21. jan, 2018

Philippe Sands - Retour à Lemberg

English title: East West Street, on the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity.

In 2010 Philippe Sands, a Franco-British laywer, attends a conference in the Ukraïne. By mere accident he discovers historical lines between his grandfather, two pioneers in the development of international law and Hans Frank. During the Nazi occupation of Poland was the General-Gouverneur and legal advisor of Adolf Hitler.

He worked six years on this breathtaking book, which is issued both in French and in English. I read the French version, since my wife is a native French speaker. If this English summary is somewhat defective, please accept my apologies. I'm a Dutch. From a scientific point of view the acknowledgment seems sound. More than 50 pages of notes and sources are listed at the end.

As said before, four persons are in the centre of this history.

Leon Buchholz, the jewish grandfather of Philippe Sands. Born in 1904 in Lemberg. Lemberg is the Austrian name for L'viv (Ukraine), L'vov (USSR), L'wow (Poland) and Leopolis (Latin). Today it's the most western big city of the Ukraine. I visited Lemberg in 2008. Buchholz left Lemberg in 1937. Like many other jews from the East he landed in Vienna. In 1939 he found a safe haven in Paris.

Hersch Lauterbach, a jewish professor in international law. Born in the L'vov oblast in 1897. Lauterbach prepared the accusation of 21 Nazi's during the Neurenberg trials in 1945-1946.

Raphael Lemkin, a jewish lawyer, born in Poland in 1904 around 100 km north of Lemberg, who lived in Lemberg until the beginning of WW-II. Lemkin succeeded partially in getting the concepts of 'genocide' and 'crimes against humanity' accepted by Court for the first time.

Hans Frank, minister of the Nazi occupied zone in Poland, born in 1900 in Karlshuhe. As the German official in charge he visited Lemberg in 1942. He denied to have known what kind of war crimes took place in his territory. During the trial it became clear that he was one of the Nazi's that shared the Wannsee conference and organised the 'Endlösung'. His anti-semitic philosophy and attitude appeared beyond any doubt.

Retour à Lemberg merges the history of four families of which three were nearly totally exterminated during the war. As a matter of fact this has been an incentive for the two jewish lawyers. The books provides a deep insight in how the Neurenberg trial was established, what the internal controversies and consequences for international penal law were. In parallel the Tokio war trials took place. It's interesting to see the big differences between the two trials. In Tokio the generals were pursued. Professor B.V.A. Röling from the Netherlands was one of the judges there. In Neurenberg the military were mostly kept out of the prosecution. Political responsibles, however, were not. The verdict was limited to war crimes. What happened between 1923 and 1939 was left out, since there was no war. Today the scope of the International Court of Justice in The Hague is wider. Dictators can't apologize themselves with the argument that these acts were internal affairs only, like the Turks do for Armenia in 1915. International law has been developed further and further. The basis was laid in Neurenberg.

I leave the highly interesting legal technicalities to the legal people under my readers.

The personal touch in this book is more than just a touch. Three families lost most of their relatives. For part of them the Germans did an uncontested book-keeping. Many disappeared and never returned. Those who managed to get away just in time lost contact with their families in the East. In the meantime Hans Frank and his family lived in a castle near Cracow. It is likely that he never used a weapon himself. He only gave orders. Orders that he got from Der Führer himself. One day his aristocratic wife Brigitte complains about the huge numbers of uncivilized forced labourers that makes her surroundings unsafe. She hardly seemed to realize what business her husband was in. As a widow she never stopped admiring her husband.

Philippe Sands traced the children and grandchildren of three major players and interviewed them, when possible. These records add a lot of information to the many written sources that were left behind and makes East West Street, on the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity much more than a compulsory book for every student of law.