East West Street
I had never thought about the origins of the term "genocide" or "crimes against humanity" -- or whether they meant different things. Beyond that: I had never, ever thought about the thinkers who came up with these terms (thinking about thinkers, what a concept). Philippe Sands changed all of that in his astonishing book East West Street: On the Origins of 'Genocide' and 'Crimes Against Humanity'
The story is a work of historical nonfiction unlike no other. Sands weaves the story of his grandfather with the histories of the two men, Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin, who coined world-changing legal concepts: “crimes against humanity” and “genocide,” respectively. Sands makes the legal intimately personal, and clear; he leaves no stone uncovered in their past and captures their lives in such a powerful way that their stories lingered with me long past the last page.
He shows that the two men who came up with the ideas -- Lauterpacht and Lemkin ("genocide") -- lived parallel lives. They were both born to Jewish families in Eastern Europe at the turn of the century, both attended the same university in Lviv, and both studied under law professor Juliusz Makarewicz. But he also clearly shows the difference between the two ideas. In the prologue, he write:
Imagine the killing of 100,000 people who happened to come from the same group. Jews or Poles in the city of Lviv. For Lauterpacht, the killing of individuals, if part of a systematic plan, would be a crime against humanity. For Lemkin, the focus was genocide, the killing of many with the intention of destroying the group of which they were a part....
There is much to say about this book: how he tells the stories of people auxiliary to Lauterpacht, Lemkin, and his grandfather. One of the most powerful tangents is the story of the woman who saved his own mother by traveling with her from Vienna to Paris in 1940.
Worth the read, and so beautifully told..