History Doyens: Sir Martin Gilbert


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

Sir Martin Gilbert, 2-5-07

What They’re Famous For

Sir Martin Gilbert, the author of more than seventy books, is Winston Churchill’s official biographer, a leading historian of the modern world, and one of the most popular historians of the modern era. He is an Honorary Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and a Distinguished Fellow of Hillsdale College, Michigan. Among his most celebrated books are the single-volume Churchill: A Life, his twin histories First World War and Second World War, a comprehensive History of Israel, and his three-volume work, A History of the Twentieth Century. (also published in a single, Sir Martin Gilbert JPGcondensed volume). His book The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy (published in the United States as The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War) is a classic work on the subject.  In 1995 he was knighted “for services to British history and international relations” and in 1999 he was awarded a Doctorate of Literature by the University of Oxford for the totality of his published work. As a three-year-old Briton he was sent to Canada in the summer of 1940, returning to Britain in May 1944, just in time for Hitler’s V bombs.

Born in England in 1936, Gilbert attended Oxford University both as an undergraduate and graduate student. In 1962 he joined the research team assembled by Randolph Churchill to compile materials for a multivolume biography of Randolph’s father, Winston Churchill. Six years later, following Randolph’s death, Gilbert was given the responsibility for finishing the final six volumes of the eight-volume biography. Although he completed this task in 1988, he remains at work on a series of companion volumes that provide the full texts of the original documents upon which the biography was based.

In the Fall of 2006 Sir Gilbert joined the History Department at the University of Western Ontario as an adjunct research professor for a five year tenure. In honor of this new endeavor Sir Gilbert told “The Western News”: “Its going to be a wonderful opportunity to have contact with students. I taught students at Oxford from 1960 to 1970 and since then I’ve almost been a hermit. I’m emerging from the ivory tower. They’re setting up the new Jewish Studies program here. It will be a major focus for Western over the coming years. I will be the first toe in the water.”

Personal Anecdote

Forty-five years ago, on a cold January afternoon, I entered the New York Public Library in search of letters written by Winston Churchill to an American friend, Bourke Cockran. I knew from Churchill’s archive that he had been in correspondence Sir  Martin Gilbert 1970 JPG with Cockran since their first meeting in New York in 1895, when Churchill was nineteen. I also knew that Cockran’s private papers were deposited in the New York Public Library.

Approaching the archive desk, I asked if they had any letters in the Bourke Cockran collection from the British statesman Winston Churchill. After a short while the archival assistant returned to say that they did not. They did, however, have quite a number from Churchill’s American namesake, the novelist Winston Churchill, a popular writer at the end of the nineteenth century. The novelist being of no interest to me, I left the library and found myself in a massive downpour. I had no umbrella and dared not risk a soaking.

Returning to the archive desk I asked – since I would not be able to leave the library until the rain had stopped – if I might read the novelist Winston Churchill’s letters. With pleasure, I was told, and the archival assistant hurried away. She returned with a box full of letters. As I looked at the first letter I was astonished. It was obviously from the British Winston Churchill, as were all the other letters in the box. At the time of cataloguing, the library had not imagined that Bourke Cockran, a little-remembered American politician and three-term Congressman, would have had any connection at all with a young Englishman, a lieutenant in the British army in 1895.

It was my finest discovery – thus far!


By Sir Martin Gilbert

  • George Washington was part of his family pedigree. An ancestor had fought against the British in the American Revolutionary War. His mother was an American. He himself was an honorary citizen of the United States. He was Winston Churchill, Britain’s war leader, whose links with America are the theme of this book.The story of Churchill and America spans ninety years. Many of the issues have strong resonances today. The special relationship Churchill felt towards the United States, and strove to establish – not always successfully – remains a central aspect of international relations. ‘Whatever the pathway of the future may bring,’ he told an American audience in 1932, ‘we can face it more safely, more comfortably, and more happily if we travel it together, like good companions. We have quarreled in the past, but even in our quarrels great leaders on both sides were agreed on principle.’ Churchill added: ‘Let our common tongue, our common basic law, our joint heritage of literature and ideals, the red tie of kinship, become the sponge of obliteration of all the unpleasantness of the past.’

    Churchill and America JPG Churchill, whose mother was American – she was born in Brooklyn in 1854 – spent much of his seventy adult years in close contact with the United States. A British political opponent once called him, ‘Half alien – and wholly reprehensible’. A First World War colleague said of him: ‘There’s a lot of Yankee in Winston. He knows how to hustle and how to make others hustle too.’ Many Americans were attracted to Churchill’s personality. ‘Unlike most Englishmen,’ one of his secretaries recalled, ‘he is naturally at ease among Americans, who seem to understand him better than his own countrymen.’ Franklin Roosevelt expressed it succinctly when he telegraphed to Churchill during the Second World War: ‘It is fun being in the same decade as you.’

    In two world wars, Churchill’s was the chief British voice urging, and attaining the closest possible co-operation with the United States. From before the First World War he understood the power of the United States, the ‘gigantic boiler’, which, once lit, would drive the greatest of engines forward. After the United States had entered the First World War, Churchill told the British War Cabinet that ‘the intermingling of British and American units on the field of battle and their endurance of losses and suffering together may exert an immeasurable effect upon the future destiny of the English-speaking peoples….’ As Minister of Munitions, he worked to ensure that the two armies would be well-mingled and well-supplied.

