BORN VIENNA, JUNE 2, 1926. DIED VERMONT, AUGUST 4, 2007, AGED 81.
THE father of Holocaust studies, historian Raul Hilberg coined the terms perpetrator, victim and bystander for Hitler’s Final Solution.
Son of a supplier of goods on credit to poor people, he left Austria for New York with his family in 1939. Called up in 1944 and posted to Germany, he was stationed in the Munich ex-Nazi base which held Hitler’s crated-up library.
Handling the books opened his eyes to Hitler’s anti-Jewish obsession and he dedicated his life to studying how it turned into a full-scale extermination programme involving German society and the economy at every level.
In 1955, when he produced his thesis at Columbia University, the West was not ready to absorb the full scale and horror. His seminal book, The Destruction of the European Jews, was not published till 1961. Two expanded revisions followed in 1985 and 2003.
His research of mountains of documents showed the insidious levels of compliance — even, controversially, among Jews, to their own doom — and the nonsense of Holocaust denial.
He became professor of political science at Vermont University where he taught from 1956-91. In 2006 he was awarded Germany’s highest honour to a foreigner.
He is survived by his second wife and the son and daughter of his first marriage, which ended in divorce.