Law Professor Discusses Recent Book on Genocide

Photo by Michael Riff

Philippe Sands came to Ramapo College this Wednesday night to deliver a presentation on genocide and crimes against humanity. The presentation made by Sands, a currently a professor of law and a director of the Centre on International Courts and Tribunals at University of College London, was sponsored by the Gross Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. In addition to his work as a professor, Sands is an international human rights lawyer, member of Matrix Chambers in London, filmmaker and author of 16 books on international law. Sands discussed his most recent book, “East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.”

Sands’s book is about four men – Hersch Lauterpacht, Raphael Lemkin, Hans Frank and Leon Bucholz – whose lives are miraculously intertwined. Sands first discussed how he came to know each of these men, starting with Bucholz, who was the grandfather of Sands. Bucholz always withheld information from Sands about his upbringing. It was not until Sands grew up that he found out information about his grandfather by exploring documents his mother had. Sands found out that Bucholz grew up in Lviv, Ukraine with a large family of “more than 80 people in number.” Eventually, though, he was the only one alive. By 1939, he was expelled from Austria for his Jewish heritage.

Sands ran into dead ends and could not find out any more information about his grandfather until he was invited to Lviv to perform a lecture on human rights, genocide and the Nuremberg trials. Upon doing research, he found out that the person who came up with the concept of crimes against humanity, Lauterpacht, and the man who came up with the word genocide, Lemkin, were both from Lviv.

“The people who invited me had no idea,” Sands commented.

Upon further research, Sands came across Frank, Adolf Hitler’s personal lawyer and an early supporter of the Nazi Party. Frank was put on trial during the Nuremberg trials. Additionally, Sands found out that Frank was responsible for the murder of Lauterpacht’s, Lemkin’s and Bucholz’s families.

Sands book discusses how and why these unique and coincidental connections between these four interwoven lives occurred and their relations to the genocide and human rights violations of World War II.

Sands spent the next portion of his presentation heeding a warning to the audience about current day ideas centering around crimes against humanity and genocide. He cautioned people from viewing genocide as the top of a hierarchy and how people easily dismiss crimes against humanity before they escalate.

“Every genocide is a crime against humanity, but not every crime against humanity is a genocide,” Sands said.

He went on to say that the ruling of whether or not crimes against humanity constitute a genocide depends on whether intentions can be proven in a state of law. Essentially, it’s semantics of language, but these semantics seem to determine what society and the media focuses on and cares about.

“Words are very political and they have very serious consequences,” Sands stated.

Sands continued by warning against the parallels between the United States and Donald Trump and the events of the World War II and Nuremberg trials era. He claimed that he xenophobia and nationalism is a poison that has been running throughout Europe and running right into America.

“I see it and I recognize it and I see exactly what is happening in this country,” he stated.

Sands specifically expressed concern against Donald Trump’s blatant attempts at banning Muslims from entering the country and the criminalization of the religion.

Essentially, though, Sands wanted the audience to realize that each life should be valued and crimes against humanity and genocide goes directly against this idea.

Once Sands concluded, freshman Jennifer Polo commented on the presentation, stating, “Genocide doesn’t exactly mean the killing of a mass people, it can be the killing of a race. I found that interesting. I never thought of genocide that way.”

“I really want to purchase his book now,” stated freshman Markoni Acharya.