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Fall 1999

When Memory Comes
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On the other hand, he believes that having lived through the Holocaust affords him a unique insight into the atmosphere of the times. Contemporary historians may not fully grasp the nuances of the reality, he says. For example, some can't understand why the Jews seemed so passive and gave in so easily, or why others watched in silence as their Jewish neighbors were stripped of jobs, businesses, homes, positions and, finally, their lives.

But Friedlander "witnessed the paralysis of my own parents."

Such insight is what earns him praise from other historians. Says David N. Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, "Saul Friedlander is one of the most distinguished historians in the world today, not only of the Holocaust." His personal connection brings to his research "a controlled passion and an underlying sense of moral urgency to explain that terrible darkness that has blotted out so much of this century. He fuses the skills of a great archival historian, a grand synthesizer and a master theoretician."

Myers says there is an "intellectual agitation, even restlessness" in Friedlander's labors, and the way he combines "vast learning, lyrical writing and ... ethical responsibility" makes the historian "a humanist in the highest sense of the word."

Professor Vincent P. Pecora of the Department of English says Friedlander's passion for truth in his work may seem natural for an historian, but has actually been an issue of debate recently as some question whether historical research can ever really uncover the "way things were."

But Friedlander, Pecora says, "insists that with time, patience and rigorous research methods, we can indeed know enough ... to say what is true and what is false about the past. He has spent most of his scholarly career showing not only that it can be done, but that it matters in the extreme."

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