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  • East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity” by Philippe Sands
  • David Hawk (bio)
Philippe Sands, East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity” (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) ISBN 978-0385350716, 425 pages.

Philippe Sands may not be the first person to look at the lives and teachings of Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin, examine their seminal contributions to international human rights law, or note that they both attended the same (to North Americans, unfamiliar) law school in East Galicia.1 But a confluence of several coincidences led Sands, a law professor and practicing human rights attorney, to see the promise of an extraordinary story. Or rather, the promise of East West Street’s several intersecting extraordinary stories.

The chain of coincidences began with an invitation for Sands to lecture at Jan Kazimierz University Law School in the city now known as Lviv, in the Ukraine where Lauterpacht and Lemkin first studied law. Sands claims, not without reason, that the university marks the origin of the modern system of international justice. Lviv, with its neoclassical architecture and art neuveau trim, was once dubbed the “Paris of the East.”

The city has quite a history. At the beginning of Sands’ story, Lviv was called Lemberg. The historic city is also identified on maps as Lvov, Lwow, or Lviv when the city was under alternating German, Polish, Russian, or Ukrainian control. Located at what Sands calls the very fault lines between North and South and East and West Europe, this medium sized city changes sovereign ownership [End Page 246] and control eight times in the course of Sands’ narrative.

Lemberg/Lvov/Lwow/Lviv, is located at the Eastern most reaches of what was once the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. It lies at the Western lip of what was then called the Pale of Settlement, the heartland of Eastern European Jewry. This area of South-Central Europe, more aptly termed the The Bloodlands, is where Stalin and Hitler murdered masses of individuals and where armed bands of Poles and Ukrainians fought, when they could, for their bit of turf. This region is where, as Sands puts it, “Jews were targeted or caught in the middle.”2

The second, quite remarkable, coincidence that led to East West Street emerged from Sands’ deep, fascinating, and sometimes investigator-assisted research into his own complicated family history. The recognition that his mother’s parents lived in this same town where Lemkin and Lauterpacht first studied law contributed to his interest in pursuing the narrative. In addition, the author’s great-grandmother was even born on the same street as Lauterpacht: East West Street in Lviv’s next-door village of Zolkiew. (In case readers wonder, the village of Zolkiew also featured a perpendicularly intersecting main-street named North South.) In East West Street, Sands produces a 1911 map of Lwow showing the location of the law faculty, the home of his mother’s family, the home of Lauterpacht, and Lemkin’s three successive residencies while attending university. He adds a wonderful 1854 map of Zolkiew showing the family homes of Lauterpacht and his great-grandmother’s family, and scores of period photographs of the persons and places that figure in the narrative of East West Street, creating even more sense of place and time.

As Sands discovered in the course of his research, the coincidences tragically continue. His grandmother perished at the same extermination camp as Lauterpacht’s parents: Treblinka. In Sands’ great-grandmother’s case, she was transported there, he relates, on the same cattle-car train as three of Freud’s sisters.

Much of East West Street’s narrative is driven by Sands’ personal search for family history. His mother was one of the “hidden children” of the Holocaust, saved by an evangelical British missionary devoted to protecting Jewish children. Sands’ infant mother knew next to nothing about her rescue. Sands tracks down information about her rescue, uncovering this once hidden story. His mother’s father, Leon Buchholz, was born and raised in Lemberg/Lviv; although he is one of the central characters of East West Street, he would not speak about his life...


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pp. 246-253
Launched on MUSE
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