Leni Yahil — 50 Years of Research into the Holocaust
Yad Vashem Studies, Volume 36:1
Sarit Shavit and Dan Michman
“How is a Study of Hell to be Undertaken?”: Leni Yahil — 50 Years of Research into the Holocaust
Prof. Leni Yahil, one of the leading Holocaust historians, passed away on December 26, 2007. Born in 1912 in Germany to an assimilated Jewish family, she discovered her Jewish roots at the age of seventeen. After studying at the Liberal Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin and joining the socialist-Zionist youth movement Werkleute, she immigrated to Palestine in 1934 and became active in the labor movement. She received her BA in literature from the Hebrew University in 1940 and married Chaim Yahil (Hoffmann), who would serve in the second half of the 1950s as Israel’s ambassador to Scandinavia. Leni Yahil continued her studies in history in the 1950s and became academic assistant to Prof. Ben-Zion Dinur, who was also the chairman of Yad Vashem. Her PhD dissertation topic, the rescue of Danish Jewry, was an outgrowth of her personal and professional connections. The dissertation was a path-breaking study in Holocaust studies in its combination of perpetrator, victim and bystander history. In the second half of the 1960s she was appointed Professor in Holocaust studies at the newly established University of Haifa. In this period she also started working on her magnum opus – The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry 1932-1945 – which was first published in Hebrew in 1987, and then in English (1990) and German (1998). This comprehensive and integrative study of the Holocaust represented much of the Israeli approach to the Holocaust, but also critically incorporated some of the most up-to-date views on the event as had emerged in German scholarship. It became one of the most widely used textbooks on the Holocaust; its virtues situated her on the frontline of Holocaust historiography.