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October 1: Israel Gutman, Historian of His Own Life

Lawrence Bush
September 30, 2016
Israel Gutman, a fighter in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and a survivor of two years’ imprisonment in the Majdanek, Auschwitz, and Mathausen concentration camps, died at 90 on this date in 2013. Gutman emigrated to Palestine in the late 1940s and raised a family on Kibbutz Lehavot HaBashan, where he became an early leader of Holocaust commemoration in Israel. In 1961, he gave passionate testimony at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, and in 1963, he published his first book, The Revolt of the Besieged: Mordechai Anielewicz and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. “After more than two decades on the kibbutz and on the periphery of Israeli academic life,” writes Menachem Butler at Tablet, “Gutman moved to Jerusalem in 1973, and in 1975 received his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for his research on the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto. He went on to serve as Yad Vashem’s director of research and was named the Max and Rita Haber Professor of Modern Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1977, a Hebrew volume based on his PhD research, The Jews of Warsaw 1939-1943: Ghetto, Underground, Revolt was published. After it was translated into English in 1982, Gutman became recognized internationally as the leading Israeli Holocaust scholar.” He also served as editor-in-chief of the authoritative, four-volume Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.

“When the ghetto uprising broke out in 1943, Mr. Gutman was responsible for the security of a bunker where wounded were taken. . . . Once, when leaving the bunker, he and others were confronted by German soldiers, and he shot one of them. The soldiers threw a grenade, wounding him in the eye. . . . In a video recorded by Yad Vashem, Professor Gutman said of the Warsaw ghetto revolt, ‘We knew we had no chance,’ but he added that ‘there was a sense of duty to participate in the uprising.’ ”--Isabel Kershner, New York Times

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.