Saul Friedländer was born in Prague in 1932 into a German-oriented Jewish middle-class home. The family emigrated to France in 1939 ahead of the Nazi occupation, but their security was short-lived. After the Germans conquered France, Friedländer’s parents put him in a Catholic seminary where he was soon on track for the priesthood. They later tried to reach Switzerland but at the border were handed back to the French police. His mother and father were subsequently deported to Auschwitz and murdered. When he learned this after the war he was wrenched back to his previous identity and set out for the nascent state of Israel. It was there that he began his career as an historian devoted to comprehending the cataclysm he so narrowly survived.
Unlike many ‘survivor historians’ Friedländer resisted the natural urge just to document the fate of the Jews. His earliest work concerned the wartime record of Pope Pius XII, followed by studies of German–American relations, and a biography