The history man: how Saul Friedländer told his own story

By Mark Mazower — November 25, 2016

Financial Times

Ego-histoire is a term with no real equivalent in English, coined by French historians to describe the practice of turning their own professional techniques back on themselves. Easier said than done: the infant self and the adult persona often seem further apart than they really are. Where Memory Leads is the memoir of a distinguished historian whose childhood belongs to a world buried deeper than most under the detritus of an exceptionally violent and traumatic past.

Pavel Friedländer was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Prague a few months before Hitler came to power in Germany. His parents spoke German at home; his nanny was Czech. The war shattered everything and his parents, who had fled with him to France in 1938, were murdered in Auschwitz. The boy who survived Vichy and the Nazi occupation was no longer Pavel Friedländer but Paul-Henri-Marie Ferland. He had been baptised by nuns who gave him a Catholic education in a seminary in Montluçon and prepared him for the priesthood.

Instead, when the war was over, he rejected the Church and became first a communist, and then, more enduringly, a Zionist. In June 1948, he settled in Israel. Once more he had to change his name. Now known as Shaul Eldar, he entered government service, working with Shimon Peres in the defence ministry on the top-secret Dimona nuclear reactor, before returning to his studies, and becoming a historian. Today, retired from the University of California, Los Angeles, Saul Friedländer is among the world’s leading scholars of Nazi anti-Semitism.

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