Tributes have been made to Sir Martin Gilbert, one of the world’s leading Holocaust historians, who died on Tuesday night, aged 78.
As well as being a distinguished historian and author of some 88 books including the seminal The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy, Sir Martin was the official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill and chairman of Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq war inquiry.
Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said: “Sir Martin Gilbert was one of the world’s great historians, but for us he was also the voice of Jewish memory in our time.
“Many years ago, when we bestowed a series of Jewish communal awards, I was given the privilege of naming an individual who, in my view, represented to the world all that was best in Jewish life. Unhesitatingly I chose Martin Gilbert. He was a great scholar, a great man and a great Jew.”
The Director of the Wiener Library, Ben Barkow, also paid tribute to the historian, telling Jewish News: “The death of Sir Martin Gilbert has been received with great sadness here. Sir Martin was one of the outstanding historians of his generation and made a tremendous contribution to our understanding of the Holocaust, among the many issues about which he wrote.
“His work in our field was always marked by originality and thoughtfulness, and he often seemed ahead of his colleagues. He put Jewish voices in the foreground, rather than relying solely on the documentation of the perpetrators”.
“His loss will be felt by everyone who is involved in Holocaust commemoration and research.”
Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub paid tribute, saying: “If modern Jewish history has a voice, it is the voice of Sir Martin Gilbert. It is hard to think of anyone who has done as much to document, to educate and to inspire, with passion and authenticity, the history of the Jews in modern times, the tragedy of the Shoah, the struggles of Jews in Arab Lands and the Soviet Union, and the inspiring return of the Jewish people to statehood in the land of Israel.”
“These were but a part of his extraordinary corpus of 80 works, which not only brought him recognition as a world class historian in many different fields, but enabled him to see and describe Jewish history against the canvass of world events.”
“Today, as Sir Martin is lowered into the earth of the land he loved, is Tu Bishvat, the day when youngsters throughout Israel are planting trees. Like them, planted in this fertile ground, Sir Martin will continue to bring forth fruit as future generations continue to be educated and inspired by his extraordinary legacy. Yehi zichro baruch”
Michael Wegier, chief executive of Jewish charity UJIA (United Jewish Israel Appeal), said: “Sir Martin had an extraordinary capacity to command vast amounts of material and take the reader on a journey that created coherence through the detail.
“He was not dispassionate. He cared deeply for the Jewish people and Israel yet his work in this field is categorised by exemplary scholarship and rigour.
“No better example can be found than his incredibly moving account of The Boys – the 732 young survivors of the Holocaust who came to the UK together straight after the Second World War.
“As we say in Jewish tradition – May his memory be a blessing.”
Rabbi Mendel Cohen, at central London’s Saatchi Synagogue, said: “Sad news of the passing of Sir Martin Gilbert. History has been preserved thanks to his many books. May his memory be blessed.”
Israeli and Jewish writer and historian Eylon Aslan-Levy added: “What a titan. What a loss.”
Martin Gilbert received a knighthood in 1995 for services to British history.
Of his work, he said writing about the Allied Forces’ response to news of the Holocaust, in Auschwitz and the Allies, had been his “most controversial”, while his book The Holocaust “generated by far the most correspondence and contact with individuals whom I would never otherwise have met”.
Reflecting on his career, he said: “My aim has always been to write history from the human perspective, never to neglect the person known as ‘the common man’.”