An Israeli-French-American Holocaust survivor and historian and a U.S. scientist specializing in gut bacteria were among the recipients of this year’s Balzan Prizes, recognizing scholarly and scientific achievements, announced on Monday.
Saul Friedlander, who has taught at both the University of California, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv University, was awarded the prize for Holocaust and Genocide Studies for his work broadening the perspective on the history of the Holocaust.
Friedlander, 88, was born in Prague in 1932 in a non-religious Jewish family, which fled to France after the German occupation in March 1939. His parents hid him in a Catholic boarding school near Vichy, where they were later captured and sent to Auschwitz.
With his parents’ agreement, Friedlander was baptized as a Catholic and later, out of his own conviction, considered becoming a priest. After he learned in 1946 that his parents had been killed at Auschwitz, Friedlander reclaimed his Jewish identity. He later said, “for the first time, I felt Jewish.”
Friedlander received the Pulitzer Prize in general non-fiction in 2008 for “The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945,” the second volume in his history of Jews in Hitler’s Germany. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1999, after the publication of the first volume covering the period from 1933-39 and has also been awarded the Dan David Prize recognizing outstanding achievement in interdisciplinary research.
Friedlander was recognized for examining the persecution of all Jews in Europe, going beyond country-focused studies that had preceded him, and for making personal documents accepted in scholarly practice.
“His authority is special in the sense that he is both a scholar and a victim of the Holocaust. He says that you can study your own experiences in a critical way,’’ said Marjan Schwegman, a Dutch historian who announced the prize. “The way he integrates the voices of victims, perpetrators and bystanders in this narrative has changed the way historians write about the history of the Holocaust.”
The Balzan Foundation awards two prizes in the sciences and two in the humanities each year, rotating specialties to highlight new or emerging areas of research and sustain fields that might be overlooked elsewhere. Recipients receive 750,000 Swiss francs ($815,000), half of which must be used for research, preferably by young scholars or scientists.