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Mary Fulbrook Wins Wolfson History Prize 2019 for Revelatory Holocaust Study Reckonings

Mary Fulbrook, winner of the 2019 Wolfson History Prize
Mary Fulbrook, winner of the 2019 Wolfson History Prize

Historian Mary Fulbrook has been awarded the 2019 Wolfson History Prize for her ground-breaking book Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice (Oxford University Press).

Historian and Award Judge Diarmaid MacCulloch announced the winner at the ceremony at Claridge’s, London, commenting: “Fulbrook journeys into some very dark places with the human sympathy that marks the best historical writing.”

Fulbrook, a leading authority on German history, was selected from a shortlist of six authors to win the £40,000 Prize. Awarded annually to a work of historical writing that combines excellence in historical research with readability for a general audience, the Wolfson History Prize is the UK’s most prestigious history writing and most valuable non-fiction prize.

Reckonings is an affecting study of the legacy of the Holocaust, exploring the extent to which Nazi persecutors were brought to account, and how myths of justice being done developed in the years following the Second World War. Illuminating the stories of those who have until now remained outside the media spotlight, Reckonings draws on personal accounts of both victims and perpetrators, exploring issues of suffering and memory, and asking difficult questions of the reader. Reckonings seeks to expose the disjuncture between official myths about dealing with the past on one hand, and the extent to which an overwhelming majority of Nazi perpetrators ultimately evaded justice, on the other.

Mary Fulbrook said upon winning: “This was a horrible book to write … I was filled with moral outrage throughout writing it and it felt almost impossible to do justice to the people within it. Thank you to the Wolfson Foundation for understanding that it’s really important that we not merely understand the past but write to make it accessible.”

The Wolfson History Prize judges commented: “Quoting many moving accounts from victims of the extreme cruelty perpetrated by the Nazis, Fulbrook moves through the generations to trace the legacy of Nazi persecution in post-war Germany. A masterly work which explores the shifting boundaries and structures of memory.”

Paul Ramsbottom, chief executive at the Wolfson Foundation, said: “The Prize celebrates wonderful books which break new ground in understanding the past. Mary Fulbrook’s book highlights the importance of history – and debates about history – to a healthy and flourishing society. It also demonstrates the engaging, accessible writing style which is a hallmark of the Wolfson History Prize: taking high quality, research driven history outside of academia to a diverse audience.”

The other titles shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2019 are Building Anglo-Saxon England by John Blair, Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words by Jeremy Mynott, Trading in War: London’s Maritime World in the Age of Cook and Nelson by Margarette Lincoln, Oscar: A Life by Matthew Sturgis, and Empress: Queen Victoria and India  by Miles Taylor. Each of the shortlisted authors received £4,000.

The Wolfson History Prize is run and awarded by the Wolfson Foundation, an independent charity that awards grants in the fields of science, health, education, arts & humanities.

About Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice 

A single word―"Auschwitz"―is often used to encapsulate the totality of persecution and suffering involved in what we call the Holocaust.

Yet a focus on a single concentration camp - however horrific, however massively catastrophic its scale - leaves an incomplete story, a truncated history. It cannot fully communicate the myriad ways in which individuals became tangled up on the side of the perpetrators, and obscures the diversity of experiences among a wide range of victims as they struggled and died, or managed, against all odds, to survive. In the process, we also miss the continuing legacy of Nazi persecution across generations, and across continents.

Mary Fulbrook's encompassing book expands our understanding, exploring the lives of individuals across a full spectrum of suffering and guilt, each one capturing one small part of the greater story. Reckonings seeks to explore the disjuncture between official myths about dealing with the past, on the one hand, and the extent to which the vast majority of Nazi perpetrators evaded justice, on the other.

The Holocaust is not mere history, and the memorial landscape barely hints at the maelstrom of reverberations of the Nazi era at a personal level. Reckonings illuminates the stories of those who remained outside the media spotlight, situating their experiences in changing wider contexts, as both persecutors and persecuted sought to account for the past, forge new lives, and make sense of unprecedented suffering.

About Mary Fulbrook

Mary Fulbrook is Professor of German History at UCL. She is the author of many books on German and European history, including the Fraenkel Prize-winning A Small Town near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust. A Fellow of the British Academy, she is former Chair of the German History Society and was founding Joint Editor of its journal, German History. Among other commitments, she serves on the Academic Advisory Board of the Foundation for the former Concentration Camps at Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora. She is currently directing an AHRC-funded research project on ‘Compromised Identities? Reflections on Perpetration and Complicity under Nazism’.


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