    Speaking on 4 July 1918 to a large Anglo-American gathering in London, Churchill, having just returned from the Western Front, declared: ‘When I have seen during the past few weeks the splendour of American manhood striding forward on all the roads of France and Flanders, I have experienced emotions which words cannot describe.’ The only reward Britain sought from American participation in the First World War was the ‘supreme reconciliation’ of Britain and the United States. If the two armies and the two nations worked well together to secure victory in 1918, Britain and the United States ‘may act permanently together’.

    Such sentiments were not universally shared by Churchill’s fellow-countrymen. Throughout his life, one of Churchill’s battles was against the latent – and often strong – anti-Americanism that could be found throughout British society. He was always urging his friends, his colleagues, and as Prime Minister, his War Cabinet, not to alienate the United States, whatever vexations American policy might be causing.

    During the Second World War it is doubtful that Britain could have sustained itself against the Nazi onslaught, or maintained itself at war, without Churchill’s almost daily efforts to win the United States to the British and Allied cause: first as a benign neutral providing vast amounts of war material, and then as an ally willing to put the defeat of Germany before that of Japan. When the Second World War ended, and the Cold War with the Soviet Union began, Churchill told his Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden: ‘The similarity and unity which we have with the United States will grow and it is indispensable to our safety.’ To ensure that unity and safety, Churchill worked for the next twenty years with Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

    Truman and Eisenhower were important in Churchill’s efforts to forge a common Anglo- American policy and theme, but no world leaders had such a long, constructive, intimate, frustrating, disputatious and affectionate and relationship as Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Churchill said of the President whom he met so many times and corresponded with so frequently over a period of five years: ‘I have wooed President Roosevelt as a man might woo a maid.’

    Churchill’s lifelong love affair with the United State began with his first visit to New York in 1895 and continued beyond his final visit in 1961. At the beginning of 1942 Churchill told King George VI that Britain and the United States ‘were now “married” after many months of “walking out”.’ As with all close and sustained relationships, it was replete with ups and downs, uncertainties and disagreements, even anger, but its high points were sustained and remarkable, and of deep benefit to both nations. Churchill’s determination to maintain, repair, strengthen and make full use of the ties between the two countries is unique in the annals of Anglo-American relations. — Sir Martin Gilbert in “Churchill and America”

  • …..”Also lucky were forty-eight thousand Jews of Bulgaria: those living within the pre-war borders of the state. At first, it seemed that they too would be deported, as had those from the Bulgarian- occupied zones of Thrace and Macedonia. Following German insistence, the Bulgarian government had indeed ordered the deportation of all Jews from Bulgaria proper, some of whom had already been interned. But the deportation order led to such an outcry from the Bulgarian people, including many intellectuals and church leaders, that the government rescinded the order, and Jews already taken into custody were released.Sir  Martin Gilbert JPG In the northern part of Bulgaria, farmers had threatened to lie down on the railway tracks to prevent passage of the deportation trains. It was also said that the King himself had intervened. Despite the fact that he was German, of the family of Coburg, he was known to be opposed to the anti-Semitic measures then in force in Bulgaria, helpless though he considered himself to be in the face of German might. The release of the Jews, which took place on March 10, came to be known in Bulgaria as a ‘miracle of the Jewish people’.” — Sir Martin Gilbert in “The Holocaust”
  • When Winston Churchill beccame Prime Minister on 10 May 1940, he had been a Member of Parliament for almost forty years. For more than twenty-five of those years he had held high ministerial office, with responsibilities that covered many spheres of national policy and international affairs. Central to the strength of his war leadership was this experience. Churchill could draw upon knowledge acquired in the many fierce political battles and tough international negotiations in which he had been a central and often successful participant. “My knowledge, which has been bought, not taught,” was how he expressed it in the House of Commons during a stormy interwar debate on defence.Churchill’s knowledge had often been bought at the price of unpopularity and failure. But, above all, it was the experience of dealing, both as a Cabinet Minister from 1905 and as a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence from 1909, with a wide range of national and world issues, and also of persuading a frequently hostile House of Commons to accept the logic and argument of government policy. That experience served as an essential underpinning-and strengthening-of his leadership in the Second World War. For a decade before the First World War, Winston Churchill's War Leadership JPG four Prime Ministers-Campbell-Bannerman, Asquith, Lloyd George and Baldwin-each entrusted Churchill with contentious issues, having a high regard for his negotiating and persuasive skills. The experience he gained was considerable. In 1911 he had been a pioneer of industrial conciliation and arbitration at a time of intense labour unrest. In 1913 he had led the search for an amelioration of Anglo-German naval rivalry. In 1914 his duties as First Lord of the Admiralty (the post he was to hold again on the outbreak of war in 1939) included both the air defence of London and the protection of the Royal Navy and merchant shipping from German naval attack. In 1917 he was put in charge of munitions production in Britain at a time of the greatest need and strain. In 1919 he devised, as a matter of urgency, a system of demobilization that calmed the severe tensions of a disaffected soldiery. In the early 1920s he had been at the centre of resolving the demands of Irish Catholics for Home Rule and of the first-and effectively the last-border delineation dispute between Southern Ireland and Ulster. At the same time, he had undertaken the complicated task of carrying out Britain’s promise to the Jews of a National Home in Palestine after the First World War.

