"I am a Jew, albeit one without any religious or tradition-related attachments, yet indelibly marked by the Shoah. Ultimately, I am nothing else. After all, that's all I am."
Pulitzer-prize winning historian Saul Friedländer was born into a Jewish family in Prague, four months before Adolf Hitler came to power. In an attempt to flee growing anti-Semitism, his parents fled to France, hiding Saul at a Catholic boarding school while they tried to seek refuge in Switzerland. They were refused entry and were instead deported to Auschwitz, where they were killed during World War II. Upon learning of their death years later, he said, “for the first time, I felt Jewish”. He emigrated to Israel in 1948. Upon entry, he was asked to give his Hebrew name. From his studies at the Catholic school, he remembered that Saul, on the road to Damascus, became Paul. He then chose Saul as his first name.
Friendländer returned to Europe for his studies, but lived in Israel afterwards. His PhD, which he completed at the Institute, focused on the Nazi’s relationship with the United States. Since the 1980s, he has been a critic of Israel's settlement policy in the occupied West Bank. He explained that he left the country due to "the increasingly nationalistic-religious society". He eventually joined the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as a Professor of History.
In 2008, Friedländer won a Pulitzer Prize in the non-fiction category for his book, “The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945.” He was also awarded the Balzan Prize for Holocaust and Genocide Studies in 2021. The list of his awards are long, but to name a few: the Israel Prize, the Geschwister-Scholl Prize, the Leipzig Book Fair Prize and the German Book Trade’s Peace Prize.
Aside from his academic knowledge, Friedländer is also a political figure. In 2019, he attended a ceremony on the Remembrance Day for the Victims of National Socialism at the German lower house of parliament, Bundestag. He made a speech on anti-semitism and his personal experience related to his parents’ deaths. Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Bundestag President Wolfgang Schauble, and many more were in attendance.