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  • ObituaryWalter Ze'ev Laqueur
  • Richard Breitman and Jeffrey Herf

Walter Ze'ev Laqueur, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany and a historian of astonishing reach and productivity, died on September 30, 2018 at his home in Washington, DC. He was ninety-seven. Only a fraction of his more than seventy books dealt specifically with the Holocaust, but he had a major impact on this field and the scholars in it, including the authors of this obituary.

Laqueur was born into a Jewish family in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) in 1921. In August 1938, he was accepted as a student at the Hebrew University, and as a consequence received a trea-sured immigration certificate to Palestine at a time when most German and Austrian Jews found emigration extraordinarily difficult or impossible. After a medical problem delayed his departure, he boarded a train for Trieste on November 7. It was just about the time Herschel Grynzspan shot a German diplomat in Paris, the event that triggered Kristallnacht and the mass arrests of 30,000 male Jews. Laqueur's parents remained in Germany and were later murdered during the Holocaust.

In Palestine Laqueur lived for a time on a kibbutz, where a fellow kibbutznik taught him Russian and he met his first wife, Naomi Koch. He then became a journalist for a left-wing Zionist newspaper, for the Palestine Post (later Jerusalem Post), and freelancer for periodicals abroad. He wrote in Hebrew and in English, and he studied Arabic to better understand conditions in Palestine and the Middle East.

In 1955 he moved to London, where he founded and co-edited the Journal of Contemporary History with his friend and colleague George Mosse. In 1965 he became the director of the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide. In the 1970s he worked in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he chaired the International Research Council and edited its journal on international affairs and foreign policy, The Washington Quarterly. He offered advice on current issues of foreign policy, and he frequently helped younger scholars. He taught occasionally at Georgetown, Brandeis, and elsewhere as a visiting professor. Laqueur's facility with languages, breadth of knowledge, and journalistic training enabled him to address major forces and events of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, despite his lack of academic credentials. Without a Ph.D., he became one of the most famous historians in the world. Many of his works were widely translated.

After the death of his first wife, he married Susi Genzen Wichmann, a German emigree from Berlin who came with him from London to Washington. She survives him, along with Laqueur's daughters Sylvia Laqueur Graham of London and Shlomit Laqueur of Jeruslaem.

Laqueur wrote frequently about the Soviet Union and Russia over the course of his long career. In the 1970s while at the CSIS, he discussed the "specter of Finlandization" in Western Europe, that is, a reluctance to address what he regarded as the growing threat of Soviet military power aimed at the West during the era of Detente. An early and emphatic supporter of the processes of European integration and the Atlantic Alliance, Laqueur's writings on Europe in recent decades displayed pessimism about Europe's capacity to address key issues of security, economic growth, and immigration. During these same years he also wrote highly-regarded books on Zionism, the Middle East, and anti-semitism. He is particularly well known for studies of fascism and for his in-depth analysis of Weimar culture. He was one of the pioneers of the history of terrorism, and his last book, The Future of Terrorism (2018), brought his expertise to bear upon current problems. [End Page 172]

In 1980 Laqueur published The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the Truth about Hitler's Final Solution, This was probably the first serious attempt to uncover how information about the Holocaust leaked out to Germans and into foreign countries. Although Laqueur wrote before many governments had declassified intelligence records, he anticipated much of what later emerged. He showed that a great deal of information about Nazi killings of Jews was available to those later called bystanders, particularly about...


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