“Where Memory Leads: My Life” by Saul Friedlander— Finally Published


Friedlander, Saul. “Where Memory Leads: My Life”, Other Press, 2016.

Finally Published

Amos Lassen

Saul Friedlander’s “Where Memory Leads: My Life” is the sequel to his classic “When Memory Comes” and continues that earlier work. It has taken forty years for Friedlander to write this memoir and bridges the gap between the ordeals of his childhood and his present-day reputation as a scholar in the field of Holocaust studies. Now after having abandoned his abandoning his youthful conversion to Catholicism, Friedlander, rediscovers his Jewish roots as a teenager and builds a new life in Israeli politics.

We read that his loyalty to Israel with its establishment as a nation brought about Friedlander’s fascination with Jewish life and history. He struggles in trying to understand European anti-Semitism while at the same time, tries to find a measured approach to the Zionism that surrounds him. During his adult life, he has spent time on three continents and in three countries— between Israel, Europe, and the United States. In his early years in Israel, he meets with the builders of the nation as well as with some of the brilliant minds that were there— Gershom Scholem and Carlo Ginzburg, among others.

Friedlander also looks back at the terrible years that caused him to write “The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945” for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Freidlander writes with grace and elegance as he depends on his memory to take him back to what he had once lived through. Memory often takes its own path and so it often pops up with no advance warning and we realize that his past influences his present in many different ways. We can all be glad that we have not had the kind of past that he deals with. We get the impression that, as a historian, Friedlander feels the need to bring back the Holocaust with its “massive, state-sponsored crimes” while at the same time “making a place for the voices of those mercilessly persecuted”. “When Memory Comes”, his earlier memoir was written totally from memory and filled with emotions. “Where Memory Leads” is written to show that the only lesson we can draw from the Holocaust is the imperative for us to “stand against injustice.” This is exactly what Friedlander has done here.

“When Memory Comes” was written in 1977 in Israel, where Friedländer went first to fight and later to teach and he gives us his observations on the Jewish state and relations with the Palestinians. He found himself part of the debate around that very issue. “Where Memory Leads” not only is about a personally painful war story but we learn about Friedlander’s career as a professor and historian.

It follows Friedlander’s professional success particularly regarding his two-volume history of the Nazis and the Jews from 1933 to 1945. It is here that Friedlander gives an account of Nazi policies that include records of the daily life of Germans and testimony from victims.

This volume is written with a moral imperative that includes his opposition to the Palestinian occupation and he demands accountability from Israeli leaders for their support of West Bank settlements. He states that the use of the Holocaust as “a pretext for mistreatment of Palestinians and wrong and inhuman.” 

The book’s primary focus is on Friedlander’s intellectual and political development and his relationship, both politically and as a citizen, with Israel. He shares with us that “memory doesn’t always work the way we want it to”. Friedländer has evolved into both an apologist for Israeli policies and a critic of its racism toward the Palestinians.

“Where Memory Leads” is a meditation, one that is both intellectual as well as personal. As a result, we think about the way we feel about the collective damage of history.

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