(Reuters) — The improbable tale of three music-loving lawyers linked to Ukraine - two of them Jews and one a Hitler aide known as the “Butcher of Poland” - has made it to the stage in a work premiered at the Hay Festival.
“The Great Crimes” tells how the lives of Hersch Lauterpecht, who formulated the legal concept of crimes against humanity, Raphael Lemkin, who helped make genocide an international crime, and Hans Frank, World War Two governor of Nazi-occupied Poland, became entwined.
“It is about the origins of our modern systems of justice and the role that an individual can play,” Philippe Sands, professor of international law at University College, London, told Reuters.
Sands, baritone Laurent Naouri and pianist Guillaume de Chassy gave “The Great Crimes” its first public hearing at the Hay festival on May 25. Sands narrates the story, interspersed with music from Naouri and de Chassy.
It will performed at London’s Southbank Center in November.
Sands uncovered the story on which the work is based while researching the early life of his grandfather, who was born in the city now known as Lviv in Ukraine but called Lemberg under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and by its wartime German occupiers.
Lauterpecht and Lemkin studied law at the Jan Kazimierz University in what was then Lemberg and both were Jews who lost most of their family members in the Holocaust.
They both left the city, Lauterpecht becoming an academic lawyer at Britain’s Cambridge University and Lemkin taking teaching posts at several leading United States universities.
Frank, who was Hitler’s personal lawyer, made a notorious anti-Semitic speech in Lemberg, which Sands says opened the way for the killings of thousands of Jews. In another speech in Berlin in 1941, Frank called for the Jews to be “finished off”.
He was arrested in 1945 and stood trial with other major Nazi war criminal in Nuremberg. As part of the British prosecution team, Lauterpecht was responsible for the inclusion in the Nuremberg Charter, on which the trial was based, of the concept of crimes against humanity.
Lemkin was not in Nuremberg but as an adviser to Robert Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor at the war crimes tribunal, he had unsuccessfully pressed for genocide, a term he coined, to be included in the Charter.
Both Lauterpecht and Frank, Sands said, found solace in Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”, which is one of several works featured in “The Great Crimes”.
“Frank was an incredibly cultured man. How can a man who appears to be so cultured and know about the rule of law immerse himself in such terror and horror?” asked Sands, who has fought cases as a barrister before the International Court of Justice.
Frank also befriended the composer Richard Strauss, who, Sands said, wrote a piece in Frank’s honor in 1943. The score is lost but “The Great Crimes” includes music written in the style of Strauss by French composer Frederic Chaslin.
Frank was hanged in late 1946. The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on Dec. 9, 1948.