The Story of His Life: Philippe Sands' 'East West Street'

7 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2017

See all articles by Sarah Nouwen

Sarah Nouwen

European University Institute; University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law

Date Written: September 1, 2017


This essay, forthcoming in the British Yearbook of International Law, reviews Philippe Sands’ book ‘East West Street’, and the documentary and theatre performance that preceded the book’s release. These works tell unforgettable stories of Lviv and Nuremberg, of Hersch Lauterpacht, Rafael Lemkin and Hans Frank, of genocide and crimes against humanity.

The book straddles several genres: according to its cover it is ‘part historical detective story, part family history, part legal thriller’. But it is more than that: it is also part psychological drama, part ‘third-generation Holocaust representation’, part Yizkor. This essay argues that it is best read as a life story - the story of Sands’s life. It is ‘the story of his *life*’ in that Sands has again, and better than ever, popularised international law. But it is also ‘the story of *his* life’: Sands himself is the character who binds the stories together. Read as a life story, the book stands out as a unique, unputdownable and unpindownable personal exploration of family silences and histories, that cannot be generalised.

Keywords: genocide, crimes against humanity, Lemkin, Lauterpacht, Sands

Suggested Citation

Nouwen, Sarah Maria Heiltjen, The Story of His Life: Philippe Sands' 'East West Street' (September 1, 2017). University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 44/2017, Available at SSRN: or

Sarah Maria Heiltjen Nouwen (Contact Author)

European University Institute ( email )

Via Bolognese 156 (Villa Salviati)
50-139 Firenze

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

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