Holocaust historian and ‘towering academic’ David Cesarani dies, 58

Holocaust historian and ‘towering academic’ David Cesarani dies, 58

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

David Cesarani

by Justin Cohen

Historian David Cesarani has been remembered as a “towering academic” and a central figure in the establishment of Holocaust Memorial Day following his sudden death a the age of just 58.

The father-of-two was a founding trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and also served on David Cameron’s Holocaust Commission alongside Helena Bonham Carter and the chief rabbi. He was honoured by the Queen with an OBE in 2005 for services for Shoah education and for advising the government on the creation of HMD. 

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis tweeted: “The British Jewish community mourns the loss of Prof David Cesarani, a towering academic and historian.” Former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, also paid tribute tweeting he was ‘stunned’ by his death. “David was our keeper of the conscience of memory. We will cherish his memory.” 

Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust said: ‘David Cesarani was a pioneer in Holocaust scholarship and education. We worked in close partnership with him for many years, including on the introduction of the first Holocaust educational resource to be used in British schools. His vast expertise, knowledge and wisdom – which garnered the respect of Holocaust experts around the world – will be sorely missed. We mourn the loss of a guiding light and a great friend. Our heartfelt thoughts are with his family.’

Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush said: “We are shocked and saddened to hear of the death of David Cesarani at the age of only 58. He was a giant in his field, producing ground-breaking work on Jewish history and the Holocaust and was also a pioneer in the field of Holocaust education for which the richly deserved the OBE he was awarded 10 years ago. Our thoughts go out to his wife Dawn and their children Daniel and Hannah.”

Cesarani, research professor in history at Royal Holloway, University of London, also wrote and edited more than a dozen books including Eichmann: His life and crimes, The Jews and the Left and How Britain became a refuge for Nazi war criminals. 

Expressing “deep sadness” at the news, Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: “David was an outstanding historian of the Holocaust, who recognised that it was more than simply an event to be studied – it was an unprecedented challenge to civilisation. 

“David helped ensure that everybody in society was challenged by the difficult lessons that the Holocaust presents. He worked closely with survivors to encourage them to share their testimonies, and worked hard to make sure that the stories of their experiences were heard.” A statement said he was about to begin chairing the HMDT Expert Reference Group, “bringing his unique knowledge and perspective to the challenging issues that holocaust and genocide commemoration present”.

Tributes also came from the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, which is tasked with delivering the recommendations of the prime minister’s Commission. “As one of Britain’s leading scholars in Jewish history and the Holocaust, David dedicated his life ’s work to enhancing our understanding of humanity’s darkest hour. His work with the Commission and resulting foundation was truly invaluable , offering counsel on how to teach further generations of the warnings of the Holocaust.” 

Henry Grunwald, chair of the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre in Nottingham who worked with Cesarani on the Trust since its inception, said: “I know just how important his contribution to Holocaust education and memorial has been. His advise and wise counsel were instrumental in ensuring that all we did was rooted in accurate historical fact.

“His knowledge was immense and his scholarship will live on to assist and guide all who work in this important area. We will all miss him and send deep condolences to his family.”

The professor moved to pour water over suggestions of widespread threat to Jewish lives in Europe – and of a mass exodus – amid heightened fears following the attacks in Paris in January. He wrote in the Huffington Post: “Invoking the fate of Jews under Nazi rule is not only inappropriate – it is inflammatory and insulting to the victims.”

Fellow Holocaust historian Sir Martin Gilbert died earlier this year.

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