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Arnold Paucker’s mission was to show Jewish resistance

Former director of Leo Baeck Institute dies at 95

15 November, 2016 — By Eric Gordon

Arnold Paucker lived in Camden Town

WHEN Berlin fell at the end of the last war nearly 1,000 Jews came out of hiding from the ruins after being hidden by fellow Germans in defiance of the Nazis.

It was only a deep study of how Jews resisted the Nazis by such historians as Arnold Paucker, who has recently died, that revealed that Jews had not in fact been just “helpless victims” as had been portrayed over the decades.

Mr Paucker, a Berliner Jew who settled in Oval Road, Camden Town, 50 years ago, was a schoolboy and an active member of the German scouts when Hitler came to power.

His parents became frightened for his safety after he delivered anti-fascist leaflets in working-class streets in Berlin and sent him to Palestine. They were evicted from their home, all their belongings auctioned, and were forced to flee to Shanghai, later settling in Israel.

Other relatives of Mr Paucker’s were murdered by the Nazis – one was shot in Riga, another, an elderly woman, was kicked to death on a march to a concentration camp.

It was this that gave Mr Paucker a deep hatred of the Nazis and convinced him to be a socialist.

In Palestine he served in the British army and was “demobbed” in Florence where he met his wife-to-be, Pauline, who was visiting relatives.

He returned with her to Birmingham and had to start from scratch by studying for A-levels to enter university for a history degree, supplemented later by a degree at the famous Heidelberg University in German.

Afterwards, he was appointed director of the Leo Baeck Institute in Devonshire Street, set up to study German-Jewish history, and worked there for more than 50 years, being awarded the OBE.

All his life – he died at 95 – he remained a socialist and a great admirer of the volunteers who fought against the fascists with the International Brigade in Spain. His research showed that thousands of Jews fought in the Brigade and in other resistance movements in Europe. He delighted in singing The International – especially in the shower. At a recent celebration of the International Brigade at the Southbank, his voice could be above all others singing The International.

An idealist, Mr Paucker’s passion was to prove through his copiously researched books and speeches that the Jews did, in fact, resist Hitler. He was widely respected in Germany where his books have drawn young students anxious to learn about their past.

In one book, written in the 1980s – it had a circulation of 500,000 – he wrote of his deep mourning for his Jewish school friends who had been killed under Hitler. It was this that inspired him to become such a distinguished historian.

His other books await an English translation.

At his recent funeral at Golders Green crematorium, a young German student, Hanno Plass, paid tribute to the man who had enlightened his generation. Fittingly, the service ended with The International.

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