Saul Friedlander: Holocaust historian seeks the whole story

Historians in the News

There comes a moment in life when the weight of memory and emotion can lead to action. For Saul Friedlander, that moment arrived when he stumbled upon a misfiled Nazi document in Bonn, during research for a book on U.S.-German relations before World War II.

During 1941, as news of Hitler's atrocities began spreading, Pope Pius XII had warmly invited the Berlin Opera to perform selections from Wagner at the Vatican, according to a formerly secret telegram that Friedlander read. The faded cable would have riveted any historian probing papal attitudes toward the Nazis, but it struck a nerve in the young scholar: His parents died at Auschwitz, and he was raised by French Catholics as the conflict raged. Fiercely proud of his Jewish roots, his disbelief over Pius XII's friendly invitation was a transforming moment.

"It shocked me; I was astonished," said Friedlander, recalling his 1962 discovery. "And I decided then and there that, for me, the right path was to study the history of this event, the Holocaust, so no one would ever forget it. It became my personal fate."

comments powered by Disqus