East West Street by Philippe Sands

East West Street Philippe SandsI went to a Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction shortlist readings event in 2016 where Philippe Sands spoke about his book ‘East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity’ which won the prize that year, and I finally got round to reading it last month. Sands, an international human rights lawyer, was invited to give a lecture on genocide and crimes against humanity at the university in the Ukrainian city of Lviv in 2010 and took the opportunity to explore his family history on his mother’s side, particularly the life of his grandfather, Leon Buchholz, who was born near the city in the early 20th century.

Sands’ family history is skilfully intertwined with the lives of Raphael Lemkin and Hans Lauterpacht, two Jewish men who also lived and studied law in Lviv and were part of the prosecution team at Nuremberg and formulated the terms “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” respectively. The book culminates in the trial of Hans Frank, the Nazi Governor-General of occupied Poland responsible for the murder of thousands of citizens of Lviv and the surrounding regions during the Holocaust. The title of the book refers to the street in nearby Zolkiew where Sands’ grandfather lived which also happens to be the same street where Lauterpacht was born – one of the many extraordinary coincidences uncovered by Sands during his painstaking research.

‘East West Street’ is a fascinating memoir and is all the more gripping for its impressive structure in which the connections are gradually revealed as Sands details personal stories of individuals against the wider legal and historical backdrop. Sands undertook a significant amount of detective work in researching his family history over several years, such as discovering the identity of Elsie Tilney, the British woman working as part of the French resistance who smuggled Sands’ mother out of occupied Vienna in 1939 when she was just a baby.

As there are dozens of photographs and source material accompanying the text which were the keys to Sands’ research, I would recommend reading ‘East West Street’ in print rather than as an audiobook if possible in order to fully appreciate this remarkable memoir. Sands’ new book ‘The Ratline’ which is published in the UK this month sounds equally intriguing and is about the life of the Nazi war criminal and fugitive Otto von Wachter.


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7 responses to “East West Street by Philippe Sands

  1. We read this for book group last year. I felt that the two halves (the family story and the Nuremburg legal battles) didn’t quite sit together as well as they could have. I particularly found the latter parts with the internal politics of the prosecution team fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a truly enlightening read and led me to Clara’s War another quite extraordinary memoir by Clara Kramer, a book which is not irrelevant to East West Street.
    There is also an amazing film presented by Philip Sands, My Nazi Legacy.


  3. Oh, sounds great! I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, and fortunately picked up a copy recently in a charity shop! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ethan S.

    I did a tour in Berlin that followed the rise of Hitler in the country and to the ways that systematically impacted daily life. I was then able to make my way to Poland and learn about how that occupation still reverberates with the people there today. This sounds like a fascinating read.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t read much non fiction and usually takes me ages to finish one, but I found this fascinating and couldn’t put it down

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: My Books of the Year 2020 | A Little Blog of Books

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