Pioneering Holocaust historian Saul Friedlander has won the Dan David Prize, which recognizes outstanding achievement in "innovative and interdisciplinary research that cuts across traditional boundaries and paradigms."
Friedlander, the inaugural holder of the 1939 Club Chair in Holocaust Studies in UCLA's College of Letters and Science, will split the foundation's $1 million prize in the History and Memory category with renowned French historian Pierre Nora and Polish writer and social activist Krzysztof Czyzewski.
In announcing the award, the foundation credited Friedlander for maintaining "a sustained debate over the proper periodization of Nazi history on the one hand, and on the other the question of the extent to which the Holocaust and the history of the Third Reich should be considered exceptional, addressing the ways in which the victim's experience ought to be integrated within the overall narrative of the Holocaust."
Friedlander expressed joy and surprise at his selection. "To get the prize is quite an honor. I'm very, very glad, of course, and honored," he said.
Under the terms of the prize, winners donate 10 percent of their prize money to doctoral and postdoctoral scholarships in their own field. Friedlander said he plans to split the $33,000 allotment between the two universities where he has spent the majority of his career — Tel Aviv University and UCLA.
When asked of his plans for the remaining $300,000 purse, the 81-year-old historian laughed and said, "I have no idea."
The prize is the most recent in a long string of accolades for Friedlander. In 2008, he won the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for "The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939–1945," the second volume of his seminal history of Jews in Hitler's Germany.
In 1999, he was named a MacArthur Fellow. The award followed on the heels of the publication of the first volume in his series, "Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume 1: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939."
Friedlander has credited his extraordinary experiences during World War II with inspiring his career. He grew up in a French monastery in the 1940s, not knowing that his Jewish parents had perished in the Nazi Holocaust. When he was 13, a Jesuit priest told him what had happened to the Jews of Europe.
"That changed my whole life," Friedlander said in a 2001 interview. "In a way, my Jewish identity was restored."
Friedlander began teaching at Tel Aviv University in 1976 and joined UCLA's history department in 1988. For the next decade, he split his time between the two universities before retiring from the Israeli university in the late 1990s. Friedlander technically retired in 2011 from UCLA but he has been teaching one course a year since that time. He his wrapping up his final course at UCLA this quarter, an upper division undergraduate seminar called "Recent Debates in the Historiography of the Holocaust."
Last month marked Friedlander's 50th anniversary in the classroom. He said it was "particularly sweet" that the Dan David Foundation recognized his efforts on the occasion of the anniversary.
The Dan David Prize winners will be honored at a ceremony on May 18 at Tel Aviv University.