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Back To OverviewPrice Winner 2007

Saul Friedländer

The Board of Trustees of the Peace Prize of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association has chosen Israelian historian and author Saul Friedländer to be the recipient of this year’s Peace Prize. The award ceremony will take place during the Frankfurt Book Fair on Sunday, October 14, 2007 in the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt, Germany. The laudatory speech was given by Wolfgang Frühwald.

Saul Friedländer
© Isolde Ohlbaum

Reason of the Jury

“The German Publishers and Booksellers Association awards the 2007 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade to Saul Friedländer. In so doing, the association and its members have chosen to honor the epic narrator of the history of the Shoah and of the persecution and extermination of the Jews during the Nazi era in Europe.

Friedländer is one of the last historiographers to have witnessed and experienced the Holocaust - a genocide that was announced early on, planned openly, and carried out with machine-like precision. Friedländer rejects the distanced approach often associated with the writing of history: he creates a space for incomprehensibility – the only possible reaction to such an unfathomable crime. Not only does he describe the emergence, preparation, and execution of the organized mass murder of millions by their own neighbors, he also documents precisely and eloquently the classical constellation of violence: the perpetrators and their obsession, the victims and their despair, the masses of silent spectators – and those few people, far too few, who intervened.

Saul Friedländer gave a voice to the grievances and cries of those human beings who were turned to dust. He gave them memory and a name. The acknowledgement of human dignity forms the basis for peace among mankind, and Saul Friedländer returned to the murdered millions the dignity of which they had been robbed.”


Biography of Saul Friedländer

Born Pavel Friedländer on October 11th, 1932 into a Jewish family in Prague, Saul Friedländer and his parents emigrated to France in 1939 after the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. Friedländer survived the German invasion of France in a Catholic boarding school under the name Paul-Henri Ferland, whereas his parents were arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where they died in 1942. After the Holocaust, Friedländer turned to Judaism and, in 1948, emigrated to the newly-founded state of Israel.

In 1955, after studying at the School of Law and Economics in Tel Aviv, Friedländer received a degree in political science at the Institut d’Etudes Politique in Paris. In 1963, he completed his doctoral degree with a dissertation entitled “Le facteur américain dans la politique étrangère et militaire de l’Allemagne, 1939-1941” in Geneva, where he also began his academic career at the Institut für Internationale Studien. He was a full professor there from 1967-1987 and, starting in 1976, he took up a professorship in modern European history at Tel Aviv University. Since 1987, he has worked as professor of history at the University of California in Los Angeles.

Saul Friedländer’s major ideas are synthesized in his two-volume work “The Third Reich and the Jews.” In the first volume, “The Years of Persecution 1933-1939” (1997), Friedländer alternates between the perspectives of the perpetrators and their victims, as well as between an analysis of socio-political structures and personal fates. He contextualizes individual cases and historical documents in an attempt to answer the ultimate question of how one of the world’s greatest crimes against humanity could take place in such an apparently civilized people. In the second volume, “The Years of Extermination 1939-1945” (2007), Friedländer uses diary entries, letters, and personal memories – as well as a call for a total history of the Holocaust that integrates all levels – to shield his portrayal of the extermination of the Jews from the danger of “domesticating” memory.

Saul Friedländer has received many honors for his academic and literary work, including the Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse (2007), Geschwister-Scholl-Preis (1998), Yad Vashem Jacob Buchmann Award (1997), National Jewish Book Award (1997) and the 1983 Israel Prize.

Saul Friedländer has three children and four grandchildren. After ending his professorship in Tel Aviv, he now lives mostly in Los Angeles.


The Ceremony

“I recognize that, in great part, the prize was awarded to me because of the theme of my work; it is therefore with great humility that I accept an homage, the meaning of which extends well beyond any individual achievement. At the same time…for me personally this history is not an abstraction. This may explain my complex feelings at this moment,” Friedländer said at the beginning of his acceptance speech in which he read several passages from unpublished family letters from 1942. “The voices reach us beyond all reasoning,” Friedländer said, referring to his parents’ personal writings, “as they tear apart and put in question ever anew the belief in the existence of a human solidarity.” Sixty years have elapsed, he continued, since these and countless other similar voices were heard. “And yet, notwithstanding the passage of time, they touch us with an unusual strength and immediacy that resonate far beyond the borders of the Jewish community and have moved vast segments and successive generations of Western society.”

In his speech honoring Friedländer, Wolfgang Frühwald gave special attention to Friedländer’s account of Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1933-1945: “Saul Friedländer has warded off the temptation to emotionalize...He has allowed historical documents – the letter, the diary, the ordinance, the minutes – to speak...because he mistrusts the fascination with the National Socialists’ aestheticized death wish – a death wish that fascinated the Nazis’ contemporaries and continues to ‘reverberate’ in subsequent generations.” He noted how Friedländer has succeeded in bringing together both the tyrannical, bureaucratic order and the despair of those who were subjected to it. “At the same time, he has proven that silence plays an active role in history and that the act of public violence is predicated upon the silence of the masses of bystanders emerging from the dark of the past,” Frühwald continued. “Those who can no longer hear this – so the stereotypical phrase goes – never really heard it. Those who feel comfortable in the growing global camp of people who deny the reality of this crime against humanity, nurture the desire to repeat it,” Frühwald emphasized.

 “If peace is a state of being which we have to wrest from the rifts and tensions, the suppressions and exclusions and their destructive, deadly consequences, then the path to peace comes not from forgetting and suppression, but from the knowledge that remembers,” said Gottfried Honnefelder, director of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, in his welcoming address. “Books that make such insight accessible and in so doing facilitate reconciliation across and beyond the estrangements are the precious product of a profession that stands by its commitment to the book,” Honnefelder added, referring to Friedländer’s works. “Through these books, it becomes clear that the product ‘book’ is the cultural asset without which we fall behind the level we have attained in our cultural sense of self.” 


Laudatory speaker Wolfgang Frühwald