This is a great book and a worthy winner of the 2016 Baillie Gifford non-fiction prize, in which Philippe Sands traces the development of the international law terms ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’. But this is no dry legal treatise, largely due to his extensive research and highly engaging writing style, Philippe Sands shows how the lives of Hersch Lauterpacht, Rafael Lemkin and his maternal grandfather Leon Buchholz came to be intertwined in the now Ukrainian city of Lviv. While Lauterpacht and Lemkin studied there – with Lauterpacht going on to an academic career in Law at Cambridge, where he developed the concept of ‘crimes against humanity’ in an attempt to protect the rights of individuals, Lemkin’s work was focused on the protection afforded to identifiable groups and races by calling for recognition of the crime of genocide. On the other hand, Leon Buchholz lived through the full horror of the Nazi invasion before escaping to Paris, where he was eventually joined by his infant daughter and later his wife. The crimes defined by Lauterpacht and Lemkin featured in the indictments used at the Nuremberg trials, where Lauterpacht’s ‘crimes against humanity’ gained wider support than Lemkin’s ‘genocide’. Although arguable that this has been reversed in the prosecution of post-WWII war crimes, Sands’ narrative has an edge-of-the-seat quality as legal argument and the preferring of charges show how the four prosecution authorities built their cases against the defendants. Hersch Lauterpacht looms large in the development of international law, but at Nuremberg his powerful intellect and professionalism are brought face-to-face with the accused – at a time when he did not yet know the fate of so many of his own family members. The last five years of his life were spent as the British judge to the International Court of Justice in the Hague; an appointment that was criticised by some in politics and the media on the dubious – and frankly worrying ground – that he was not ‘sufficiently British’. Sands’ work is a triumph of research and great writing, as a work of legal history it also stands as a salutary warning for today, perhaps best encapsulated in George Santayana’s telling observation that: ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 9780385350716 (print) ISBN 9780385350723 (e-book)


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