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Fall 1999

When Memory Comes
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For Saul Friedlander, the study of the Holocaust is more than an academic exercise. It is personal history

By Roberta G. Wax

There is so much that is fascinating about Saul Friedlander's life, it is hard to know where to begin or how, even, to define him. Historian. Teacher. Author. Policy-maker. Survivor. It is the last, in fact, that defines all the rest.

Survivor. This aspect of his life is what makes his present-day work so compelling. One of the world's leading scholars of the Holocaust, Friedlander studies, teaches and writes about an era with which he is intimate on more than merely academic terms. He survived the Nazi destruction of Europe's Jews by being hidden among gentiles; his parents, though, were lost to the fires of Auschwitz.

He tells the story of his bitter passage as a child in war-torn Europe, his emigration to Palestine, his struggle as a young fighter for Israeli independence and his evolution into a world-class historian in a personal memoir, When Memory Comes. But in his most recent work, Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume I: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939, that has earned him the greatest recognition. The book, which was published in 1997 and makes extensive use of newly available documents such as local German police reports, has been praised as the definitive history of Nazi policies prior to the Holocaust. It was instrumental in his receiving in June one of the nation's most diverse and prestigious creative and intellectual awards, a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant.

Friedlander's scholarship, wrote the foundation, weaves "into a coherent whole the perspectives of the participants: ordinary Germans, party activists, military and political figures and, most importantly, victims and survivors. ? By enhancing our understanding of the nature and meaning of the Holocaust, [he] demonstrates the interplay of memory and representation in the interpretation of historic events."


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