East West Street

One of the joys of being on holiday is that I have the time to tackle a book that takes a bit more out of me than my usual fare. Not that there is anything wrong with the stuff I like to read in my usual life but, if I have a bit more time, I like to use some of it on a book that needs a bit of effort. This makes me a) a cheap date and b) anti-social and boring. 
I bought East West Street because I don’t think I have ever seen a book so highly recommended. The book is dripping with people and book reviews making a fuss of it. They are not wrong. 
The author, Phillipe Sands, is a barrister and Professor of Law. His family’s roots are in the Ukrainian city of Lviv and he begins to dig into their history. He weaves the things he discovers into the story of two Nuremberg prosecutors who develop the ideas of both “Crimes against Humanity” and “Genocide”. I found it – as they say – unputdownable. However, I did have to stop reading it late at night because – well it’s about Jews, in Europe in the thirties and forties – it is very sad and bleak sometimes and it was keeping me awake. 
I would not claim to be the font of all historical wisdom but I had no idea that, before the Nuremberg trials, there was no personal culpability for crimes you committed as part of your state. I always thought that the defence that “We were just following orders” was so weak as to not be bothered with but it wasn’t a weak defence. Before Nuremberg changed the game, there was every possibility that the people in the dock would be found innocent. It was the policy of the state, whether they agreed with it or not was irrelevant; they could not be held accountable. The book looks at how lawmakers and the testimonies of survivors changed this. It also contains less visible acts of bravery and defiance – such as Christian missionary Miss Tilney, who risked her life to hide people and to take children out of the country. 
I’ve also thought about the book this week as I have watched people march with Nazi symbols on flags. These people march in a country where protest is protected and legal. Having read stories of parents singing to their little children to try and distract them before they were executed, I look at these people and think – You have no idea what you are wishing for. You live in your protected little bubble and you have no idea of the evil that was unleashed. What happened would have eaten you alive. 
I don’t think there are two side to this story. Once you raise a flag with a Nazi symbol on it you prove yourself ignorant of real history and disrespectful of the sacrifices made by those who went before us. 
I have no idea why leading evangelicals have kept quiet in the face of this. Some misguided idea about protecting Christian values possibly? More likely a protection of self interest. I’m always a bit suspicious of Christians in positions of power. I’m not saying that about every Christian but it seems to take a special kind of person who can take his humility and good judgement with him as he moves up the greasy pole. Jesus always seemed to go out of his way to align himself with the unpopular, the outcast, the poor, the disenfranchised. And when he needed to say something was wrong he said so. And we need to say so too. 



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