15. Wolfson History Prize Special: Professor Mary Fulbrook

The Holocaust

The Holocaust is the bleakest, blackest, most disturbing moment in our human story. It involved the systematic murder of millions of Jews, minority and vulnerable groups by the Nazis during their reign of terror in Europe in the 1940s. To understand how such crimes could be committed, historians have been forced to engage with this painful past.


Few books have laid the crimes and consequences of the Holocaust as bare as Professor Mary Fulbrook’s Reckonings: legacies of Nazi persecutions and the quest for justice (2018). Fulbrook said that she was driven to write the book – which identifies the crimes and traces their effects on the generations that followed – by ‘an enduring sense of injustice’, that the vast majority of those who perpetrated the Holocaust, or who made it possible, evaded responsibility for their crimes.


The Wolfson History Prize

Last month Reckonings was awarded the Wolfson History Prize, one of the UK’s most prestigious history awards. The judges called it ‘masterly’; a work that ‘explores the shifting boundaries and structures of memory.’


In this special Wolfson History Prize episode of Travels Through Time we talk to Professor Fulbrook about Reckonings, a book that she wrote filled with a sense of ‘moral outrage’. In a twist on our usual format, we examine the Nazi genocide through three human interactions with three crime scenes: a ghetto, a labour camp and an extermination camp.


Scene One: Melita Maschman looks at the Litzmannstadt (Łódź) ghetto in the incorporated Warthegau area of Poland, now part of the Greater German Reich, and later reflects on it in her 1963 memoirs.


Scene Two: Mielec, southern Poland, part of the General Government under the Third Reich. Perpetrators include Walter Thormeyer and Rudolf Zimmermann, later sentenced in West and East Germany respectively; and implications for their families.


Scene Three: Oświęcim (Auschwitz), c. 1943-5, seen through the eyes of a schoolteacher, Marianne B., as recounted in her 1999 memoirs.


More about Reckonings at Oxford University Press.


Presenter: Peter Moore


Guest: Professor Mary Fulbrook


Producer: Maria Nolan


Read More from History Today


Mensturation and the Holocaust by Jo-Ann Owusu


Poland and Holocaust History by Cressida Trew


Hitler and the Holocaust by Alan Farmer