|Born||October 11, 1932|
|Occupation||Essayist, historian, Professor of History at UCLA|
|Period||20th century, Holocaust, Nazism|
|Children||Eli, David, Michal|
Saul Friedländer was born in Prague to a family of German-speaking Jews. He grew up in France and experienced the German Occupation of 1940-1944. From 1942 until 1946, Friedländer was hidden in a Catholic boarding school in Montluçon, near Vichy. While in hiding, he converted to Roman Catholicism and later began preparing for the Catholic priesthood. His parents attempted to flee to Switzerland, were arrested instead by Vichy French gendarmes, turned over to the Germans and were gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Not until 1946 did Friedländer learn the fate of his parents.
After 1946, Friedländer grew more consciously aware of his Jewish identity and became a Zionist. In 1948, Friedländer immigrated to Israel on the Irgun ship Altalena. After finishing high school, he served in the Israeli Army. From 1953-55, he studied political science in Paris. Later, Friedländer served as secretary to Nachum Goldman, then President of the Zionist Organization and the World Jewish Congress. In 1959, he became an assistant to Shimon Peres, then vice-minister of defense. Late in the 1980s, Friedländer moved politically further to the left and was active in the Peace Now group.[dubious ]
In 1963, he received his PhD from the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, where he taught until 1988. Friedländer taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Tel Aviv University. In 1969 he wrote a biography of Kurt Gerstein. Since 1988 he has been Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles.
In 1998 Friedländer chaired the Independent Historical Commission (IHC) that was tasked with investigating German media giant Bertelsmann's activities under Hitler's Third Reich. The study, written together with Norbert Frei, Trutz Rendtorff, Reinhard Wittmann, was published in October 2002 in an 800-page report. It confirmed the findings, first reported by Hersch Fischler in The Nation, that Bertelsmann collaborated with the Nazi regime before and during World War II. Bertelsmann subsequently expressed regret "for its conduct under the Nazis, and for later efforts to cover it up".
Friedländer sees Nazism as the negation of all life, and as a type of death cult. He has argued that the Holocaust is such a horrific event that its horror is almost impossible to put into normal language. Friedländer sees the anti-semitism of the Nazi Party as unique in history, since he maintains that Nazi anti-semitism was distinctive for being "redemptive anti-semitism", namely a form of anti-semitism that could explain all in the world and offer a form of "redemption" for the anti-semitic.
Friedländer is an Intentionalist on the origins of the Holocaust question. However, Friedländer rejects the extreme Intentionalist view that Adolf Hitler had a master plan going back to the time when he wrote Mein Kampf for the genocide of the Jewish people. Friedländer, through his research on the Third Reich, has reached the conclusion that there was no intention to exterminate the Jews of Europe before 1941. Friedländer's position might best be deemed moderate Intentionalist.
In the 1980s, Friedländer engaged in a spirited debate with the West German historian Martin Broszat over his call for the "historicization" of Nazi Germany. In Friedländer's view, Nazi Germany was not and cannot be seen as a normal period of history. Friedländer argued that there were three dilemmas, and three problems involved in the "historicization" of the Third Reich.
The first dilemma was that of historical periodization, and how long-term social changes could be related to an understanding of the Nazi period. Friedländer argued that focusing on long-term social changes such as the growth of the welfare state from the Imperial to Weimar to the Nazi eras to the present as Broszat suggested changed the focus on historical research from the particular of the Nazi era to the general Longue durée of 20th-century German history. Friedländer felt that "relative relevance" of the growth of the welfare state under the Third Reich, and its relationship to post-war developments would cause historians to lose their attention to the genocidal politics of the Nazi state. The second dilemma Friedländer felt that by treating the Nazi period as a "normal" period of history, and by examining the aspects of "normality" might run the danger of causing historians to lose interest in the "criminality" of the Nazi era. This was especially problematic for Friedländer because he contended that aspects of "normality" and "criminality" very much overlapped in the everyday life of Nazi Germany. The third dilemma involved what Friedländer considered the vague definition of "historicization" entailed, and it might allow historians to advance apologetic arguments about National Socialism such as those Friedländer accused Ernst Nolte and Andreas Hillgruber of making. However, Friedländer conceded that Broszat was not an apologist for Nazi Germany like Nolte and Hillgruber. Friedländer noted that though the concept of "historicization" was highly awkward, partly because it opened the door to the type of arguments that Nolte and Hillgruber advanced during the Historikerstreit, Broszat's motives in calling for the "historicization" were honourable. Friedländer used the example of a longue durée view of Italian history had allowed historians like Renzo De Felice to seek to rehabilitate Mussolini as a modernizing dictator trying to pull Italy up from underdevelopment; and argued that a similar approach to German history would have the same effect with Hitler. Friedländer maintained the comparison of Nazi Germany with Fascist Italy as modernizing dictatorships did not work because Fascist Italy did not commit genocide, and he argued that it was genocide that made the Third Reich unique. Friedländer felt that Broszat's longue durée view of German history with stress on the continuities-many of them positive-between different eras would diminish the Holocaust down as an object of study.
The first problem for Friedländer was that the Nazi era was too recent and fresh in the popular memory for historians to deal with it as a "normal" period as for example 16th century France. The second problem was the "differential relevance" of "historicization". Friedländer argued that the study of the Nazi period was "global", that is it belongs to everyone, and that focusing on everyday life was a particular interest for German historians. Friedländer asserted that for non-Germans, the history of Nazi ideology in practice, especially in regards to war and genocide were vastly more important than Alltagsgeschichte ("history of everyday life"). The third problem for Friedländer was that the Nazi period was so unique that it could not easily be fitted into the long-range view of German history as advocated by Broszat. Friedländer maintained that the essence of National Socialism was that it "tried to determine who should and should not inhabit the world", and the genocidal politics of the Nazi regime resisted any attempt to integrate it as part of the "normal" development of the modern world. The debates between Broszat and Friedländer were conducted through a series of letters between 1987 until Broszat's death in 1989. In 1990, the Broszat-Friedländer correspondences were translated into English, and published in the book Reworking the Past: Hitler, The Holocaust, and the Historians' Debate edited by Peter Baldwin.
Friedländer's 1997 book, Nazi Germany and the Jews was written as a reply to Broszat's work. The second volume, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 appeared in 2007. Friedländer's book is Alltagsgeschichte (history of everyday life), not of "Aryan" Germans nor of the Jewish community, but rather an Alltagsgeschichte of the persecution of the Jewish community.
The prize for nonfiction writing went to Saul Friedlander for his book, "The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945."