Sir Martin Gilbert, z”l
October 25, 1936 – February 3, 2015 , London, UK
by Esther Gilbert
On 3 February 2015, Sir Martin died. He succumbed to a sudden sepsis infection, aggravated by an inability to move from a March 2012 hypoxia brain injury. During those three years he did manage to progress and was doing well when this infection attacked. His keenness for life, his interest in the world around him, his appetite for learning never dimmed.
I met Martin in 1996 – actually, I “met” him through his writings on the Shoah and Soviet Jewry and Jerusalem years before. I had been working on a project to honour Rudolf Vrba, and Martin, who had written about him, responded enthusiastically to my request for help. We eventually met at a book launch of The Boys in Toronto. In January 2005 we were married.
Martin was born in London, on 25 October 1936. As a three-year-old he was evacuated to Canada, accompanied by an aunt and her three children. He spent the next four years in Toronto with a foster family. His sensitivity to Survivors came, in part, from his realisation that most in his generation of Jewish children born across the English Channel were murdered; he had been safe in Canada, and yet grew up away from the love of parents and family.
Returning to London in 1944, he was again evacuated, but this time with his family, to Wales. After the war the family returned to London and Martin attended Highgate School where his interest in geography, history, and travel was encouraged. Finishing school, he did compulsory two years of National Service, in the Intelligence Corps where he learned Russian, and then went to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he got First Class Honours in Modern History, became a Research Scholar at St Anthony’s College, and then became a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and an Honourary Fellow in 1994.
In 1962 Martin joined Randolph Churchill’s team of researchers working on the biography of Randolph’s father Winston Churchill. When Randolph died in 1968, Martin was asked to continue the biography, a task that took him the next twenty years. In addition to Randolph’s two volumes, Martin wrote an additional six volumes of Churchill’s life, and edited twelve volumes of documents.
In between the Churchill volumes, Martin also wrote eleven books on the Holocaust, his classic one-volume history, and then took up themes as the Righteous and Kristallnacht.
Having met many of the people who had worked with and for Winston Churchill, Martin realized the importance of the eyewitness and he wove into his histories the experiences of Survivors and archival evidence from those who had been murdered. When his Holocaust history came out in 1987, he was criticised for using Survivor testimony. I see in his email files correspondence with Allgenerations members whose eyewitness accounts and insight became an integral part of his work.
The history of Jews in the Twentieth Century, whether during the Shoah in Europe, the struggles of Jews from Arab lands, the search for peace in Israel, the fight for the rights of Soviet Jews to immigrate, all were Martin’s concern, his focus when he put pen to paper, and the subject of many of his 88 books specifically, and woven into his general histories where possible.
A lifetime of travel brought Martin into contact with many people whose experiences were included in his books, and inspired a series of historical atlases that harness cartography to history.
I have just redesigned his martingilbert.com website where his books and his life can be explored. I was able to include his Indexes of his core histories, so people and places can be searched. Monthly newsletters focus on one book and one atlas with historic resonance for that month.
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All Generations Newsletter
For Holocaust Survivors And Generations After
Allgenerations e-letter / August 27, 2015