    This experience of dealing at the centre with Britain’s major national needs, during more than three decades, gave Churchill a precious boon from the first days of his premiership. It also provided him with many specific pointers to war direction. A quarter of a century before he became Prime Minister, he had seen the perils that accompanied the evolution of war policy when there was no central direction. He had been a member of the War Council in 1914, when the Prime Minister, Asquith, had been unable to exercise effective control over the two Service departments-the army and the navy. To redress this problem, on becoming Prime Minister in May 1940, Churchill created the post, hitherto unknown in Britain, of Minister of Defence. Although the new Ministry had no departmental structure as such, it did have a secretariat, headed by General Hastings Ismay, who served, with his small staff, as a direct conduit between the Prime Minister and the Chiefs of Staff-the respective heads of the army, navy and air force. This structure enabled Churchill to put forward his suggestions directly, and with the utmost directness, to those who would have to accept or reject, modify and implement them.

    The organization of his wartime premiership was a central feature of Churchill’s war leadership. That organization took several months to perfect, but from his first days as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence he worked to establish it, and to create in the immediate ambit of 10 Downing Street an organization that would give the nation strong and effective leadership. At its core was the close relationship between Churchill and the three Chiefs of Staff. Their frequent meetings, often daily, enabled him to discuss with them the many crises of the war, to tackle the many emergencies, and to decide on an acceptable common strategy. Working under the Chiefs of Staff, and in close association with Churchill through the Ministry of Defence, were two other essential instruments of military planning: the Joint Planning Staff (known as the “Joint Planners”) and the Joint Intelligence Committee.

    Other essential elements of the organizational side of Churchill’s war leadership evolved as the need arose, among them the Production Council, the Import Executive, the Tank Parliament, the Combined Raw Materials Board (an Anglo-America venture), the Anglo-American Shipping Adjustment Board, and the Battle of the Atlantic Committee of the War Cabinet. And always to hand was the apparatus of Intelligence gathering, assessment and distribution, controlled by the Secret Intelligence Services headed by Colonel (later General) Stewart Menzies, with whom Churchill was in daily communication. In his Minutes to Menzies, Churchill made whatever comments he felt were needed on the nature, implications and circulation of Intelligence material.

    This organizational structure gave Churchill a method of war leadership whereby the highest possible accumulation of professional knowledge was at his disposal. He was not a dictatorial leader, although he could be emphatic in his requests and suggestions. If the Chiefs of Staff opposed any initiative he proposed, it was abandoned. He had no power to overrule their collective will. But on most occasions there was no such stark dichotomy. He and they were searching for the same out-come-the means, first, to avert defeat; then to contain and, finally, to defeat Germany-and in this search they were in frequent agreement.

    One of the members of Churchill’s Private Office, John Peck, later recalled: “I have the clearest possible recollection of General Ismay talking to me about a meeting of the Chiefs of Staff Committee at which they got completely stuck and admitted that they just did not know what was the right course to pursue; so on a purely military matter, they had come to Churchill, civilian, for his advice. He introduced some further facts into the equation that had escaped their notice and the solution became obvious.”

    A crucial aspect of Churchill’s war leadership was his private secretariat, the Private Office at 10 Downing Street. Members of his Private Office accompanied him wherever he went, whether in Britain or overseas, and were available to help smooth his path during every working hour, often until late into the night. At its centre were his Private Secretaries: civil servants, mostly in their thirties, who remained at his side on a rota system throughout the week and the weekend. They were privy to his innermost thoughts (although not, ironically, to the decrypted Enigma messages on which so many of those thoughts hinged). They knew how to interpret his briefest of instructions, some of which were scarcely more than a grunt or a nod of the head. They knew how to find documents and to circulate them. They kept his desk diary with its myriad appointments. They also ensured that whatever the Prime Minister needed-a document to study, a file to scrutinize, a colleague to question, a journey to be organized, a foreign dignitary to be received-all was ready at the right time and in the right place. Given the scale of Churchill’s travel in Britain and overseas, and his notorious unpunctuality and indecision in little things, this streamlined operation was impressive. In a private letter to General Sir Bernard Montgomery, Clementine Churchill referred to her husband’s “chronic unpunctuality” and “habit of changing his mind (in little things) every minute!” For example, his Private Secretariat was caused endless vexation as to whether he would receive some important visitor at 10 Downing Street, at No. 10 Annexe a hundred yards away, or in the Prime Minister’s room in the House of Commons.

    Churchill could also show uncertainty regarding the large decisions, rehearsing them in his mind and hesitating for long periods before settling on a course of action. One such instance was the difficult decision, which he supported, to send British troops to Greece to take part in the defence of that country against a possible German attack, thus weakening the British forces that were then defending Egypt. In the end, he asked for every member of his War Cabinet to vote on this matter. The unanimous vote was in favour of showing Greece that she was not to be abandoned by her ally, despite the hopelessness of the situation, given German military superiority.

