Robert Wistrich, widely considered one of the world’s leading experts on anti-Semitism, died of a sudden heart attack in Rome late Tuesday, Italian media is reporting. He was 70 years old.
According to a news bulletin posted on the website of the daily La Stampa, Wistrich was due to address the Italian Senate on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Wistrich, the Neuburger Professor of European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, authored dozens of books and scholarly essays on anti-Semitism during his distinguished academic career.
His most renowned works are Socialism and the Jews (Oxford University Press, 1985), which received the American Jewish Committee award; The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph (OUP, 1991), which won the Austrian State Prize for Danubian History and Anti-Semitism; and The Longest Hatred (Pantheon, 1992), which received the H.H. Wingate Prize for non-fiction in the UK.
The Longest Hatred was also the basis for a PBS documentary, which Wistrich wrote and co-edited. His most recent works include Hitler and the Holocaust (Random House, 2001), and the co-edited volume Nietzsche – Godfather of fascism? (Princeton, 2002).
Wistrich was born in Kazakhstan on April 7, 1945. His parents relocated there after experiencing anti-Semitism in Poland.
Living under Communist rule in the Soviet republic, however, did not prove easier, as Wistrich’s father was twice arrested by the secret police.
After his family returned to Poland, the residual anti-Semitism forced it to uproot once again, this time leaving for France.
Wistrich would spend his formative years in England. When he was 17 years old, he won an Open Scholarship in History to Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he also received a BA with Honors. He would go on to earn his MA degree in 1969.
“I was saddened and shocked to hear of the passing of Robert Wistrich in Rome today,” Charles Small, the executive director of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “Robert Wistrich was a preeminent scholar on the study of anti-Semitism. A true intellectual, Wistrich was able to master the history of anti-Semitism and became a leading scholar on the contemporary manifestations of this longest hatred, a term Wistrich actually made popular.”
“Robert was a scholar committed to the sober documentation of facts and the highest caliber of scholarship,” Small, who is currently in Israel, said. “As the current forms of anti-Semitism are increasing rapidly, Robert became a defender of the Jewish people and pursued justice and truth. His keynote address last week at the Global Forum on Antisemitism was truly inspiring.”
“Robert was planning to be the main professor at the ISGAP Summer Teacher Training Program at Oxford in July,” he said. “He opened the ISGAP Sorbonne Programme in November 2014 – the first ever program of its kind at a French university. He will be deeply missed by his colleagues and students throughout the world.”
Jeffrey Herf, a prominent history professor at the University of Maryland, hailed Wistrich as a fearless combatant against anti-Jewish hatred.
“Through decades of brilliant, courageous and passionate scholarship, Robert Wistrich had become the leading scholar in the world on the history and contemporary forms of anti-Semitism,” Herf said. “He knew no double standards. He took aim at anti-Semitism no matter what its source, be it the Nazis, the Communists or the Islamists of our own era.”
Herf, who has written extensively on anti-Semitism, added that Wistrich “was also my colleague and good friend. His death at the terribly young age of seventy is a huge loss for the international world of scholarship, for Hebrew University, the Israeli intellectual world and, of course, for his family.”
“He leaves behind a massive scholarly legacy in the form of numerous important books and the important work of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism,” he said. “Robert’s colleagues around the world share in Israel’s grief today.”
Benjamin Weinthal contributed to this report.