If you are interested in this book review, you can check out East West Street here.
I have read and heard plenty about World War II. Interviews, films, history books, narratives by my teachers in school and what not! I knew well what happened yet I could never empathize with the people of that time. Thankfully, through the Lawctopus Law School Book Club, I came across this beautifully written book – East West Street by Mr Phillippe Joseph Sands. Mr Sands is a British and French Barrister and a Professor of Laws and Director of the Centre on International Courts and Tribunals at University College, London.
The book grabs your attention from the get-go. The writing is investigative, personal and non-judgmental. Mr Sands has laid down his research without holding back. The idea germinated when Sands was called for a public lecture at a University in the city of Lviv in 2010 about his work on crimes against humanity and genocide. Peculiar as it may but he found that the two most important people in the history of International law were connected with that city – Hersh Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin.
Another important person who was connected to this place and because of whom Sands dived in this direction was his grandfather Mr Leon Buchholz who lived in Paris after 1945 and died in 1997. Sands explains how there was no mention of Leon’s life before 1945, that there were pictures or memories or discussions or stories from his past life. This led to him asking plenty of questions and the result is this book which we are talking about.
Leon is one of the four major characters in this book. Sands mentions this part where he felt a certain silence whenever they were at Leon’s house. There was no laugh or happiness but sadness, an unexplained one. Later, in the book we find that that silence belonged to loss of family, of friends, of the very city you were born and raised, of not knowing the whereabouts of your loved ones, of the war and the atrocities and of home. Leon with his wife and daughter fled from Lviv to Vienna to escape Nazis. The book revolves around Leon, his wife and his daughter Ruth and the question of why in an extremely tense situation would Leon leave his one-year-old daughter and wife behind while he left for Paris only to be reunited with them years later.
A professor and scholar who gave International law its foundation is the second primary character of this book- Hersh Lauterpacht who moved to Lviv in 1911 to pursue his education. Sands penned Lauterpacht’s ideologies and progressive thinking. No doubt he contributed to building law and its principles and that cannot be undermined. However, I personally found him a hypocrite. He had a liberal and progressive outlook towards the world, but when it came to people within his house, he was orthodox and conventional. In his house, women weren’t even allowed to don a hairstyle of their choice.
Enjoying this book review, check out East West Street here.
“The tough times are your cue to stand and grow stronger and bigger”- this is what comes to my mind when I think of Lemkin. A farm boy who rose to become Poland’s well connected and resourced person. He aimed and imagined forming rules to protect the life of the people. He coined the term “Genocide” which after several failed attempts was successfully included in the Nuremberg Trial. However difficult the road was towards justice and equality, his persistence and determination led him over. As a result, both genocide and humanity were included in the trial. I believe Lemkin is an underrated hero who was failed by his colleagues and their egos.
Hans Frank is the last primary character of this book. He was a lawyer and government in minister in the Nazi regime. He has a son named Niklas who helped Sands in his research. I found Frank no less than Hitler. The thoughts of killing thousands and thousands, the first-hand account of atrocities, the strategies and plans to torment people and inflict pain shakes you to your core. An irony about Frank’s life was this- the man who controlled the cities with an iron fist had his obedience vested with his wife so much so that he couldn’t divorce her when he fell in love with somebody else.
He spoke about independent judges and the values of the national community. But he also wanted non-interference in the internal affairs of foreign states. The uncanny similarities between this and the present situation surprise me. Frank was caught and put to trial in Nuremberg. Sands writes that at the end of the trial, Frank expressed remorse. He accepted all the crimes committed by him and the Nazi government.
I do not believe that there was any sense of remorse but then what do I know. A person’s truth is always with the person and so it died with him.
My biggest takeaway from the book is the story of Miss Tilney- the lady who saved millions of lives. It is the story of a woman’s grit and determination who was ready to risk her life to protect somebody else’s child. I call her the ‘Mother Teresa of World War II.’ She could be greater than that maybe, and her story may have been lost, like thousands of others who do so much good but don’t get the recognition they deserve.
In the end, the book makes me sad, a different kind of sad – one that silences me and makes me question, was the Numerberg worth it? Was it all necessary? Why the Jews or any other minority? Why the children? Why just the whole first half of the 20th century?
As to why you should read this book – it is because it builds you as a person, as an advocate and you just can’t stop feeling amazed at Sands’ research.
It is an anecdote of what transpired into the lives of these four characters. As Lauterpacht said “The individual human being…is the ultimate unit of all law“.
If you enjoyed the book review, you can check out the book ‘East West Street’ here.
If you wish to know more about the book, you can watch Lawctopus Law School Book Club discussion with Philippe Sands here!
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