    The names of most of the members of Churchill’s Private Office are little known to history. Only one, John Colville-who started as the Junior Private Secretary in 1940- subsequently made his mark, one of great importance to history, because he kept a detailed diary (quite against the rules) of those days when he was on duty. Neither the first Principal Private Secretary, Eric Seal, nor Seal’s successor John Martin, nor the other members of the Private Office-John Peck, Christopher Dodds and Leslie Rowan-kept anything more than a few jottings and private letters. The whole team constituted, collectively, the support system on which Churchill depended and from whom he obtained first-class service, ensuring the smooth running of the prime ministerial enterprise at its centre. The members of his Private Office sustained him without publicity or fanfare, but with a professionalism and a devotion that helped to make his leadership both smooth and effective. — Sir Martin Gilbert in “Winston Churchill’s War Leadership”

About Sir Martin Gilbert

  • “On March 26th, 1936, Churchill was at Morpeth Mansions in London, basking in the reviews of Volume III of Marlborough, cringing at what a friend called the press’s “gassing” over his daughter Sarah’s recent elopement, brooding over German rearmament, and about to read a letter from an RAF officer just back from Germany who said, “There is no doubt in my mind that they are now stronger m the air than England and France combined.”Elsewhere in London on March 26th, 1936, the prescient Mrs. Miriam Gilbert, knowing that the lonely MP at Morpeth Mansions would need a second biographer, after the premature death of Randolph Churchill, was giving birth to a son. We are lucky indeed that Mrs. Gilbert was aware of our need. But Winston Churchill was luckier still.

    Martin Gilbert has now devoted more than half his life to educating us about Winston Churchill. It has been an extraordinary performance: eight biographic volumes, typical of which is the last one, Never Despair, four inches thick, 1348 pages long, a book you would be ill-advised to drop on your foot.

    Sir  Martin Gilbert JPG The official biography, with its battalion of thirteen companion volumes of documents – and ten more still to come – is well suited to what Alistair Cooke suggested to ICS was “the largest man of his time.” Added to it are the author’s shorter works on Churchill, including Photographic Portrait, the most thorough photo documentary ever published, and books on numerous other topics: Appeasement, the Middle East, the Holocaust, Jerusalem, Soviet Jewry, and several fine historical atlases.

    Now comes his one-volume biography Churchill: A Life – not a condensation or abridgement, but a total recast with much new information. Why, did you know, it even contains opinions, which Martin is accused of not having? Most important, it will bring Churchill to the ken of thousands who would not otherwise know him, and for that reason, it is in my opinion his most important single volume.

    Churchill needs this kind of coverage. Ironically, the very thoroughness of Martin’s work has allowed others to write books of their own, including not a few to whom Winston Churchill ranks somewhere between Attila and Genghis Khan, with a colossal ego, a towering ambition, an utter disdain for the feelings, not to mention opinions, of everyone around him- a Churchill who, if you accept footnotes like, ‘Mrs. Goering to the author,” brought his country headlong into an unnecessary and devastating war, and then (according to a breathless book just out) conspired not to tell Roosevelt what he surely knew, namely that the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor.

    Given that Churchill issued Stalin two months worth of warnings when he learned in advance of Hitler’s plan to attack Russia; given that the actual Japanese attack signal, if it was decoded, read, “Climb Mount Niitaka,” we certainly have to credit the authors of these books, in Churchill’s words, for compressing the largest amount of words into the smallest amount of thought.

    I suppose it’s true that the greater a person, the greater the crowd of authors dedicated to reducing that person to the lowest level in the interests of what they call historical accuracy. Churchill is big enough to stand the onslaught.

    But we live in an age of moral relativism and a rejection of traditional values that mitigates against even genuine heroes: an age where people are tried in public, but granted no courtroom rights, and considered guilty until proven innocent. The generation that grew up in the Sixties being told to drop out, turn on and light up, that forsook religion for a kind of commonweal, whose morals if any turn on sex or race or the environment, are a welcome audience for writers who disparage a figure like Churchill, who encompassed not only warlike grit, but humour, culture, principle, faith, humanity, optimism, and above all love of the English-Speaking Peoples.

    Another book just out, for example, purports to take us “beyond the myth and deep into the psychology” not only of Churchill but his family, who are all neatly pigeonholed. Lady Randolph is invariably worldly, Clementine prickly; Churchill’s friends, like Bracken and Birkenhead, are almost always egregious. Randolph is boorish, Diana neurotic, Sarah tipsy. Indeed this author never seems to have met a Churchill he didn’t despise, except Lady Soames, who has the advantage of being alive, and therefore able to sue for libel.

    Well, I’m halfway through that book and do you know? It is ninety percent boilerplate, gleaned extensively from Martin Gilbert’s volumes plus a handful of highly selective interviews. That it relies so heavily on Gilbert means that there are few errors, but it’s not the facts that make it so tawdry, it’s the interpretation. Read this book and you will conclude that all Churchill did at the War Office in 1919 was bring Britain to the brink of a new war with Russia.”To set such a man in charge of the War Office when the First World War was over was the sort of joke to be expected of Lloyd George,” says the author, “but he should have known better than to take such a risk.” You have to read Gilbert to learn that this risky man organized the fair and equitable demobilization of seven million soldiers.

    Sir Martin Gilbert JPG “One would like to think Churchill was troubled by the death toll of the Dardanelles,” the author writes, “but there is little evidence.” You have to read Gilbert to learn that Churchill fought against a premature invasion of Europe because, as he told General Marshall, he remembered the Dardanelles, and a sea full of corpses.

    But we are hopeless addicts. Every time one of these new decisive studies comes out, declaring that it has separated the myth from the man, we buy and devour it. And in due course find ourselves sifting through Martin Gilbert’s volumes, and the thousands of documents he meticulously supplies us, in search of the truth.

