Gollancz, Sir Victor

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GOLLANCZ, SIR VICTOR (1893–1967), English publisher and author. The grandson of a ḥazzan and nephew of Rabbi Sir Hermann *Gollancz and Sir Israel *Gollancz, Victor Gollancz early rejected his family's religious Orthodoxy and all middle-class conservatism. Appalled by poverty and suffering, he sought to combat these ills through socialism and, later, pacifism. While an undergraduate at Oxford, he took a brief interest in Liberal Judaism, but was increasingly drawn to Christianity, although he never formally converted. After a period as a classics teacher, Gollancz entered publishing, and in 1928 founded his own publishing house. In 1936, together with John Strachey and Harold *Laski, he established the Left Book Club, whose aim was to expose Nazism and to "halt Hitler with war." Their success in providing informative books at low cost was a remarkable feat of political publishing. The club, which became a nationwide social and political movement, had some 60,000 members at its peak, but did not survive the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, which for Gollancz was an intolerable betrayal.

During World War ii Gollancz was one of the founders and leading members of the National Committee for Rescue from Nazi Terror, an organization which tried to save some of Hitler's victims, and was one of the first people in Britain to understand and internalize the horrors of the Holocaust. Later he sponsored other humanitarian causes, such as the "Save Europe Now" campaign to alleviate starvation in Germany in the post-World War ii period, the Association for World Peace (later known as "War on Want"), and the British campaign against capital punishment. Although from 1945 onward he fought the Palestine policy of British foreign secretary Ernest Bevin and endeavored to secure the admission of Jewish refugees to Palestine, Gollancz behaved characteristically when he headed an organization for relief work for the Arabs during Israel's War of Independence and later for Arab refugees in the Gaza Strip. He advocated reconciliation between Jews and Germans and between Jews and Arabs. At the same time he was on the board of governors of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem from 1952 to 1964.

A bon vivant with mystical longings, a successful businessman who opposed capitalism, an idealist tortured by a guilt complex, Gollancz wrote on many subjects. His books include The Brown Book of the Hitler Terror (1933); a translation (1943) of Why I Am A Jew by Edmond *Fleg; two autobiographical works addressed to his grandson, My Dear Timothy (1952) and More for Timothy (1953); The Case of Adolf Eichmann (1961), which expressed his total opposition to the trial of the Nazi criminal; and several religious anthologies and essays on music. He was knighted in 1965. Some of his views were considered bizarre by many Jews.

add. bibliography:

odnb online; dbb, ii, 591–95; R.D. Edwards, Victor Gollancz: A Biography (1987); S. Hodges, Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing House (1978); P. Duff, Left, Left, Left (1971); W.D. Rubinstein, Great Britain, 266–67, index.

[Renee Winegarten]