Sir Martin Gilbert (1936-2015) was a leading British historian and the author of more than eighty books. Specializing in 20th century history, he was the official biographer of Winston Churchill and wrote a best-selling eight-volume biography of the war leader’s life.
Born in London in 1936, Martin Gilbert was evacuated to Canada with his family at the beginning of World War II as part of the British government’s efforts to protect children from the brutal bombings of the Luftwaffe. He was made a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, in 1962. He is the author of several definitive historical works examining the Holocaust, the First and Second World Wars, and the history of the 20th century.
In 1990, Gilbert was designated a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and was awarded a Knighthood in 1995. Oxford University awarded him a Doctorate in 1999. Gilbert was a sought-after speaker on Churchill, Jewish history, and the history of the 20th century, and traveled frequently to lecture at colleges, universities, and organizations around the world.
The final volume of the official biography spans Churchill’s life from the defeat of Germany in 1945 to his death nearly twenty years later. It sees him first at the pinnacle of his power, leader of a victorious Britain. In July 1945 at Potsdam, Churchill, Stalin, and Truman aimed to shape postwar Europe. But while still grappling with world issues Churchill returned to Britain for the general election results and was thrown out of office.For six years Churchill worked to restore the fortunes of Britain’s Conservative Party, while at the same time warning the world of Communist ambitions, urging the reconciliation of France and Germany, pioneering the concept of a united Europe, and seeking to maintain the closest possible links between Britain and the United States. His aim throughout was to achieve not confrontation with the Soviet Union but conciliation based firmly upon Western strength and unity.In October 1951 Churchill became prime minister for the second time. The Great Powers were at peace but under the shadow of a fearful new weapon, the hydrogen bomb. Hoping, after the election of Eisenhower in 1952 and the death of Stalin in 1953, for a fresh start in East–West relations, Churchill worked for a new summit conference; but in April 1955 ill health and pressure from colleagues forced him to resign.In retirement Churchill traveled widely; took up painting again; completed the four-volume History of the English-Speaking Peoples; and watched as world conflicts continued, still convinced that they could be resolved by statesmanship. "Never despair" remained his watchword, and his faith, until the end. That end came slowly; for those nearest to him it was a sad decline. Yet almost to his ninetieth year he was able to follow events with hope and faith in the ability of man to survive his own folly.
Sir Martin first met "Auntie Fori" in 1958,when he arrived in New Delhi with a letter of introduction from her son, a fellow Oxford student. Their friendship flourished for forty years through correspondence and visits to the capitals where her husband, the diplomat B. K. Nehru, was posted. Then, at her ninetieth birthday celebration in 1998, Auntie Fori told her "adopted nephew" that she was not of Indian birth but was actually Hungarian–and Jewish. She did not know what this Jewish identity involved, historically or spiritually, and she asked him to enlighten her.
In response, Sir Martin embarked on the series of letters that have been gathered to form this book, shaping each one as a concise, individually formed story. He presents Jewish history as the narrative expression–the timeline–of the Jewish faith, and the faith as it is informed by the history. Starting with Adam and Eve, he then brings us to Abraham and his descendants, who worshiped a God who repeatedly, and often dramatically, intervened in their lives. The stories of Genesis and Exodus lead seamlessly on to those of the eras when the land was ruled by the Israelite kings and then by Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome–the Biblical and post-Biblical periods. In Sir Martin’s hands, these stories are rich in incident and achievement. He then traces the long history of the Jews in the Diaspora, ending with an unexpected visit to an outpost of Jewry in Anchorage, Alaska. Ranging through almost every country in the world–including China and India–he maintains a chronological structure, weaving in the history of other peoples and faiths, to give Auntie Fori, and us, a sense of the larger stage on which Jewish history has played out.
Rich with eye-witness accounts, incisive interviews, and first-hand source materials including documentation from the Eichmann and Nuremberg war crime trials, master historian Martin Gilbert weaves a detailed, immediate account of the Holocaust from Hitler’s rise to power to the final defeat of the Nazis in 1945.
This sweeping narrative begins with an in-depth historical analysis of the origins of anti-Semitism in Europe, and tracks the systematic brutality of Hitler’s "Final Solution" in unflinching detail. It brings to light new source materials documenting Mengele’s diabolical concentration camp experiments and documents the activities of Himmler, Eichmann, and other Nazi leaders. It also demonstrates comprehensive evidence of Jewish resistance and the heroic efforts of Gentiles to aid and shelter Jews and others targeted for extermination, even at the risk of their own lives.
Combining survivor testimonies, deft historical analysis, and painstaking research, The Holocaust is without doubt a masterwork of World War II history.
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