    This past August we passed through what may well have been the signal event this century, one that vindicated everything Churchill said about dealing with the Soviet Union, yes, even in the War Office in 1919. The voices of our correct thinkers will now be raised to remind us that Winston Churchill is irrelevant, a man of war not peace. Presidents and potentates who devour his words in times of strife have little interest in his thoughts and deeds during the seventy-four years of his life when Britain was not at war. Such assertions require counter-argument.

    The democracies we were so overjoyed to see arise in August are already finding, as Churchill said, that; democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the other forms. What happens when they turn to dictators, as inevitably some will? Already we see a tide of reckless nationalism, a Balkan war, a renewal of border disputes two world wars haven’t solved – all very familiar to Churchill. And the Middle East – will they fix it this time?

    “Study history, study history,” Churchill told the young James Humes. “In history lie all the secrets to statecraft.” To that Martin Gilbert adds, study Churchill. Here I quote from a piece he wrote for our California Chapter on the theme, “Teaching the Next Generation”:
    Sir Martin Gilbert JPGAs I open file after file of Churchill’s archives from his entry into Government in 1905 to his retirement in 1955, 1 am continually surprised by the truth of his assertions, the modernity of his thought, the originality of his mind, the constructiveness of his proposals, his humanity and most remarkable of all, his foresight.

    One final quote from a notable Australian, Sir Robert Menzies, who described Churchill thus: “A great voice rolling round the world; a great spirit informing the voice; a great courage warming the listener’s ears; a wonderful feeling that we were at the gates of destiny. For my generation these need no memorial. But for my grandchildren they need to be remembered. Let the clever critics come on, let them explain Winston’s errors and, by implication, show how much wiser they would have been.”

    It is always a proud moment to introduce the man who has done so much in so many ways for the International Churchill Societies – speaker, tour guide, advisor, writer-but moreover who has given the world Churchill’s triumphs and tragedies, archives and arguments; and who has had the humility to say, when his work was done: “Mere is the record. Let the reader decide.” — “Martin Gilbert: An Appreciation,” Introduction of Martin Gilbert by Richard M. Langworth, Winston Churchill PROCEEDINGS of the International Churchill Societies 1990-91

