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  • ObituaryRandolph L. Braham
  • Michael Berenbaum


Randolph L. Braham (1922–2018), the dean and conscience of historians of the Holocaust in Hungary, died on November 25, 2018, just weeks shy of his 96th birthday. A working scholar to the very last days of his life, Braham was not only prolific and insightful, but panoramic and precise. His commentary on contemporary Hungary was courageous and incisive. His moral voice grew as political events in Hungary culminated in blatant attempts to rewrite history. Braham was married for fifty-nine years to Elizabeth Sommer, a German-born Holocaust survivor who died in 2014. He is survived by two sons, two grandsons, and his partner, Mary Maudsley, who teaches Holocaust studies (especially in Hungary) at Stockton University.

Born Adolf Abraham to a poor Jewish family in Bucharest, Romania, Randy was raised in Dej in Transylvania. His father Lajos Abraham was a laborer, his mother Eszter Katz a home-maker. Dej became part of Hungary on the eve of World War II, and Braham, along with other Jewish young men, was soon conscripted into one of the Hungarian army's notorious Jewish labor service battalions. Hungary had expelled foreign Jews in 1941 to German-occupied Ukraine, where they were murdered by the German forces, yet only after Germany's occupation of its ally in 1944 did the Hungarian government began to ghettoize and deport the country's Jews to death camps, primarily Auschwitz. Among those murdered there were Lajos and Eszter Abraham, which Adolf was to discover only after the war; his older sister was sent to Auschwitz as well, but survived.

As the Red Army entered Hungary, Braham escaped with four fellow conscripts, thanks in part to a Hungarian farmer named Istvan Novak who hid them in haystacks and was later honored by Yad Vashem as a "Righteous Among the Nations." After that escape he returned to Dej, only to learn of the near total destruction of the once thriving Jewish community, and, most personally, of the death of his parents. He was then interned by the Soviets, but escaped with the help of a Jewish guard.

Self-educated, Braham had been barred from high school as a Jew. Yet, speaking several languages, after the war he got a job as a translator for the U.S. military in Berlin. He immigrated to the United States, where he gained entrance to the City College of New York, earning his B.A. and M.A. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in political science (1952) at the New School for Social Research. At both institutions he was joined by fellow Holocaust survivors and Jewish refugees seeking to make up for lost time, cherishing American democracy, fearful of the totalitarian regimes that had shattered their lives and were ruining the lives of others even then.

Randy returned to City College to teach, rising from adjunct lecturer to chairman of the Political Science Department and eventually Distinguished Professor, the institution's highest rank. He helped to found the Graduate Center of CUNY, where he created and headed the Rosenthal Institute of Holocaust Studies from its inception in 1979 until his death.

Braham was the author, editor, or contributor to 130 books and countless articles. His CV numbers scores of pages. His works became classics in the field. The two-volume, 1600-page Politics of Genocide (1981) is the foundational work on the Holocaust in Hungary; the volumes reflected the most detailed knowledge of each community from the end of World War I to the end of World War II. In The New York Times Eleanor Lester called the study an "immense and meticulous documentation"—an understatement. He completed the third edition (in Hungarian as well [End Page 174] as English) at the age of ninety-three. The day before his last hospitalization found him honing a lecture for the CUNY Graduate Center, a lecture tragically cancelled.

I came to appreciate Randy's dogged determination when I encouraged him to condense his master work into a slimmer volume more suitable for the classroom. He protested that "if I could have written a shorter book, I would have." But eventually Wayne State University Press and...


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