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Arno refused to accept ‘history’

Eminent historian who was forced to flee Nazi Germany made an important contribu­tion to our understanding of the Holocaust

07 April, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Camden Town man Arno Paucker, who died in November, was born into a German Jewish family in Berlin

TUCKED away in a corner of Bloomsbury Square is a lovely early 19th-century building housing the German Historical Institute where a memorial meeting was held for a man I have grown more and more to admire – Arno Paucker.

It was after his death last November that I discovered what an astonishing and adventurous life he had led.

Born into a German Jewish family in Berlin, he became active in the scouts until the Nazis began to threaten him as a schoolboy and his parents made him flee to Palestine in the 30s, then a protectorate run by Britain.

He worked on the land until he joined the British army and served in the North African campaign, ending up in Florence, Italy, where he met anti-Mussolini partisans – he sympathised with them as a fellow socialist – and also, more importantly, his future wife, Pauline, who was visiting the city.

He had never had any real education so he started from scratch over here, got a degree, and helped to run the Leo Baeck Institute in Marylebone, run by Leo Baeck himself, who had been perhaps one of the most prominent Jews in Berlin when the Nazis came to power. Arno’s wife told me he walked every day to his office in Devonshire Street.

Arno edited an important annual book published by Leo Baeck, and slowly became known as an eminent historian who began to establish that, contrary to conventional histories, he could prove that thousands of Jews resisted the Nazis and did not simply go to their slaughter without a struggle.

He wrote several books and pamphlets in German – one of them sold more than 500,000 copies.

In short, he made an important contribu­tion to an understanding of the Holocaust.

I knew none of this until I went to his home in Oval Road, Camden Town, and spoke to his wife and friends after the funeral.

Inspired, I visited Berlin and spent hours at the extraordinary Jewish museum tracing the events that led to the rise of Nazism.

Historians, academics, friends, all met at the German Historical Institute on Thursday to honour a man whose research turned him into such a revered historian.

Pauline, who had been married to him for more than 70 years, spoke at the meeting, and made it clear that she was still “talking to Arno in her head”.

Professor Peter Pulzer, an eminent Oxford academic, traced Arno’s life and described him as a secular Jew, but one who very much saw himself as a “descendant of the People of the Book”.


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