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Phillipe Sands QC has cowritten a book called ‘East West Street’ about the beginnings of international justice in the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi ‘war criminals’. This is when ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’ became part of international law. Sands tells the story from a very personal perspective. The part of it that caught my eye was that two people on opposite sides of the bench at Nuremberg were fascinated by the same piece of music. Herschel Lauterpacht had studied in Lviv in Ukraine. Hitler’s personal lawyer Hans Frank had given a hate speech there that led to the murder of some 100,000 individuals including friends and teachers of Lauterpacht, and the grandfather of Phillipe Sands. Franks was prosecuted at Nuremberg by Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin. Frank was executed on the 16th October 1946.

The extraordinary thing is that Sands discovered that both Lauterpacht and Frank were comforted during the Nuremberg trial by J.S. Bach’s ‘St Mathew Passion’.

How extraordinary is this? At times of such profound emotion anyone with a bourgeois background or widespread love of orchestral music might be likely to get spiritual comfort from St Matthews Passion ‘one of the masterpieces’ of sacred classical music. And Hans Frank was one of the only defendants, along with Albert Speer, to show any remorse.

The scale and cold bloodedness of the Holocaust has held me in awe and dread since I first discovered  in as a young child. It is now hard not to think of it as a result of class oppression; of the extremes of numbing that were possible. The sublimation of emotion into high art that is listened to or observed without expression of emotion (or even bodily movement) seems to be part of this conditioning.

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