BERLIN – Arno Lustiger, an autodidactic historian and author who brilliantly and
meticulously chronicled Jewish resistance to the Hitler movement, died on
Tuesday in Frankfurt.
Lustiger, who survived six Nazi concentration
camps, including Auschwitz, and two death marches, was 88 years old. He was born
in 1924 to Polish-speaking Jews in Bedzin (Bendzin in Yiddish), in that part of
Upper Silesia which became part of Poland after World War I.
tirelessly to debunk the prevailing German historical view that Europe’s Jews
allowed themselves to be carted off to Nazi extermination camps “like sheep to
Lustiger’s seminal work, Fighting to the Death: The Book
of Jewish Resistance 1933-1945, was published in 1994.
Arno telephoned me
from time to time to announce an essay or book he was working on as well as to
inform me of his speaking engagements in Berlin. He had endless energy, and
there was a sense of frustration for both of us that the Frankfurt-Berlin
distance prevented us from meeting on a regular basis.
Arno knew that I
had a longstanding journalistic interest in Jewish resistance during the
The last time we crossed paths was in February 2009. He called to
say (in his lovely Polish-accented German) that he would participate in a panel
discussion with the French Catholic priest Patrick Desbois.
wrote the introduction to the German version of Desbois’s book about Ukraine
during the Shoah, The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the
Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews.
Lustiger, whose pioneering
research attracted international praise and attention, was a guest professor at
the Frankfurt-based Fritz Bauer Institute between 2004 and 2006. The institute
devotes its research to the study of the Holocaust.
contribution was to disprove the ubiquitous notions among post-Holocaust West
German historians that Shoah survivors could not present objective testimonies
about their persecution and that Jewish resistance to the Nazis was
In a telephone interview with me for a Jerusalem Post
article on a controversial member of a German government anti-Semitism
commission, he expressed his displeasure about Elke Gryglewski’s view that
Holocaust survivors are “not objective and too emotional” as witnesses in
connection with Jew-hatred.
“I have heard that all my life. That is well
known of German historians,” Lustiger told me.
His exasperation could be
felt on the telephone. Lustiger termed the stance of Gryglewski, who works at
the House of the Wannsee Conference, to be “exaggerated” and
The House of the Wannsee Conference is a villa outside Berlin
where the Nazis planned the extermination of European Jewry in 1942, and now
houses a memorial and educational center.
Arno would also lament the
failure of contemporary academics and researchers to focus on Islamic-animated
and left-wing-based anti- Semitism. He explained to me that the intense focus on
Nazi-based anti-Semitism serves an “exculpatory motive” for many German
In short, he suggested that a large number of German
researchers refuse to deal with modern anti- Semitism (Islamic and leftist)
because the past allows them to purge their feelings of guilt and to help
rehabilitate their social-psychological regrets.
Dr. Dieter Graumann, the
head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, said last week that Lustiger’s
“greatest contribution for all time” was in “rescuing from oblivion the story of
Jewish resistance in the Shoah.”
Graumann, who lives in Frankfurt, noted
that Lustiger helped rebuild the city’s Jewish community.
“Not only did
Arno Lustiger contribute greatly to the return of Jewish life in Frankfurt, he
also made an important contribution to education and analysis about the darkest
chapter of German history through his research on Jewish resistance and on
non-Jewish rescuers of Jews during World War II,” he said.
council noted in a statement that “Lustiger showed in a highly recognized 2005
speech to the Bundestag on Holocuast Remembrance Day that... anti- Semitism is
frequently spread in the form of exaggerated criticism of Israel.”
2007 , Lustiger said kaddish at the funeral of his cousin, Cardinal Jean-Marie
Lustiger. The former archbishop of Paris had survived the Holocaust in hiding in
France and converted to Catholicism.
In one of most moving tributes, the
Austrian-Jewish journalist Hannes Stein wrote in the daily Die Welt about Arno
Lustiger’s final escape from a second Nazi death march and how a Jewish doctor
rescued him. “And then began the happiest time of my life,” Lustiger told Stein
about his recovery.
Lustiger showed Stein his US Army revolver that he
used in the last days of the war as an American soldier and
Stein wrote about the meaning of the pistol for Arno: “It
must have been a good feeling... as he was no longer defenseless and could
finally fight the murderers.”
All of this helps to explain Arno’s support
for the Jewish state and his writings in important newspapers such as the
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Welt combating the delegitimization of
Israel in the discourse of the Federal Republic.
Arno’s scholarship did
not only revolve around Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. He wrote a book
about Jewish volunteers enlisting to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. His
other major works covered the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and his persecution
of Russian Jews, and the role of non-Jews in saving Jews during the
The Israeli Embassy issued a statement in its digital
newsletter mourning the loss of Lustiger.
“Israel has lost a good
friend,” the embassy tweeted.