- ObituaryIn Memoriam: Robert S. Wistrich
Robert S. Wistrich, considered among the world’s leading authorities on antisemitism, died of a heart attack May 19, 2015, shortly before he was to address the Italian Senate on rising antisemitism in Europe; he was 70 years old.
The author or editor of twenty-nine books concerning the fate of Jews and their treatment by others, Wistrich received the 2011 Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism Lifetime Achievement Award. Wistrich’s The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph won the Austrian State Prize for Danubian History and Anti-Semitism. Two years later, in 1991, he published Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred, which received the H.H. Wingate Prize for nonfiction in the UK and served as the basis for a PBS documentary that Wistrich wrote and co-edited. In 2010, Wistrich published A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad, which was designated Best Book of the Year by the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism. His most recent book was From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel (2012).
Wistrich also authored the text for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s exhibition People, Book, Land: The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People with the Holy Land. This exhibition was displayed at the United Nations headquarters in New York in February and March 2015. It was scheduled to debut in Paris in 2014, but was postponed after Arab nations protested that it could undermine Middle East peace talks. The exhibit eventually reopened six months later after “Land of Israel” was replaced with “Holy Land” in the subtitle.
Robert Solomon Wistrich was born on April 7, 1945 in Lenger, Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. His parents, Jakob and Sabina Wistreich, were leftist Polish Jews who had fled from Poland to escape the Germans. While in Kazakhstan, Wistrich’s father, a doctor and Zionist, was arrested and imprisoned twice by the Soviet secret police. After the war, Wistrich’s family was repatriated to Cracow, Poland, where they encountered continuing antisemitism and poor living conditions. The family then illegally obtained Costa Rican passports, which enabled them to move first to France and then to settle in England.
Growing up in postwar London, Wistrich was faced with rampant anti-Jewish prejudice. He saw that in order to succeed, he would have to surpass his peers in learning. At the age of seventeen, he won an open scholarship in history to Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He continued his studies at the University of London, where he earned his doctorate in 1974.
Between 1974 and 1980, Wistrich worked as the director of research at the Institute of Contemporary History and at the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide before being appointed as a research fellow at the British Academy. Wistrich was granted tenure at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1982, where he headed the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism and held the Neuberger chair for modern European history since 2002. [End Page 351]