Mary’s history in the making
20 June, 2019 — By John Gulliver
IT was a text message oozing with pride, sent from a reception hall at Claridge’s.
“Mary has won the Wolfson history prize,” it read, keyed in by her husband, Julian Fulbrook, a councillor I’ve known for some time.
He’d dashed it off minutes after the judge announced Mary as the winner among a shortlist of six.
I had heard of Wolfson, the billionaire who owned one of the nation’s biggest mail-order firms in the last century, but never knew anything about his annual prize – a kind of Booker Prize of the academic world. Its value: £40,000!
Big names among historians have pulled off the prize in the past including Ian Kershaw, Antony Beevor, Andrew Roberts and Mary Beard.
I remember the day Fulbrook came over to me when I was covering a council committee last autumn and whispered: “Take this!”
He virtually dropped onto my lap a massive hardback by his wife, Mary, a professor of German History at London University.
While leaving the Crowndale Centre in Mornington Crescent later on I had to ask the concierge for a carrier bag – the book was too awkward in size to carry on its own.
Now, Mary had won a prize for her years of “masterly” research into the Holocaust. Its title, Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice, published by Oxford University Press.
Mary, a prolific author, is regarded by fellow academics as one of the world’s most eminent historians of the Holocaust. Her mother was a German who fled from the Nazis.
Mary has described the book as “horrible” to write, that she had “agonised” over it, that it has filled her with “moral outrage” a lot of the time while writing it, and thought of the victims of the Holocaust who had failed to find justice. But those who write about the Holocaust – like Mary – bear witness and help to make sure it isn’t forgotten.
As I talked to her on Tuesday evening I thought she had the required nerves of steel to research and write about the indescribable barbarity of the Nazi regime. I didn’t know until recently that hundreds of men who had butchered Jewish women and children were “intellectuals”, many of with doctorates in law. But it’s all in the book.
What drove them to support the regime?
For some, perhaps, it was fear, others fell for the diseased idea of racial purity.
Mary is still trying to peel back the layers that covered the Hitler years. She is bent on examining why so many Germans were “inactive” or simple “by-standers” as the killing machine passed over Europe.