  • “It was 50 years ago that Winston Churchill commenced his lonely crusade to awaken England and the world to the menace of Adolf Hitler. The story of that voice crying in the wilderness, though fit to stand with the legends of English-speaking history, is all but unknown to later generations. But help is on the way. “The Wilderness Years” starts this evening on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre. It may be another grim omen of post-literacy that the instrument of the Churchill revival is to be television. But better that than ignorance. And in case the television series whets bolder appetites, we have this short account of those years by Churchill’s official biographer, Martin Gilbert of Oxford. Gilbert took over the work left only barely begun at his untimely death by Randolph Churchill. He has expanded it to monumental length, so formidably detailed that one needs a compass–or a strand of Ariadne’s hair –to negotiate the trackless pages. Fortunately the prospect of a bull market for Churchilliana has prompted Gilbert to distill a more compendious account from the huge fifth volume. It is an excellent distillation. Gilbert, co-author of The Appeasers, has been on this story for 20 years and knows it inside out. This is his notion of its essence, with new information and thematic refinements that did not appear in “The Appeasers.” …. The hat has gone into eclipse. But the story of the man in the hats cannot be told too often. It is good to know that millions are about to learn it–or at least one of its celebrated chapters–for the first time. With all due praise to the excellence of British television drama, these novices will know the story better if they also read these two timely books. — EDWIN M. YODER, in The Washington Post reviewing “WINSTON CHURCHILL: The Wilderness Years”
  • Randolph Churchill was, to put the matter mildly, a complex man whom some loved and admired, and most did not. Mr Gilbert took up his task on Randolph’s death with far higher qualities as an historian but also, ironically, as a considerably less critical admirer.But in this volume, he has at last achieved the balance that has so far eluded him and Randolph. Just as becoming Prime Minister at our darkest moment made Churchill humble, so has the enormity of the challenge confronting him made his biographer recognise that not all decisions were right, that all did not go well, and that Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty and as Prime Minister was not infallible…. Mr Gilbert’s account takes us up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour after the darknesses and difficulties of 1941, probably the worst period for Britain of the entire war, although redeemed by the involuntary involvement of the Soviet Union, and American support. As he recounts, tactfully, there were moments when the resolution of others in government faltered, and it is not inappropriate to be reminded of the total cynicism and selfishness of the Soviet leadership — nor of the very different qualities of the American President and his advisers. This is a huge book, of vast importance for historians, lovingly and comprehensively researched. Other historians may question some judgments, but all in all it is a masterpiece. But out of its 1,274 pages I take this quotation from a letter to Churchill by Duncan Sandys;”Good luck to you dear Winston. You are, I feel, our one solid and visible war asset. All else may fail; but so long as you are there, somehow you will bring us through to victory.” That was our feeling in those desperate times; we now know how right we were.” — ROBERT RHODES JAMES in “The Financial Times” reviewing “Visible asset; Finest Hour: Winston S. Churchill 1939-41”
  • This, like all Martin Gilbert’s productions, is at first sight a leaden load of a book. It is impossible to be at ease with it. To hold it, particularly in bed but also in an armchair, is like trying to read through Who’s Who on a beach picnic. Only a solidly constructed desk can comfortably bear its weight and shape, and even there it is easier to read the middle 400 pages than the outlying 600 ones, which is like driving along a track with the wheels on one side two feet higher than those on the other. Yes, this is a summary volume, designed to encapsulate the 21 already published volumes of biography and supporting documents. The Churchill/Gilbert enterprise, which had been quite sparingly run when Randolph Churchill set it up as a Suffolk cottage industry, has become incapable of producing anything but jumbo jets. And the production line, one feels, must at all costs be kept running. It has become producer- rather than consumer-orientated. The products, however, once both their monstrous scale and Martin Gilbert’s prescription of letting the facts unfold in sequence rather than in pattern are accepted, are of remarkably high quality. The narrative is smooth-flowing, the accuracy appears impeccable, and the reader’s attention is nearly always held. Furthermore, despite the mass of detail and the constant jumping from subject to subject which is dictated by the strict chronology, it is a book in which it is peculiarly easy to check a fact or find a reference. This “head in the Ordnance Survey” approach to the long march of Churchill’s life is suitably buttressed by 20 pages of very clear maps which show where everything was, from the schools he went to in the 1880s to the position of Whitehall Departments in the 1940s. — ROY JENKINS in “The Independent (London)” reviewing “Churchill: a Life”
  • “The “colossal work” (so the preface to its first volume justly describes it) was launched more than 29 years ago…. All his greatest triumphs, political and literary, were yet to come. Randolph Churchill did not live to record them. He died, aged 57, in 1968, and was replaced as official biographer by the historian Martin Gilbert of Merton College, Oxford, who has devoted to the completion of the work 20 years of skilled and arduous labor, producing six volumes of which the shortest is twice the length of his predecessor’s first. He has scrupulously adhered to his predecessor’s initial design and even, it would seem, to his predecessor’s style, though this last is doubtless also his own – a strictly utilitarian style, flatly declarative (there is little description and less analysis in these volumes), conveying factual information with cold efficiency when not simply framing the abundant quotations of Churchill and his associates. — KENNETH S. DAVIS in “The New York Times” reviewing “LEAD: WINSTON S. CHURCHILL Volume VIII: “Never Despair,” 1945-1965″
