Book Review: ‘East West Street’ by Philippe Sands

East West Street: Winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize eBook: Sands,  Philippe: Kindle Store
East West Street (2016)

‘East West Street’ Book Review

Philippe Sands is a Professor of Law at University College London. He is also one of the most renowned human rights lawyers in the world. In 2010, he received an invitation from Lviv University in Ukraine to deliver a public lecture on his work as a practising lawyer on ‘crimes against humanity and genocide’. A student at the University, informed Philippe that once Lviv was called Lemberg, and this got him interested.

Sands was intrigued as Lviv was the birthplace of his maternal grandfather. He was interested in going there to explore the home or maybe the extended family of his grandfather. However, when the girl told him that Lviv was also known as Lemberg earlier, one thing led to another, and through the rabbit hole, he found that Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin, two of the most important personalities in international law, all lived in Lviv at some point. 

So he went for the lecture, and after that, Philippe decided that he was going to write a book. It took him nearly six years to finish the book. But trust me, when you read the book you will feel that the quality of the story makes it worth the labour. 

If you wish to know more about the book, you can watch Lawctopus Law School Book Club‘s discussion with Philippe Sands here.

East West Street showcases the origin of antisemitism in Germany. It shows the brutality and the cruelty of the Nazis on the Jews. It takes you through the personal pain and the sufferings of the people belonging to the Jewish community.

The book covers the contribution of Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin during the Nuremberg Trial. Hersch Lauterpacht is known as the father of modern human rights. He was a Professor in Cambridge. His work’s imprint can be seen today in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Lauterpatch was the one who came up with the concept of ‘crimes against humanity’. Raphael Lemkin was the lawyer who coined the term ‘genocide’ and also helped in drafting the Genocide Convention. Sands traces their life and also tries to explain to the readers the distinction between both of the concepts, while talking about how they came to be.

Prof. Sands also writes down his discoveries about his family’s past, which makes this book a part thriller and fills it with emotions. His grandfather is the third character in the book. Sands tries to investigate the life and suffering of his grandparents Leon Buchholz and Rita. In the memoir, Sands recalls that his grandparents used to live in Paris during his childhood. But his grandfather, Leon Buchholz, never shared the history and their struggle. He was a very quiet person and he used to be reserved.

Further in the story, we get to see the earlier life of Leon and his Rita and the troubles they had to go through. One mystery which is there is when his grandparents separated during the Nazi regime, his grandfather left for Paris alone, leaving behind Sands’ grandmother and mother. The book lays out the personal traumatic phase of Leon’s life whether it was be the loss of his parents or the death of his relatives in the concentration camp. 

One of the most interesting things about the book is that the readers get to know the ideologies of the Nazis. How they saw Jews and what was the role played by these Nazi Leaders in the Holocaust. The fourth character which this book covers is Hans Frank who was Hitler’s lawyer and later the governor-general of German-occupied Poland.

The Nuremberg Trials was the first time when the leaders of the nation were being subjected to a trial for mass murder by people from outside. The trial of Frank is being dealt with in detail in this context.

The books also covers the opinion of Niklas Frank, son of Hans Frank, who has publicly accepted that his father was a person who deserved the death penalty. Whereas, Horst von Wächter, son of another Nazi who was Frank’s right hand, justified his father’s act saying that his father was caught in the Nazi administration and whatever happened was not his fault. Thus, we see different sides to the same issue by people in different situations, which was interesting to read.

In the end, I would say that anyone who is interested to know more about international humanitarian laws, Nuremberg Trials, and about Hitler, Holocaust and concentration camps – should read this book.

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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