Historian Saul Friedländer, Holocaust survivor, receives the Balzan Prize

Historian Saul Friedländer, survivor of the Shoah, received the Balzan Prize on July 1 at the Federal Palace in Bern for his life’s work in the study of the Shoah and genocide. The prize was awarded to him last September, for a discount this summer.

Nearly 90 years old, the researcher was rewarded for “the unique impact he had on the development of Holocaust studies; for his masterpiece, the integrated history of the persecution and extermination of European Jews; and for constructing a historical narrative that expresses the unspeakable, combining highly specialized analysis with the disturbing voices of victims, persecutors and onlookers,” the Balzan Prize said.

World authority on the subject, he is also a survivor – a double experience that makes him unique. He thus transformed the story of his own life into a vivid source of inspiration for his work as a historian of the Holocaust.

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Combining great intellectual discipline with a passion for memory, he wrote his works in a rigorously analyzed and documented manner.

Saul Friedländer’s approach has thus enabled him to have an unparalleled impact on the emerging field of Holocaust studies.

His masterpiece, Nazi Germany and the Jews (Nazi Germany and the Jewspublished by Seuil), recounts and details the persecution and extermination of all European Jews.

The two volumes that make up this work are the fruit of a lifetime of research and took 16 years to write (volume 1 was published in 1997; volume 2 in 2007). Together they offer the first comprehensive account of the Holocaust, taking into account all the occupied European countries and integrating for the first time in a single interpretative framework the developments in Eastern and Eastern Europe. West.

“This holistic approach is one of the reasons that the works of Saul Friedländer have been so influential until today,” wrote the Balzan Prize.

“The other big reason is his extraordinary way of using personal documents written at the time of the events by victims, persecutors and bystanders. These voices combine to create an atmosphere that cannot be drawn from other sources. Saul Friedländer’s work greatly stimulated the use of personal documents in the history of the Holocaust, which is common practice today. Saul Friedländer’s originality also manifests itself in a particular form of self-awareness. While insisting on the need for a self-critical attitude, in order to diminish the limits of subjectivity, he continues to assert that one should also avoid excessive constraint and paralyzing caution. His reflections on the links between history and memory, including his own, continue to inspire his work. »

Apart from his academic publications as Memory, History, and the Extermination of the Jews of Europe (1993) or Pius XII and the Third Reich (1964), reissued and expanded as Pius XII and the Holocaust: A Reexamination (2010), he wrote two memoirs. In When Memory Comes (1979) (When the memory comes1998) he dwells on the loss of his parents and the meaning of his Jewish roots. Where Memory Leads (2016) (Where does memory lead? My life, 2016) is the story of an intellectual maturation that spans three continents and allows him to reflect on the events that led to such a deep and enduring fascination with Jewish life and history. With this work on memory he shows, in theory and in practice, that Holocaust victims can also be Holocaust specialists – and this has been extremely important for the development of this field.

With the endowment of the Balzan Prize, he plans to direct a work by a group of researchers from the University of Bielefeld, Germany, on the theme of “bystanders”, the spectators and witnesses of the Holocaust who did nothing. .

Saul Friedländer, born in Prague in 1932 into a German-speaking Jewish family, was hidden in France during the Second World War by his parents who died in deportation. He joined Israel in 1948 and worked in the late 1950s with former President Shimon Peres.

He holds French, Austrian, Israeli, German and American nationalities.

He has notably worked at the University of California at Los Angeles, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, the University of Geneva and the University of California at Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received several other awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Essay and the 2007 German Booksellers’ Peace Prize.

In a long interview given to the Swiss magazine The Illustrated on the occasion of the presentation of his prize, he warned of what is happening today in Ukraine.

Based in Milan for the academic part and in Zurich for the financial part, the International Balzan Prize Foundation awards prizes each year to scientists, scholars, researchers and intellectuals. These are endowed with 750,000 Swiss francs.

When the prizes are awarded, the winners must commit to using at least half of the sum to finance new projects carried out by young researchers in the same field of competence as the beneficiary of the prize, who is directing their work.

The Balzan Foundation covers a very broad field of human sciences, culture and humanism. Many Balzan Prize winners have subsequently been awarded a Nobel Prize.

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Historian Saul Friedländer, Holocaust survivor, receives the Balzan Prize