-based international lawyer, Philippe SAnds has produced a masterpiece that is part detective story and part exploration of family history, memory, crime, guilt, loss and law...It is a work of hte highest order and it deserves to be as widely read as possible. it is, I reiterate, a masterpiece. -- Iain Martin REACTION Dazzling, shatttering. East West Street is one of the most extraordinary books that I have ever read. Antonia Fraser Astonishing and important -- Louis Begley Absorbing -- Nicholas Goodman LAW SOCIETY GAZETTE Philippe Sands, a professor of law and a practising barrister, brings his experience of a wide variety of cases of serious human rights abuses, from Rwanda to Yugoslavia, Guantanamo to Congo-Brazzaville, to an excavation of the origins of the concepts of 'crimes against humanity' and 'genocide'. -- Richard J Evans THE GUARDIAN Gripping and beautifully written -- Robert Low JEWISH CHRONICLE The best thing I've read this year, East West Street is both personal and international in scope. THE RIVERSIDE WAY In his quest to find out more about the early life of his late grandfather Philippe Sands gives us a powerful insight into the lives of two great jurists who defined crimes against humanity and genocide. HISTORY TODAY The coincidences that lie at the heart of the story that Philippe Sands, QC, will recount in Edinburgh this weekend are so breathtaking that audiences will find them hard to believe. At least as remarkable, however, is the detective work that he has used to pull them together. -- Magnus Linklater THE TIMES He alights on a pit containing the remains of 3.500 Jews, "individuals each, together a group". And in a moment of insight and epiphany he understands. And so, in the end do we: that is the achievement of this learned, idiosyncratic, carefully crafted, grippingly readable book. THE TABLET Sands...shows himself to be superbly in control of his materials...fascinating and moving TLS More gripping than any thriller -- Gabriel Josipovici TLS Philippe Sands has not only woven together striking and important stories, leading from the city of Lviv to the Nuremberg tribunal, he has achieved an almost unbelievable miracle in his research. -- Antony Beevor THE GUARDIAN Christmas Books Beautifully written and enormously moving, Sands's meditation on the Holocaust in the formerly Polish city of Lviv was a well-deserved winner of the Baillie Gifford prize. -- Dominic Sandbrook SUNDAY TIMES Christmas Books Intellectual thriller, family story, legal history, political tour-de-force, East West Street, winner of the Baillie Gifford prize for non-fiction, is all of these things...It makes a compelling case for international law and the rights of the individual as it sweeps you along with its astonishing narrative. -- Daniel Finkelstein THE TIMES Books of the Year The winner of this year's Baillie Gifford Prize, Sands' book is a mixture of intellectual history, family memoir and a re-creation of the events leading up to the Nuremberg trails. FINANCIAL TIMES Books of the Year An extraordinary work of research and evocative empathy, in which consciousness of present effects is never allowed to trump the complexities of the past. -- David Horspool THE GUARDIAN Books of the Year It's a profound and very personal account of the origins of genocide in Nazi Germany, intertwined with the history of his own family during that time, and much more compelling than I've made it sound. -- Anthony Horowitz BURTON MAIL The most moving book I've read this year...The book is more than a brilliant lawyer's description of two legal concepts that have been fundamental to the moral history of humanity since the Second World War. It is also a story of self-discovery that plunges us into one of the darkest episodes in human history, the Holocaust. Am I wrong to imagine I can hear some of those long-buried skeletons rattling in their graves again? -- Richard Holloway SUNDAY HERALD An un-put-downable winner of the Baillie Gifford prize for non-fiction THE ECONOMIST Books of the Year [East West Street] should be available to everyone everywhere. That book is all we need to know about living in the world today. It is an exacting, heroic, essential education -- Peter Florence DAILY TELEGRAPH

Philippe Sands is Professor of Law at UCL and a practising barrister at Matrix Chambers. He has been involved in many of the most important international cases of recent years, including Pinochet, Congo, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Iraq and Guantanamo. His previous books include LAWLESS WORLD and TORTURE TEAM. He is a frequent contributor to the FINANCIAL TIMES, GUARDIAN, NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS and VANITY FAIR, makes regular appearances on radio and television, and serves on the boards of English PEN and the Hay Festival. @philippesands

General Fields

  • : 9781474601917
  • : Orion Publishing Group, Limited
  • : Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • : 0.37
  • : October 2016
  • : 19.80 cmmm X 12.90 cmmm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Philippe Sands
  • : Paperback
  • : 1
  • : en
  • : 345/.0251
  • : 496
  • : 80 B&W, integrated