Writer-Historian who steered the Wiener Library through financial crisis
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