The Nuremberg Trials marked a milestone in the development of international law in part because individuals who participated in the commission of state crimes were no longer shielded by the legal defenses of either sovereign immunity (for leaders) or obedience to orders (for underlings). But the trials were also notable because, to capture the magnitude of Nazi criminality, they occasioned the emergence of two new legal concepts that have since been enshrined in international law: “crimes against humanity” and “genocide.”
These two concepts may be thought of as complementary—a dual legacy of Nuremberg to international law to deal with the legal challenge of state-organized mass atrocities. The beauty of Philippe Sands’s book East West Street is to show that in their origins they were competing, rival concepts devised by two remarkable legal minds—Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin. These two men were of utterly different personality but, separated by just several years, they had attended the same law school in Lviv (alternatively Lemberg, Lwów, or Lvov depending upon the ruler of the moment) and had classes from some of the same professors. It was the discovery of this coincidence, when Sands was preparing to deliver a lecture on the origins of international law at that law school, that led him to undertake his book. It ultimately developed along four major tracks and several fascinating byways.
Along the first track Sands explores the past of his own maternal grandfather Leon Buchholz, including the family’s roots in Żółkiew outside Lviv, Leon’s birth in Lviv, migration to Vienna at the beginning of World War I, flight to Paris in 1939, subsequent reunion with his daughter that summer, and improbably with his wife (who remained behind in Vienna until November 1941, the very last minute that emigration from the Third Reich was permitted) much later. Threatened by the deportation from France of Jews, especially foreign Jews, beginning in 1942, Sands’s mother survived in hiding and his grandparents survived with false papers. But the grandfather’s mother, mother-in-law, sister, and brother-in-law, as well as…
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