Sir Martin Gilbert
(1936 - 2014)
Sir Martin John Gilbert was a renowned Jewish British
historian and the official biographer of Winston
Sir Martin was a leading authority on modern history,
the Holocaust, Jewish and Israeli history, and
authored more than eighty books.
Born on October 25, 1936 in London to Peter and Miriam Gilbert, Martin was evacuated to Canada as a young
child nine months after World
War II broke out, as part of a British program to keep children
safe. After the war, Sir Gilbert graduated from a boarding school called
the Highgate School in London - where history teachers Tommy Fox and
Alan Palmer prompted him to study and write history – and subsequently
served (the obligatory) two years in Great Britain’s Intelligence
Corps. Following his army service, Sir Gilbert travelled to the Balkans
and Turkey, where he taught English. He earned his B.A. in modern history
in 1960 from Magdalen College at Oxford, studying under the tutelage
of A.J.P. Taylor, Karl Leyser, John Stoye, Angus MacIntyre, to whom
Sir Gilbert credits with encouraging him to devote his life to learning
and furthering the world’s knowledge and understanding of history.
After graduating from Oxford, Sir Martin studied imperial
British history as a Research Scholar at St. Anthony’s College
in Oxford, the result of which is his book Servant of India. In 1961,
he was elected a Junior Research Fellow at Merton College at Oxford,
and a year later, Churchill’s son Randolph asked Gilbert to join
his five-person research team dedicated to documenting the monumental
life of his father. From 1962-1968, Sir Martin lived and worked at
Merton College, studying the life and accomplishments of Churchill with Randolph’s team.
In 1965, Sir Martin took a brief sabbatical from Oxford
and studying Churchill to teach at the University of South
Carolina in Columbia, during which Winston
Churchill died. Upon his passing, Sir Gilbert wrote a short single-volume
biography of the great wartime leader, called Winston Churchill,
Gilbert’s first book about him, which was published in England
as well as the U.S.
In 1990, Sir Martin was made a Commander of the Order
of the British Empire, and five years later was awarded a knighthood
for his contributions to British history and international relations.
In 1999, Sir Gilbert was awarded a Doctorate by Oxford University for
his collective published work. Since 2002, he has been a Distinguished
Fellow of Hillsdale College in Michigan,
and from 2006-2007 was a visiting history professor at the University
of Western Ontario, Canada. In
2008, Sir Martin was elected to an Honorary Fellowship at Churchill
College, and continues to lecture on Churchill and Jewish history around
the globe. In 2009, Sir Gilbert was appointed as a member of the British
government's inquiry into the Iraq war.
In addition to his many prolific works about Churchill,
Sir Martin has written on countless other historical topics including
biographies and histories of Israel, atlases, and books on various periods
in Jewish and Israeli history.
Sir Martin often writes in The Jewish Chronicle, London’s
Jewish newspaper, and is an active Jewish resident of the city. Sir
Gilbert’s favorite mitzvah is showing kindness to strangers, and he considers Israel to be “the country I have lived in, taught in, played in, seen
my children grow up in – and hold in the highest esteem, for all
its faults, which are in my view far outweighed by its virtues,”
he told The JC. Sir Martin and his wife attend Shabbat services routinely, at home and abroad when he is traveling for historical
research purposes. His favorite Jewish
books are anything written by Joshua and Isaac
In March 2012, Sir Martin, with fellow historian Robert Conquest, won Israel’s
prestigious $1 million prize named for philanthropist Dan David, for
his extraordinary achievements in writing history.
In May 2014, Sir Martin's school, Highgate, named its newly-renovated library in his honor: The Sir Martin Gilbert Library at Highgate School.
Sir Martin Gilbert passed away during the night on February 3, 2015, at age 78. Gilbert was sitting on an inquiry panel investigating British involvement in the Iraq War at the time of his passing, and inquiry chairman John Chiclot announced his death to the panel the following day, stating that he had lost a battle with a "long and serious illness." A well respected and revered historian, Sir Martin Gilbert will live on through his writings for generations.
Selected Books and Atlases
and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship. Holt Paperbacks, 2008.
On the Holocaust
Of The Holocaust. NY: William Morrow, 1993.
And The Allies. NY: Holt Rinehart Winston, 1981.
Boys: The Untold Story of 732 Young Concentration Camp Survivors.
NY: Henry Holt & Company, 1997.
Day the War Ended: May 8, 1945: Victory in Europe. NY: Holt,
Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War.
NY: Henry Holt And Co., 1987.
Journey: Travelling in Search of the Past. NY: Columbia University
Maps and Photographs. NY: Anti-Defamation League, 1992.
Prelude to Destruction. NY: Henry Holt And Co., 2007.
Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust. NY: Owl Books,
Second World War: A Complete History. NY: Henry Holt And Co.,
Arab-Israeli Conflict: Its History in Maps. NY: Weidenfeld &
Nicolson Ltd., 1993.
And Return: The Struggle For A Jewish Homeland. PA: Lippincott,
A History. NY: William Morrow & Co., 1998.
Story of Israel: From Theodor Herzl to the Roadmap for Peace. Andre Deutsch, 2011.
The Routledge Atlas of Jewish History Ed. 8.
Ishmael's House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands.Yale University
to Auntie Fori: The 5,000-Year History of the Jewish People and Their
Faith. Schocken, 2002.
Sources: “Iraq Inquiry: Chilcot rejects calls for report timetable,” BBC News, February 4, 2015.
Jennifer Lipman, “Sir Martin Gilbert wins prestigious Israeli
Jewish Chronicle, March 1, 2012.
“My Jewish Moments: Sir Martin Gilbert,” The
Jewish Chronicle, September 22, 2009.
Photo © Westwood