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Sir Martin Gilbert

(1936 - 2015)

Sir Martin John Gilbert was a renowned Jewish British historian and the official biographer of Winston Churchill. A leading authority on modern history, the Holocaust, Jewish and Israeli history, he authored 88 books.

Born on October 25, 1936, in London to Peter and Miriam Gilbert, Martin was evacuated to Cornwall, England with his mother as a young child nine months after World War II broke out, as part of a British program to keep children safe. He was sent to Canada in 1940 when he was three.

Sir Martin attended a boarding school called the Highgate School in London where history teachers Tommy Fox and Alan Palmer prompted him to study and write history. He subsequently was in the National Servvice where he served for two years in Great Britain’s Intelligence Corps.

Following his army service, Sir Martin 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 Martin 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 to 1968, Sir Martin divided his time between teaching at Merton College and working with Randolph on the Churchill biography. When Randolph died in 1968, Sir Martin was asked to carry on writing the biography, of which he added six volumes to the eight-volume official biography.

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 Martin 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 Martin was awarded a Doctor of Letters degree by Oxford University for his collective published work.

From 2002 on he was a Distinguished Fellow of Hillsdale College in Michigan and, from 2006-2007, 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 continued to lecture on Churchill and Jewish history around the globe. In 2009, Sir Martin 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 wrote on countless other historical topics, publishing biographies, histories of Israel, atlases, and books on various periods in Jewish history.

Sir Martin often wrote in The Jewish Chronicle, London’s Jewish newspaper, and was an active Jewish resident of the city. Sir Martin’s favorite mitzvah was showing kindness to strangers, and he considered 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 Esther attended Shabbat services routinely at home and abroad. His favorite Jewish books were anything written by Joshua and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

In March 2012, Sir Martin shared with the historian Robert Conquest Israel’s prestigious $1 million Dan David Prize for their 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 on February 3, 2015, at age 78.

A well respected and revered historian, Sir Martin Gilbert will live on through his writings for generations. 

Selected Books and Atlases

On Churchill

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.

Final JourneySmithmark Pub, 1980.

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.

Never Again Universe, 2000.

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.

Surviving the Holocaust, the Kovno Ghetto Diary of Avraham ToryHarvard University Press, 1991.

On Israel

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.

Jerusalem in the Twentieth Century. NY: Wiley, 1998.

Jerusalem, Rebirth of a City. NY: Viking, 1985.

The Routledge Historical Atlas of Jerusalem. Routledge, 2008.

The Story of Israel: From Theodor Herzl to the Roadmap for Peace. Andre Deutsch, 2011.

Jewish History

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.

Letters 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 prize,” The Jewish Chronicle, March 1, 2012.
Martin Gilbert website.
“My Jewish Moments: Sir Martin Gilbert,” The Jewish Chronicle, September 22, 2009.
Correspondence with Esther Gilbert, (November 19, 2021).


Photo © Martin Gilbert.