Robert Solomon Wistrich (1945–2015)
Eli Lederhendler, October 2015
Historian of Antisemitism
Robert Solomon Wistrich (born Shlomo Jacobovitch Vistraikh) was born in Kazakhstan in April 1945. His parents, who were Jewish war refugees from Cracow, Poland, had found refuge in the Soviet Union, but in 1940 the Soviet authorities deported them, like many others, to Central Asia. After the end of World War II, the family was repatriated to Poland and then reemigrated to England.
Robert Wistrich grew up in London and took his undergraduate degree in history at Cambridge. He did his postgraduate work at University College London, where he received his PhD in 1974. In 1981, he accepted an invitation to the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he participated in a research group devoted to the topic of Jewish nationalism.
Wistrich’s first four books were published by 1982, and they demonstrated his interest as a scholar in the interconnections between Jewish and European history: Revolutionary Jews from Marx to Trotsky (1976); Trotsky: Fate of a Revolutionary (1979); Socialism and the Jews: The Dilemmas of Assimilation in Germany and Austria-Hungary (1982); and Who’s Who in Nazi Germany (1982), an encyclopedia of key officials in Germany during the Third Reich.
His scholarly achievements won him an appointment, with tenure, at the history department at Hebrew University (1982). He was also active in public life as a contributor to the journal New Outlook, which was devoted to promoting Arab-Israeli dialogue.
In 1985, Wistrich published Hitler’s Apocalypse, which highlighted the common spheres of discourse of conspiracy shared by anti-Israel propaganda in contemporary Soviet and radical Islamic publications. In 1990, Wistrich was invited by Britain’s Thames Television to prepare a documentary series, The Longest Hatred, which explored the history of antisemitism. It was the first of a number of such involvements in broadcast journalism. Wistrich went on to publish key books on the history of antisemitism, including A Lethal Obsession: Antisemitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad (2010).
He was invited by the Vatican in 1999 to join an international team of high-level scholars, both Jewish and Catholic, to look into the historical issues surrounding Pope Pius XII’s responses to Nazism and the Holocaust. When it appeared that Vatican archives were not to be made fully available to the team, Wistrich resigned from the project but continued to delve into the topic in his academic work.
In 2002, Hebrew University appointed him to direct the Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism, a post he held until his untimely death in 2015. He died in Rome, where he was scheduled to speak at the University of Rome and at the Italian Senate on the subject of contemporary antisemitism and anti-Zionism in Europe.
He is survived by his wife, Daniella, their three children, and seven grandchildren.
Eli Lederhendler Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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