Author: Philippe Sands
Review by: Shelby Grubbs, managing member, Miller & Martin PLLC’s Atlanta office and founding managing director of the Atlanta Center for International Arbitration and Mediation
In 1945, at Nuremberg, Germany, an eight-judge tribunal undertook a trial of former officials in Hitler’s Reich, subjecting their wartime activity to the sanction of two legal theories, crimes against humanity and genocide.
East West Street examines the development of these theories through the biographies of their proponents. Rafael Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht, while unacquainted until years later, were both educated and significantly molded by their experiences in an Eastern European city variously known as Lemberg (Austria), Lviv (Ukraine), Lvov (USSR) and Lwow (Poland), as political control and borders shifted.
Author Philippe Sands QC provides additional context and drama by examining the lives his Eastern European Jewish forebears – those surviving the World War II by virtue of heroism or luck as well as those killed in death camps erected by, among others, Hans Franck, the Nazi overlord for the city then known as Lemberg. Herr Franck’s biography is also explored, concluding with his trial and execution at Nuremberg.
Lemkin (by 1945, at Cambridge) drafted what became the Dec. 9, 1948, UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The work of Lauterpacht (on the faculty at Duke) informed the UN Convention on Human Rights, adopted the following day, December 10, 1948. While the Nuremberg judgments were more profoundly impacted by Lauterpacht, Lemkin’s convention has had the greater long-term influence.
Sands, a professor at University College London and a prominent international lawyer, is a compelling storyteller. The hero of his story is neither Lauterpacht nor Lemkin, but the rule of law. The Nuremberg trials represent one of the “Greatest Generation’s” contributions to posterity: the notion, implicit in both conventions, that people are accountable according to international norms even when they are “just following orders.”