Office of the Chief Rabbi

A pioneer, scholar and altruist: Sir Martin Gilbert remembered

The Chief Rabbi laments the loss of Sir Martin Gilbert CBE, a luminary in the Jewish community whose contribution to the discipline of Jewish History, involvement in the Soviet Jewry campaign and honourable character were just a few of the attributes that marked him out as an exemplary individual. 

“The passing of Sir Martin Gilbert CBE is sad news for the entire Jewish world, for Great Britain and for historians everywhere.

Every educated Jew’s bookshelf has been enriched by at least some of Martin Gilbert’s many scholarly and accessible books. Few shelves are long enough to accommodate his entire body of work: over the course of an exceptionally dedicated and productive life he produced some 88 books. Many of these are extraordinarily visual for historical studies. Believing that the Jews have suffered from too much history and not enough geography, and that the study of the past makes insufficient sense without an understanding of place, he produced many atlases of Jewish, British, American, Russian and Israeli history based on original research among archives, documents, photographs and maps, and derived from extensive travel.

He took upon himself a massive workload. In addition to his essential and ground-breaking work on Holocaust history, he produced six volumes of the massive biography of his hero, Winston Churchill, as well as innumerable works on Israel and its history. He served the Soviet Jewry campaign with distinction and earned his knighthood for services to history as well as for his expertise on international relations. He described himself as a “pugnacious Zionist” and he had a deep appreciation for Israel’s vibrant life and its humane and democratic values.

‘Every educated Jew’s bookshelf has been enriched by at least some of Martin Gilbert’s many scholarly and accessible books’

Illness very suddenly brought his career to an end, far too soon for a scholar and a gentleman who had so much more to give. He made his mark and he will be sorely missed.

He will be remembered not just for his achievements as a pioneer in the discipline of Jewish history but also for his enthusiasm and personal kindness, combining erudition with a lively sense of humour. My thoughts are with his widow Esther Goldberg, with his children Natalie, David and Joshua and all his family and many close friends and sad colleagues in Oxford and around the world.”