Yad Vashem founder passes away

October 1, 2013 Agencies
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Yad Vashem has been saddened by the death of Prof. Israel Gutman, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Auschwitz who was a leading and trailblazing historian of the Holocaust in Israel and abroad.

Professor Israel Gutman    Photo: courtesy HYad Vashem

Professor Israel Gutman Photo: courtesy: Yad Vashem

Prof. Gutman passed away last night (October 1, 2013), in Jerusalem at the age of 90.  Prof. Gutman, was among the founders of the Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust Research, and lived in Jerusalem.  A widower, he is survived by two daughters, and 3 grandchildren.

Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said: “My mentor and friend, Professor Israel Gutman, made a deep impression on historiography in Israel and around the world, and made a significant and unique contribution to the propagation of historical awareness regarding the Holocaust and its meanings among the wider public forum in Israel, especially among the youth. Professor Gutman’s personal resume – as someone who experienced in the flesh the horrors of the Holocaust, fought in the Warsaw ghetto, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and was a member of the camp’s Jewish underground, survived the death marches and was a witness to all that occurred – added an enormous weight to his rare and exceptional strength as a researcher, teacher and leader. We will miss his insight and his friendship.”

Israel Gutman was born in Warsaw in 1923. His parents and older sister died in the ghetto, and his younger sister was a member of Janusz Korczak’s orphanage. As a member of the Jewish Underground in the Warsaw ghetto, Israel Gutman was wounded in the uprising. From Warsaw he was taken to Majdanek, and from there to Auschwitz. In May 1945 he was sent on the death march to Mauthausen. Gutman spent two years in the camps. After the war, he helped in the rehabilitation of survivors, was active in the Bericha movement, and immigrated to Eretz Israel in 1946. He joined Kibbutz Lehavot Habashan where he raised a family and was a member of the kibbutz for 25 years. In 1961 he gave testimony during the Eichmann trial.

In 1973, Prof. Gutman moved to Jerusalem, and in 1975 received his Ph.D. from the Hebrew University for his thesis The Resistance Movement and the Armed Uprising of the Jews of Warsaw In the Context of Life in the Ghetto, 1939-1943. Beginning his academic career at the Hebrew University, he later headed Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Department for the Study of Contemporary Jewry, (1983-1986). He was a visiting professor at UCLA in 1980-1981.  Gutman retired from Hebrew University in 1993.

At the same time, Gutman was a leader and an integral part of the research activities at Yad Vashem. From 1993-1996 he headed the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, of which he was a founder. Between 1996-2000 he served as Yad Vashem’s Chief Historian. Since 2000 Prof. Gutman was an Academic Advisor to Yad Vashem. He was a member of the Yad Vashem Council, the International Institute for Holocaust Research’s administration, Yad Vashem’s Scientific Board, and a member of the editorial staff of Yad Vashem Studies.  He was also a founder of Moreshet, A Testimonial Center in memory of Mordecai Anielewicz, and Deputy Chairman of the International Auschwitz Council.

One of his main projects was the comprehensive and groundbreaking Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.  He published many works on the Holocaust, including The Jews of Poland Between Two World Wars; Unequal Victims:  Poles and Jews During World War Two; The Jews of Warsaw, 1939-1943; Resistance:  The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising;  Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp; and Nazi Europe and the Final Solution.

Some of the numerous awards his work has received are the Salonika Prize for Literature, the Yitzchak Sadeh prize for Military Studies, and the Polish Unification Prize. Gutman received honorary doctorates from Warsaw University in 1995 and from Brandeis University in 2009.

Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said: “Professor Gutman achieved academic success with social and cultural ramifications that cannot be overstated: he gave legitimacy and even a historiographical centrality to the Jewish point of view regarding the Shoah. Professor Gutman succeeded in making “room” in the world of research for the experiences, positions and points of view of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, so that their voices would achieve the consideration and attention they deserved.

“From the end of the 1970s, when his position as a leading researcher of the Holocaust and Polish Jewry had been established, as well as his central role among the “scholars of Jerusalem,” Professor Gutman turned towards a new horizon of activity: creating active scientific contacts between Israeli Holocaust research and that taking place abroad. He achieved this through, among other things, international research conferences, which he pioneered, and which, together with the publications that came in their wake, were cornerstones of Holocaust research. Professor Gutman invested a great deal of effort into nurturing scientific contacts with Poland. Even during the Communist era, the Poles accepted much of his critiques, and he became a greatly valued guest (the University of Warsaw even awarded him an honorary doctorate). In his research on the Warsaw ghetto, Professor Gutman established his position at the forefront of Holocaust research, and attained international acclaim. His research on the ghetto was the point from which his academic writings broadened into a range of basic Holocaust-related issues: resistance, the Zionist youth movements, the Judenrat, Jewish forced labor, Jewish-Polish relations, the uniqueness of the Holocaust, the social aspect of the camps, and more.”

For more information about Prof. Gutman’s life, research and writing, including testimony:  http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/survivors/gutman.asp.

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