By Chet Yarbrough
East West Street (On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity”)
By: Philippe Sands
Narrated by: David Rintoul, Philippe Sands
Philippe Sands (British Author, attorney, specialist in international law.)
“East West Street” is narrated by two people, the first narrator defines the origin and legal definition of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity”. The second narrator recounts real-life’ details that relate to those definitions.
The first public use of “genocide” is introduced in the Nuremberg Trials of former Nazi administrators. Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) wrote a book, “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe”, that introduces the term “genocide” in 1944. He becomes a needling gadfly in the Nuremberg trials. The word “genocide” is initially rejected but becomes a part of the trial as it proceeds.
Sands suggests Lemkin’s role is diminished by his uncooperative behavior when first selected to serve on the Nuremberg’ adjudication team. Lemkin is relegated to a lesser role as a consulting attorney, in part because of his insistence on the use of “genocide” in the Nuremberg trials.
Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959, Polish lawyer, coined the word-genocide.)
Regardless of Lemkin’s alleged attitude, one is compelled to agree–the perpetrators of the holocaust committed both “genocide” and “crimes against humanity”. Individual men, women, and children were murdered. At the same time, specifically identified groups of people were murdered by the Nazis. The largest group is Jewish, but many groups were not affiliated with religion. Poland lost an estimated 3 million Polish Jews, but Poland also lost an estimate 1.8 million Poles with no Jewish heritage. An estimated 3,000,000 Ukrainians were enslaved and/or murdered, some undoubtedly were Jews, many were not.
Hans Frank (German governor of Poland 1939-1945).
On several occasions, the son of Hans Frank (the German governor of Poland during WWII) is interviewed. Frank’s son believes his father knew nothing of the atrocities of Poland’s concentration camps when first interviewed. In subsequent interviews, Frank’s son realizes his father enforces orders of the Third Reich to exterminate the Jews of Poland. His son begins to realize his father is not who he thought him to be. The former governor of Poland is convicted and executed after his Nuremberg trial.
Ironically, Governor Frank essentially confesses to his crime against humanity and suggests Germany will suffer for his crime for the next 1000 years. His fellow German defendant’s scoff. One wonders if that disrespect for Frank’s opinion is because of their belief that what they did is right or that Germany should feel no guilt for what they personally chose to do. Susan Neiman suggests Germany does feel guilty but is diligently trying to make amends. If she is right, one wonders if it will take a hundred years?
In the end, defendants in Nuremberg are accused of “crimes against humanity”. “Genocide” is a group accusation while “crimes against humanity” is a person-specific indictment. What makes “East West Street” more than a definition of words and indictment is the detailed research that illustrates war’s personal consequence to innocent men, women, and children who suffer from war.
The author notes “Genocide” has become international law used for the first time in 1998 to convict Jean-Paul Akayesu for Rwandan murders. Sands suggests the concept of genocide remains controversial in the sense that it magnifies potential for conflict between groups.
There is no question that Jews were the largest singular group to be systematically tortured and murdered by the Nazis, but Lemkin’s definition of “genocide” is a label applicable to other groups of humanity. We have ample examples in the 21st century. There are the examples of indigenous Indians and Black slaves in America, and Uighurs and Tibetans in China.
The truth that Sands reveals is that every rape, torture, enslavement, and murder is individual, personal, and tragic. Sands meticulous research shows how brutal and singular “crimes against humanity” are to the individual. He finds his family is torn apart by Hitler’s Jewish obsession. The wounds engendered by Hitler’s leadership are shown unhealable to generations of Jews.
Hitler’s abhorrent beliefs festers in the 21st century.
Sands captures the true threat of authoritarianism in “East West Street”. One person can enslave, torture, or kill another person. More ominously, one person can influence a government to become an enslaver, torturer, and killer of millions. The first is a crime against humanity; the second portends genocide. Of course, today we see Putin’s attempt to eradicate the Ukranian nation and its people. One must ask oneself, is this not the genocide of which Lemkin wrote?