Walter Laqueur

Writer-His­to­rian who steered the Wiener Li­brary through fi­nan­cial cri­sis

The Jewish Chronicle - - OBITS - SYLVIA GRA­HAM

THE NOTED his­to­rian and for­mer di­rec­tor of the Wiener Li­brary, Walter Laqueur, who has died aged 97, ex­pe­ri­enced some of the most sig­nif­i­cant events of our times. Born in Breslau, Ger­many, he was the only child of Fritz Laqueur and Else née Ber­liner, who were im­pov­er­ished by the col­lapse of Ger­many, yet man­aged to send Walter to a pri­vate pri­mary school where he thrived and was moved up a class. This en­abled him to ma­tric­u­late in 1938, the last year Jewish chil­dren could do so.

His ma­ter­nal un­cle (although im­pris­oned for de­fil­ing the Race Laws) was able to fund tu­ition fees at the He­brew Uni­ver­sity and he sailed for Pales­tine on Kristall­nacht, Novem­ber 9 , 1938.

Once in Jerusalem, Walter spent the next five years on var­i­ous kib­butzim and mar­ried Naomi (Bar­bara) Koch who had ar­rived in Pales­tine from Frank­furt. They were mar­ried on Lag ba Omer, 1941 dur­ing an air raid in Haifa.

A fi­nal Red Cross let­ter (still in the fam­ily) from his par­ents in June 1942, in­formed him they were be­ing re­set­tled “in the East.” This re­sulted in their mur­der in Belzec ex­ter­mi­na­tion camp.

Kib­butz life in the 1940s was hard, es­pe­cially in one be­long­ing to Hashomer Hatzir. Ac­com­mo­da­tion was a tent and the kib­butz al­lowed no per­sonal pos­ses­sions, even cloth­ing. But work­ing as a guard on horse­back he en­joyed rid­ing through the fields. An episode in which he broke a leg and could not work, en­abled him to learned Rus­sian.

Hav­ing de­cided to re­sume his stud­ies, Walter left the kib­butz with £5 in his pocket and worked in a Jerusalem book­shop, where flex­i­ble hours helped him study in the morn­ings, and read widely from the books he was meant to sell.

In 1946 he be­gan writ­ing for the kib­butz news­pa­per Ha Mish­mar. His writ­ten He­brew was poor that he would tele­phone his re­ports to the Tel Aviv of­fice at great ex­pense. Although he was Jerusalem cor­re­spon­dent, he trav­elled to Cyprus to re­port on the Dis­placed Per­sons Camps, and to Egypt. In July, 1946, he wit­nessed the re­sult of the King David Ho­tel bomb­ing. He fol­lowed the United Na­tions Spe­cial Com­mis­sion on Pales­tine in their trav­els, whose par­ti­tion plan for Pales­tine was ap­proved by the UN on Novem­ber 22, 1947. War and siege fol­lowed, which proved a dif­fi­cult time with a first baby to care for.

Walter’s first book in English was Na­tion­al­ism and Com­mu­nism in the Mid­dle East. He be­gan his as­so­ci­a­tion with the Congress for Cul­tural Free­dom, es­tab­lished with CIA funds to counter Soviet pro­pa­ganda in 1966. In Lon­don, his home for the next decade, he es­tab­lished the jour­nal Soviet Sur­vey.

Many books fol­lowed: The Road to War (1967), A His­tory of Zion­ism (1972), Ter­ror­ism (1977), The Ter­ri­ble Se­cret (1980) and Break­ing the Si­lence with Richard Bre­it­man in 1986. With Ju­dith Ty­dor Baumel, Walter edited The Holo­caust En­cy­clo­pe­dia.”

He be­came the di­rec­tor of the Wiener Li­brary in 1965 on the death of its founder Al­fred Wiener. He steered it through a ma­jor fi­nan­cial cri­sis and de­vel­oped it into the In­sti­tute of Con­tem­po­rary His­tory. In Wash­ing­ton D.C. he chaired the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. His last book The Fu­ture of Ter­ror­ism, with Christo­pher Wall, ap­peared in July 2018.

He en­joyed mu­sic, old films, watch­ing ath­let­ics, and his grand­chil­dren’s and great grand­chil­dren’s progress.

Walter leaves two daugh­ters, Sylvia and Shlomit, four grand­chil­dren, ten great grand­chil­dren, and his sec­ond wife Susi Gen­zen Wich­mann

Walter Laqueur: born May 26, 1921. Died Septem­ber 30, 2018

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