East West Street by Philippe Sands
Opening at the trial of legal advisor to Hitler, Hans Frank, in Nuremberg in 1946, it then takes us back to the very same courtroom, in 2014, which Sands is now visiting with Frank’s son.
Sands is in Nuremberg because of an invitation he received several years earlier to deliver a lecture at a university in Lviv. He accepted this primarily because Lviv was the town in which his grandfather was born and returning there crystallised a need in Sands to fill in the missing gaps in his family history — a family that, due to that most horrifying of periods during the twentieth century — had totally diminished in size. Indeed, that very invitation marked the start of Sands’s journey.
Part memoir, part detective story and part exploration of fundamental legal concepts — namely ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ — East West Street is, at its heart, the author’s personal quest. You will be left open-mouthed at the incredible coincidences that lead him all over the world; I still think about them today.
This is by no means an easy read, but it is one of the most powerful I have ever experienced. And I don’t think it is any coincidence that not too long after we finished this, my dad and I made our own journey, together, back to Riga and Jelgava in Latvia, where our family came from. Swipe to see a couple of our photos — we even managed to find my great grandmother’s home (number 25 — swipe to see it).
East West played a formative part in my own exploration of and return to my roots — and for that, I will always, always be grateful to it.