Gutman, Israel

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GUTMAN, ISRAEL (1923– ), historian of the Holocaust. Gutman was born in Warsaw, Poland. He was a member of the Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir Zionist youth movement, active in the Jewish underground in the Warsaw ghetto, and fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In the aftermath of the uprising he was imprisoned in Majdanek and then in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Mauthausen. He immigrated to Palestine in 1947, where he settled on kibbutz Lehavot ha-Bashan. In 1961 he testified at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Gutman studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, receiving his Ph.D. in 1975 with a dissertation on the Warsaw ghetto. He served as director of research at Yad Vashem (1975–83), and headed its Academic Committee for many years. He is professor emeritus of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry of the Hebrew University, where he also served as head (1983–85). Gutman was a founder of Moreshet, Anielewicz Memorial Center, academic advisor to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, a member of the Academic Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, founding head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem (1993–96), chief historian of Yad Vashem (1996–2002), academic advisor to Yad Vashem (2002– ), a member of the International Auschwitz Council (2000– ), the initiator and editor of the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (1990), and chief historical consultant to the new Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem. In 2002 Gutman received the prestigious Landau Award for Science and Research for his work in the field of the Holocaust and Israeli history.

Gutman was one of the most influential historians of the Holocaust in the world. He was part of the small group of survivor historians of the subject, but stood out as one of the most prominent and significant among them. His meticulous and thorough research, sharp analytical skills, deep insight, and lucid writing made him one of the most sought-after scholars to participate actively in advisory committees, editorial boards, research groups, and conferences. He played a seminal role in laying the foundations and building the edifice for Holocaust studies in Israel. It can be said that Gutman had a major influence in the articulation of what might be called the "Jerusalem School" of Holocaust scholarship, which sees the Jews as a subject of history and not only as a victim of Nazi actions, and therefore sets out to identify, find, and utilize Jewish documentation in order to tell the story of the Jews during the Holocaust. His research reflects this approach, and indeed, his book, The Jews of Warsaw 19391943, is a prime example of this historical school's approach. The book is the standard text for anyone wishing to study or teach about the Jews of Warsaw during the Holocaust.

Gutman had a profound influence on the study of the day-to-day lives of the Jews under Nazi rule; the ghettos; the Judenraete and their varied policies regarding the Jewish communities and labor under the Nazis; the concept of Amidah, which might be loosely translated as resilience and unarmed resistance; understanding the changes in roles between the traditional Jewish leadership and the youth movement activists in many places, and hence the significant role of youth movements in Jewish underground activity; the understanding of the centrality of antisemitism to the Nazis and to Nazi planning of anti-Jewish policy; and more.

One of Gutman's contributions to Holocaust scholarship was to articulate the uniqueness of the Holocaust, which he saw in the singular combination of factors that enabled the Holocaust to happen: historical antisemitism; the demonic view of the Jews in Europe; the Jews' prolonged exilic existence and their protracted and persistent persecution by Christianity; the biological racial view the Nazis had of the Jews, which saw the Jews as an immutable danger of cosmic significance; and Germany's defeated and weak status in the aftermath of World War i.

Gutman has advocated and taught meticulous empirical research in all relevant languages, both of official German documentation and of Jewish documents from the period and later, as well as documentation from local non-Jewish populations. According to Gutman, oral history is an important source which, although it needs to be read carefully and critically as well as corroborated in the same way as other documentation, is integral to trying to gain a fuller picture and understanding of events. Many scholars who began as his students have gained prominence in their own right in various universities and research institutes.

After the collapse of communism in Poland, Gutman became a celebrity there, sought after for advice, articles, conferences, committees, public lectures, and awards. In 1995 he received an honorary doctorate from Warsaw University, an event that he saw as bearing great symbolic significance, as this was a place, as he put it, into whose hallowed halls he could not have wished to enter when he was a Jewish citizen of Poland.

Gutman published numerous books and articles. Among his major books are The Jews of Warsaw 19391943: Ghetto, Underground, Revolt (1977; Eng., 1982); The Catastrophe of European Jewry (edited with Livia Rothkirchen, 1976); Documents on the Holocaust (edited with Yitzhak Arad and Avraham Margaliot, 1978; Eng., 1981); The Nazi Concentration Camps (edited with Avital Saf, 1984); The Jews in Poland After the Second World War (Heb., 1985); Unequal Victims: Poles and Jews During World War Two (with Shmuel Krakowski, 1986); Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (editor, 1990); Emanuel Ringelblum's Diary and Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto: September 1939December 1942 and Last Writings: Polish-Jewish Relations; January 1943April 1944 (Heb.; edited with Joseph Kermish and Israel Shaham, 1992 and 1994); Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp (edited with Michael Berenbaum, 1994); Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (1994); and Holocaust and Memory, a textbook (Heb., 1999).


Y. Sheleg, "Being There," in: Haaretz (April 25, 2003); "Yisrael Gutman Talks to Daniel Blatman: Youth and Resistance Movements in Historical Perspective," in: Yad Vashem Studies, 23 (1993), 1–71.

[David Silberklang (2nd ed.)]