Sir Martin John Gilbert was a renowned Jewish British historian and the official biographer of Winston Churchill.
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 Bashevis.
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
Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship. Holt Paperbacks, 2008.
On the Holocaust
Atlas Of The Holocaust. NY: William Morrow, 1993.
Auschwitz And The Allies. NY: Holt Rinehart Winston, 1981.
The Boys: The Untold Story of 732 Young Concentration Camp Survivors. NY: Henry Holt & Company, 1997.
The Day the War Ended: May 8, 1945: Victory in Europe. NY: Holt, 1996.
The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War. NY: Henry Holt And Co., 1987.
Holocaust Journey: Travelling in Search of the Past. NY: Columbia University Press, 1997.
Holocaust Maps and Photographs. NY: Anti-Defamation League, 1992.
Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction. NY: Henry Holt And Co., 2007.
The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust. NY: Owl Books, 2004.
The Second World War: A Complete History. NY: Henry Holt And Co., 1992.
The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Its History in Maps. NY: Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd., 1993.
Exile And Return: The Struggle For A Jewish Homeland. PA: Lippincott, 1978.
Israel: A History. NY: William Morrow & Co., 1998.
The Story of Israel: From Theodor Herzl to the Roadmap for Peace. Andre Deutsch, 2011.
The Routledge Atlas of Jewish History Ed. 8. Routledge, 2010.
In Ishmael's House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands.Yale University Press, 2010.
Sources: “Iraq Inquiry: Chilcot rejects calls for report timetable,” BBC News, February 4, 2015.
Jennifer Lipman, “Sir Martin Gilbert wins prestigious Israeli prize,” The Jewish Chronicle, March 1, 2012.
Martin Gilbert website
“My Jewish Moments: Sir Martin Gilbert,” The Jewish Chronicle, September 22, 2009.
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