  • “I do not know how to review this book. My professional skills as an historian seize up as I follow the stories of the millions of Jews who died by the ditch-full and trainload day after day between 1939 and 1945. The usual categories of analysis shrivel at the spectable of mothers murdered with their babies, rabbis whose bears have been ripped from their faces and SS thugs trampling the fragile bones of old women. Dov Lewi, a survivor of Birkenau, said to Martin Gilbert, “People who live and think as normal people cannot possibly understand.”… Ordinary categories of historical scholarship do not quite fit this book either. Martin Gilbert has not written yet another history of the Holocaust. There is no serious attempt to analyse or explain. Instead he has erected a gigantic literary monument or memorial tablet on which he has painstakingly and piously inscribed the names of all those who left a name and the numbers and places of death of those who have not. The dust-jacket shows the readers a tombstone on which title and author have been chiselled and there is a diagonal crack running through the stone. Mr Gilbert has put aside the historian’s tweeds and put on mourning clothes. Lovingly he has collected the scraps of memory, the bits of buried diaries, the rare and terrible photographs, the official reports and put them into his book of remembrane. “Perhaps someone reading these lines will recall Elsa Spiegal or her orphan son,” wrote one survivor. I cannot review this book. I can only tell you that it is there and what it contains. It is our duty as human beings, Christian, Jew or Muslim, to read as much as we can stand. Mr Gilbert lets the dead call us to share their pain. In a sense beyond my power to explain, we have no choice but to do so. We owe it to them. — Jonathan Steinberg in “The Financial Times” reviewing “THE HOLOCAUST: THE JEWISH TRAGEDY”
  • “The refugees pictured on the cover of the second volume of Martin Gilbert’s “History of the Twentieth Century” could be anyone, headed down any street. Their anonymity is a measure of their omnipresence throughout this book. What Harry Truman called “mankind’s long search for a rule of law among nations” defines the thread that Gilbert, a prolific Oxford historian, traces through 19 years “dominated by the struggle between the rule of law and lawlessness.” These were the crucial years of a century crowded with misrule and horrific events — the years of Hitler, Stalin, Japanese militarism. Gilbert’s narrative is often formed, he reminds us, from events that have themselves been the subject of entire books — the Rape of Nanking is covered in four pages and the evacuation of Dunkirk in two in a volume of more than 1,000 pages; the landing in Normandy occupies only six. Popular culture and popular history earn little attention. Advancing year by year, Gilbert finds no reason to mention the Lindbergh kidnapping trial in 1935 or even the abdication crisis that followed the death of King George V in 1936; the former King Edward VIII and the former Mrs. Simpson are mentioned only in passing in the chapter on 1937, as guests of the Nazi Reich. Gilbert succeeds in telling the entire story of the Spanish Civil War without ever mentioning Ernest Hemingway — although he quotes Hemingway’s soon-to-be wife Martha Gellhorn, and cites three of her books in his bibliography. This is history stripped to its essentials, shorn of fads and celebrities and hoopla, and devoted instead to what was of consequence — the story of dictatorships and their fall, of war and its aftermath, and the fate of those many millions who disappeared down some anonymous street. — DAVID WALTON in “The New York Times” reviewing ” A HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY Volume Two: 1933-1951″
  • As Martin Gilbert shows in his new book, “The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust” (and as many authorities have argued before him) sometimes up to 30 or 40 helpers were involved in saving a single life, for the survivors had to change their hiding places frequently, and they needed money, false papers and food. Some children were saved by their nannies, some students by their teachers; friends provided false certificates of baptism. In parts of Europe even the criminal underworld played a role in hiding Jews…. Mr. Gilbert’s book is based in the main on the material assembled in Jerusalem, but he also engaged in further searches in other archives and contacted hundreds of survivors or their offspring. As a researcher and collector of historical source material, Mr. Gilbert has no peer among contemporary historians; a man of awe-inspiring initiative and indefatigable productivity, he will leave no stone unturned in his searches…. His enterprise is admirable, for while many of the stories told in his book have been told before, only a few have reached a wider public. In the early postwar period, interest in the Holocaust was small, and even fewer people were interested in those who had tried to help the victims. By now we have “Schindler’s List” and many hundreds of books and television documentaries and the publication of a five-volume encyclopedia of the “righteous” is under way. Mr. Gilbert’s book is a work of deep commitment; more than that, a labor of love. It deserves to be read side by side with the studies claiming that there were no rays of light, no manifestations of humanity and goodness in those dark days. — Walter Laqueur in “The New York Yimes” reviewing “THE RIGHTEOUS The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust”

