Bernard Wasserstein

Harriet & Ulrich E. Meyer Professor Emeritus of Modern European Jewish History
DPhil 1974 University of Oxford
DLitt 2001 University of Oxford

William Rainey Harper Memorial Library,
East Tower 582 – Office
(773) 702-3637 – Office telephone
(773) 702-7550 – Fax

Mailing Address

The University of Chicago
Department of History
1126 East 59th Street, Mailbox 67
Chicago, IL 60637

Field Specialties

History and politics of Israel, modern Jewish history, and twentieth-century international history.

Biography

Born London 1948. Educated High School of Glasgow and Wyggeston Grammar School, Leicester. BA, Modern History, Balliol College, Oxford 1969. Graduate Studentship, Nuffield College, Oxford 1969-73. Visiting Research Student, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1970-71. MA, Oxford 1972. D Phil, Modern History, Nuffield College, Oxford 1974. D Litt, Oxford 2001. Research Fellow in Politics, Nuffield College, Oxford 1973-5. College Lecturer in Modern History and International Relations, Corpus Christi College, Oxford 1974-6. Lecturer in Modern History, Sheffield University 1976-9. Visiting Lecturer in History and International Relations, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1979-80. Associate Professor of History, Brandeis University, 1980-82, Professor 1982-96. Visiting Fellow, Institute of Advanced Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 1984-5. Dean of Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Brandeis University 1990-92. National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship 1994-5. Visiting Fellow, All Souls College Oxford, 1995. President, Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and Fellow of St Cross College 1996-2000. Professor of Modern History, University of Glasgow 2000-3. Fellow, National Humanities Center, North Carolina, 2002-3. Fellow Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, 2004-5. Guggenheim Fellow 2007-8. Visiting Fellow, Sackler Institute for Advanced Studies, Tel Aviv University, 2008. Visiting Fellow, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies, Uppsala, 2011-12. Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, 2012.


Publications
 

My research interests are in the history and politics of Israel, modern Jewish history, and, more generally, in twentieth-century international history.

british_palestine.jpeg My first book, The British in Palestine: The Mandatory Government and the Arab-Jewish Conflict (1978), analysed the first decade of the Palestine mandate, drawing on the approaches to imperial history suggested by Robinson and Gallagher in their Africa and the Victorians. I then edited two volumes of the letters of the Zionist leader, Chaim Weizmann, dealing with the same period.
britain_europejews.jpeg In my second monograph, Britain and the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945 (1979), again based mainly on recently released British records, I examined the British record in relation to the Jewish genocide in Europe, focusing on British receptivity to Jewish immigration to the UK, to the empire, and to Palestine, on British policy regarding relief supplies sent through the economic blockade to Nazi Europe, and on official reaction to proposals for the bombing of Auschwitz and for aid to Jewish resistance in occupied Europe.
jews_france.jpeg The Jews in Modern France (1985), edited with Frances Malino, brought together essays originally prepared for a conference we organized at Brandeis University.
lincoln.jpeg The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln (1988) was an experiment in biography that drew partly on the models offered by A. J. A. Symons's The Quest for Corvo and Hugh Trevor-Roper's The Hermit of Peking. The Crime Writers’ Association awarded this book their Golden Dagger for Non-Fiction.
samuel_3.jpg Herbert Samuel: A Political Life (1992) was a more conventional political biography of the First High Commissioner under the British Mandate in Palestine and the successor to Lloyd George as leader of the British Liberal Party.
diaspora.jpeg Vanishing Diaspora: The Jews in Europe since 1945 (1996) proposed a radical reassessment of post-Hitler European Jewry; the picture of demographic decline, social disintegration, and cultural dissolution provoked considerable debate.
secretwar.jpeg Secret War in Shanghai (1999), an account of the rivalries of the great powers in North China during World War II, was partly based, like the biography of Trebitsch Lincoln, on the archive of the British-controlled Shanghai Municipal Police Special Branch. This book elicited some critical reactions on account of its portrait of widespread collaborationism among the foreign communities (including the British and the Americans) in Shanghai.
jerusalem.jpeg Divided Jerusalem: The Struggle for the Holy City (2001) returned to my earlier interest in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The book surveyed the diplomatic history of the Jerusalem question over the past two hundred years, with a close focus on the period since 1967. The book emphasized the historic roots of the current divisions in the city and the exploitation of religious devotion to the city by politicians of all three monotheistic faiths.
israelis_palestinians.jpeg Israelis and Palestinians: Why Do They Fight? Can They Stop? (Yale University Press, 2003) re-engages with some of the themes of my first book and re-examines them in a larger frame and over a longer period. It analyses, in particular, demography, social relations, especially the labour market, and environmental pressures, showing how all of these have shaped and continue to shape the nature of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
barbarism.jpeg Barbarism and Civilization: A History of Europe in Our Time (Oxford University Press, 2007) is a general history of the continent since 1914. The twentieth century witnessed some of the most brutish episodes in history. Yet it also saw incontestable improvements in the conditions of existence for most inhabitants of the continent. It was a century of cruelty and tenderness, of technological achievement and environmental spoliation, of imperial expansion and retraction, of authoritarian repression and of individualism resurgent. Barbarism and Civilization attempts to encapsulate and reinterpret the experience of Europeans in the course of the tumultuous twentieth century.
eve.jpeg On the Eve: the Jews of Europe before the Second World War (Simon & Schuster, 2012) portrays European Jewry on the brink of its destruction. It examines the existential crisis that Jews faced throughout the continent and shows that the challenges to collective Jewish survival came as much from within as without. On the Eve discusses Jews’ hopes and fears, anxieties and ambitions, family ties, internal and external relations, their cultural creativity, amusements, songs, fads and fancies, dress, diet, and, insofar as they can be grasped, the things that made existence meaningful for them. The fundamental objective is to restore forgotten men, women, and children to the historical record, to breathe renewed life momentarily into those who were soon to be dry bones. The book was awarded the Yad Vashem International Book Prize in 2013.
Wasserstein 2014 Book_0.jpg My most recent book, The Ambiguity of Virtue: Gertrude van Tijn and the Fate of the Dutch Jews (Harvard University Press, forthcoming in spring 2014) challenges the ahistorical interpretation of the role of the Nazi-appointed Jewish councils in Nazi-occupied Europe that was offered by Hannah Arendt in her Eichmann in JerusalemThe Ambiguity of Virtue tells the story of Gertrude van Tijn’s work on behalf of her fellow Jews as the avenues that might save them were closed off. Between 1933 and 1940 Van Tijn helped organize Jewish emigration from Germany. After the Germans occupied Holland, she worked for the Jewish Council in Amsterdam, enabling many Jews to escape to safety. Some later called her a heroine; others denounced her as a collaborator. Was she merely a pawn of the Nazis, or should she be commended for taking advantage of such opportunities as offered themselves to save Jews from the gas chambers? In such impossible circumstances, what is just action, and what is complicity?

My current research and writing are mainly dedicated to two projects: a study of Jewish intellectuals in Israel and the Diaspora in the period after 1945 and a revisionist history of British rule in Palestine between 1917 and 1948.