A foremost Holocaust scholar carefully reflects on his harsh early years and lifelong academic mission in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Geneva, and Los Angeles.
Writing this second memoir (When Memory Comes, 1977) in his early 80s, Friedländer (Emeritus, History/UCLA; Franz Kafka: Poet of Shame and Guilt, 2013, etc.) is acutely aware of a deteriorating memory and the need for emotional elucidation. He uses his early trauma of losing his parents during a roundup of Jews in southern France in 1942 as the point of departure for exploring the upheaval that characterized much of his adult life. Hidden in a Catholic seminary, the author was essentially orphaned when his parents were arrested at the Swiss border and sent to Auschwitz. Schooled in France as a fervent Catholic, Friedländer eventually ran away to join the Irgun youth movement in the new state of Israel in 1948—he admits his “core identity” is being a nonreligious Jew “yet indelibly marked by the Shoah. Ultimately, I am nothing else.” From there, he began a peripatetic existence pursuing political science in Paris and becoming World Jewish Congress President Nachum Goldman’s political secretary and later Shimon Peres’ assistant, spending most of his time in Jerusalem. Ultimately, Friedländer would become both an apologist for Israeli policies and a critic of its racism toward the Palestinians. However, he embarked on graduate work in international studies in Geneva in 1961, pursuing his studies in his “monomaniacal way,” supporting a family yet suffering from debilitating anxiety that required intensive drugs as well as psychoanalysis. His initial book exposing the complicity between Pius XII and the Nazi regime led him to devote his subsequent work to European fascism, modern anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust. A “difficult stay in Berlin in the mid-eighties,” when he was confronted by a new wave of “apologetic” scholarship about Nazi Germany, reinforced his decision about his work.
Though dry in tone, the book is haunting in scope and depth.