Basic Facts

Teaching and Professional Positions:
Sir  Martin Gilbert JPG Merton College, Oxford, England, fellow and member of governing body, 1962-94, honorary fellow, 1994–;
official biographer of the late Sir Winston Churchill, 1968-88.
Research assistant to Randolph S. Churchill on official life of Winston Churchill, 1962-67.
Non-governmental representative, U.N. Commission on Human Rights, 43rd Session, Geneva, Switzerland, 1987.
Visiting professor at University of South Carolina, Columbia, 1965, University of Tel Aviv, 1979-80, and University of Jerusalem, 1980; governor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1980–;
visiting lecturer at universities in the United States, South Africa, and the Soviet Union.
Consultant on modern history to newspapers and television.

Area of Research:

Magdalen College, Oxford, B.A.(first class honors), 1960;
St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, graduate research, 1960;
Merton College, Oxford, M.A., 1964.

Major Publications:

  • (With Richard Gott) The Appeasers, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1963, 2nd edition, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1967.
  • The European Powers, 1900-1945, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1965, New American Library (New York, NY), 1966.
  • Recent History Atlas, 1870 to the Present Day, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1966, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1968, 3rd edition published as Recent History Atlas, 1860-1960, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1977.
  • The Roots of Appeasement, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1966, New American Library (New York, NY), 1967.
  • Winston Churchill (Clarendon biography for grades 6-9), Oxford University Press (London, England), 1966, Dial (New York, NY), 1967, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press (London, England), 1970.
  • British History Atlas, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1968, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1969, 3rd edition published as The Routledge Atlas of British History, Routledge (New York, NY), 2003.
  • American History Atlas, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1968, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1969, revised edition, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1985, 4th edition published as The Routledge Atlas of American History, Routledge (New York, NY), 2003.
  • Jewish History Atlas, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1969, 3rd edition, 1985, 6th edition published as The Routledge Atlas of Jewish History, Routledge (New York, NY), 2003.
  • Atlas of World War I, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1970, (published in England as First World War Atlas, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970, reprinted as First World War History Atlas, 1971).
  • The Second World War, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1970.
  • Winston S. Churchill (official biography; also see below), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), Volume 3 (with Randolph S. Churchill): The Challenge of War, 1914-1916, 1971, Volume 4: The Stricken World, 1917-1922, 1974, Volume 5: The Prophet of Truth, 1923-1939, 1976, Volume 6: Finest Hour, 1939-1941, 1983, Volume 7: Road to Victory, 1941-1945, 1986, Volume 8: Never Despair, 1945-1965, 1988.
  • Russian History Atlas, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1972, published as Imperial Russian History Atlas, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1978.
  • Sir Horace Rumbold: Portrait of a Diplomat, 1869-1941, Heinemann (London, England), 1973.
  • The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Its History in Maps, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1974, 4th edition, 1984, published as Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Macmillan (New York, NY, 1975.
  • Churchill: A Photographic Portrait, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1974.
  • The Jews of Russia: Their History in Maps and Photographs, National Council for Soviet Jewry of the United Kingdom and Ireland, 1976.
  • The Jews of Arab Lands: Their History in Maps, World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries/ Board of Deputies of British Jews, 1976.
  • Jerusalem History Atlas, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1977, (published in England as Jerusalem Illustrated History Atlas, Board of Deputies of British Jews, 1979).
  • Exile and Return: The Struggle for a Jewish Homeland, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1978, (published in England as Exile and Return: The Emergence of Jewish Statehood, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1978).
  • The Holocaust: A Record of the Destruction of Jewish Life in Europe during the Dark Years of Nazi Rule, Board of Directors of British Jews, 1978, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1979.
  • Final Journey: The Fate of the Jews in Nazi Europe, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1978, Mayflower (New York, NY), 1979.
  • The Children’s Illustrated Bible Atlas, W.H. Allen (London, England), 1979.
  • Soviet History Atlas, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1979.
  • Churchill, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1980.
  • Auschwitz and the Allies, Holt (New York, NY), 1981.
  • Churchill’s Political Philosophy, Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 1981.
  • The Macmillan Atlas of the Holocaust, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1982, published in England as Atlas of the Holocaust, M. Joseph (London, England), 1982.
  • Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1982.
  • The Jews of Hope, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1984, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.
  • Jerusalem: Rebirth of a City, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.
  • The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy, Collins (London, England), 1986.
  • The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe during the Second World War, Holt (New York, NY), 1986.
  • Shcharansky: Hero of Our Time, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.
  • The Second World War: A Complete History, Holt (New York, NY), 1989.
  • Jerusalem: Past and Future, Institute of the World Jewish Congress (Jerusalem, Israel), 1994.
  • Jerusalem in the Twentieth Century, Wiley (New York, NY), 1996.
  • The Boys: The Untold Story of 732 Young Concentration Camp Survivors, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.
  • A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume I: 1900-1933, Morrow (New York, NY), 1997.
  • Holocaust Journey: Traveling in Search of the Past, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1997.
  • Israel: A History, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.
  • A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume II: 1933-1951, Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
  • A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume III: 1951-1999, Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
  • Never Again: A History of the Holocaust, Universe (New York, NY), 2000.
  • The Jews in the Twentieth Century, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 2001.
  • Letters to Auntie Fori: The 5000-year History of the Jewish People and Their Faith, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 2002.
  • The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust, Holt (New York, NY), 2003.
  • (With Allen Packwood and Daun van Ee) Churchill and the Great Republic, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 2004.
  • Continue to Pester, Nag, and Bite: Churchill’s War Leadership, Vintage Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004, published as Winston Churchill’s War Leadership, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2004.
  • D-Day, J. Wiley & Sons (Hoboken, NJ), 2004.
  • Churchill and America, Free Press (New York, NY), 2005.Sir Gilbert is current working on “Churchill and the Jews,” which is for publication in early in 2007.Editor, Contributor, Joint Author:
  • Britain and Germany between the Wars, Longmans, Green (Harlow, England), 1964, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1966.
  • Plough My Own Furrow: The Life of Lord Allen of Hurtwood, Longmans, Green (Harlow, England), 1965.
  • Sir James Robert Dunlop Smith, Servants of India: A Study of Imperial Rule From 1905 to 1910 (as told through Smith’s correspondence and diaries), Longmans, Green (Harlow, England), 1966.
  • A Century of Conflict, 1850-1950: Essays for A.J.P. Taylor, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1966, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1967.
  • Churchill (“Great Lives” series), Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1967.
  • Lloyd George, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1968.
  • (With R.S. Churchill) Winston S. Churchill: Companion Volume 2 (companion volume to R.S. Churchill’s Winston S. Churchill: Young Statesman, 1901-1914, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1968), Part 1: 1901-1907, Part 2: 1907-1911, Part 3: 1911-1914, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1969.
  • Winston Churchill, 1874-1965, Grossman (New York, NY), 1969, published as Winston Churchill: A Collection of Contemporary Documents, J. Cape, 1969.
  • (Sole editor) Winston S. Churchill (companion volumes of edited documents to accompany official biography), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), Companion Volume 3: 1914-1916, 1972; Companion Volume 4 Part 1: January 1917-June 1919, Part 2: July 1919-March 1921, Part 3: April 1921-November 1922, 1975; Companion Volume 5, Part 1: The Exchequer Years, 1922-1929, 1976, Part 2: The Wilderness Years, 1929-1935, Part 3: The Coming of War, 1936-1939, 1982.
  • (Author of introduction and notes) Winston Churchill, Winston Churchill and Emery Reeves: Correspondence, 1937-1964, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1997.
  • Churchill at War: His ‘Finest Hour’ in Photographs, 1940-1945, Carlton (London, England), 2003.
  • (Compiler) The Coming of War, 1939, Jackdaw Publications (Amawalk, NY), 1973.
  • (With Marvin Hier) Genocide (film script), narrated by Elizabeth Taylor, Arnold Schwartzman/Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1981.
  • (Contributor of introduction and maps) Holocaust Memoir Digest: Survivors’ Published Memoirs with Study Guide and Maps, Vallentine Mitchell (Portland, OR), 2004.Contributor of articles and reviews to newspapers and periodicals, including History, Sunday Telegraph, Times (London, England), Guardian, Sunday Times (London, England), Evening Standard, Jewish Chronicle (London, England), Jerusalem Post, Spiegel, (Hamburg, Germany), and Tworczosz (Warsaw, Poland).Awards and Grants:

    Academy Award for best documentary film, 1981, for “Genocide”;
    D.Litt., Westminster College, Fulton, MO, 1981;
    Knighted for services to British History and International Relations, 1995;
    Doctorate of Literature by Oxford University, 1999;
    Doctor of Laws (LL.D), University of Western Ontario, 2003.

    Additional Info:

    British Army, student at Joint Service School for Linguists, 1955-57.
    Gilbert served as one of the advisers for the Library of Congress’ exhibition, “Churchill and the Great Republic” in 2003-2004.
    Sir Martin Gilbert was the host of A&E’s “JERUSALEM” and the History Channel’s “Israel: Birth of a Nation.”

Posted on Sunday, February 4, 2007 at 8:28 PM

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