Otto Dov Kulka, 87, Dies; Studied, and Witnessed, the Holocaust
Otto Dov Kulka, at 31, was the youngest survivor of Auschwitz to testify in 1964 when twenty years of German failure to reckon with the Holocaust ended with the trial in Frankfurt of almost two dozen former SS officers who had served at that extermination camp.
He delivered a shifting account of how Jewish inmates had sung Hebrew hymns earlier than being loaded onto vans that will convey them to the gasoline chambers, how at 9 years outdated he escaped the mass execution of his mom and all the buddies who had been deported with him from Czechoslovakia as a result of he had been in poor health and was quarantined within the camp’s medical block.
However for almost the following 50 years, as a historian of the Holocaust on the Hebrew College in Jerusalem, he would resist letting his private experiences colour his scholarship. Solely in 2013 would he lastly reveal them, in a haunting memoir titled “Landscapes of the Metropolis of Demise: Reflections on Reminiscence and Creativeness” (translated into English from the unique Hebrew by Ralph Mandel).
“Few are conscious of the existence inside me of a dimension of silence,” he wrote, “of a selection I made to sever the biographical from the historic previous.”
Professor Kulka, who retired in 1999, died on Jan. 29 in Jerusalem, the College stated. He was 87.
If his analysis was dispassionate, it nonetheless produced unequivocal conclusions, starting together with his guide “The ‘Jewish Query’ within the Third Reich” (1975).
Professor Kulka argued that age-old non secular antagonism towards the Jews, coupled with the German perception in Jews’ redemption in the event that they transformed to Christianity, morphed right into a messianic political “redemptive anti-Semitism” that sought to purge Germany of the “Jewish spirit.”
He concluded that the Nationwide Socialist Celebration, or the Nazis, noticed the fashionable world as dominated by “Jewish-Christian-Bolshevik” rules that have been primarily based on a “‘damaging’ perception within the unity of the world and the equality of males in all spheres of life” — rules “antithetical to the Nazi Social-Darwinist model of the ‘pure order.’”
He challenged the traditional view that the German folks had been detached to the destiny of the Jews. As a substitute, he argued, they broadly favored deportation, including that “this perspective continued regardless of the inhabitants’s data concerning the destiny of the deported Jews.”
He was born Otto Deutelbaum on April 16, 1933, in Novy Hrozenkov, Czechoslovakia. His mom, Elly (Kulkova) Deutelbaumova, was married to Rudolph Deutelbaum, who owned a lumber mill. The couple divorced in 1938 after a courtroom dominated that Otto’s organic father was really Rudolph’s nephew and apprentice, Erich Schon, whom Elly then married.
Rudolph, his second spouse and Otto’s half sister have been murdered within the Treblinka extermination camp, additionally in occupied Poland. Erich Schon was deported to Germany in 1939 and later despatched to Auschwitz. Otto and his mom have been deported in September 1942 and finally despatched to the satellite tv for pc Theresienstadt camp at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The Nazis designed Theresienstadt as a “mannequin household camp” to deceive the Worldwide Purple Cross; as soon as the group’s well being inspectors have been glad with the camp’s situations and had left, about 5,000 inmates there have been gassed.
After the conflict, Otto and his father, Erich, returned to Czechoslovakia. To honor his mom, they modified their surname to Kulka. Otto emigrated to Israel in 1949, joined a kibbutz and added the Hebrew identify Dov.
After graduating from the Hebrew College, he started educating there within the mid-Sixties in its division of the historical past of the Jewish folks. He was named a full professor in 1991 and retired as a professor emeritus in 1999, although he continued to conduct analysis and publish.
Earlier than writing his memoir, Professor Kulka had approached his analysis on the Holocaust in a largely impersonal manner. The memoir gave him a brand new method to handle the topic. He noticed it as an effort to bridge what he known as “two modes of figuring out — historic scholarship and evaluation on one facet, reflective reminiscence and the work of the creativeness on the opposite.”
Writing in The Guardian in 2013, the American historian Thomas W. Laqueur wrote of the memoir: “Primo Levi’s testimony, it’s usually stated, is that of a chemist: clear, cool, exact, distant. So with Kulka’s work: that is the product of a grasp historian — ironic, probing, current up to now, capable of join the actual with the cosmic.”
However Professor Kulka acknowledged that in his lengthy years of scholarship he had been unable to place the previous behind him. “In my desires and diaries,” he wrote, “I lived a double life.”
The British historian Ian Kershaw persuaded him to protect these recollections, ensuing within the memoir. It was honored with the Geschwister-Scholl Prize in Germany and the Jewish Quarterly Literary Wingate Prize in Britain.
Professor Kulka is survived by his spouse, Chaia (Braun) Kulka, whom he married in 1954; their daughter, Eliora Kulka-Soroka; his brother, Tomas Kulka; three grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
After his mom died of typhus in a piece camp, Otto Kulka and his father survived a loss of life march from Auschwitz because the Purple Military approached in January 1945. What he remembered most was the nighttime snow, punctuated by black stains alongside the perimeters of the street.
“As first I used to be intoxicated by the whiteness, by the liberty, by having left behind the barbed-wire fences, by that wide-open night time panorama, by the villages we handed,” Professor Kulka wrote. “Then I appeared extra carefully at one of many darkish stains, and one other — and I noticed what they have been: human our bodies.”
He grew weaker however knew that “anybody who faltered, anybody who lagged behind, was shot and have become a black stain by the roadside.”
As an grownup, he advised The Guardian in 2014, he continued to be saddened by the thought that simply “yards away from the crematoria, which burned day and night time,” lessons and cultural actions have been organized by the Jewish inmates on the Theresienstadt “household camp” as if in preparation for a future life, although the camp, he knew, was one place the place “the long run is the one sure factor that doesn’t exist.”
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