FRANKFURT - Israeli historian Saul Friedlaender was awarded the top prize at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair on Sunday in recognition of his narratives documenting the Nazi Holocaust.
"Saul Friedlaender gave a voice to the grievances and cries of those human beings who were turned to dust - he gave them memory and a name," the German Book Trade association said in awarding Friedlaender its 2007 peace prize. "The acknowledgment of human dignity forms the basis for peace among mankind, and Saul Friedlaender returned to the murdered millions the dignity of which they had been robbed," it said.
Friedlander's family emigrated from Czechoslovakia to France in 1939, in a bid to escape the Nazis. While he himself managed to avoid arrest by staying at a Catholic boarding school under an assumed name, his parents were captured and deported to Auschwitz, where they died in 1942.
In his acceptance speech, Friedlaender highlighted letters written by his parents before their murder, as examples of how the views of individuals are of general importance for the representation of history.
"If we listen to these cries, then we do not need to ritualize or institutionalize remembrance," the 75-year-old told the 1,000 guests at the award ceremony.
Friedlaender, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, was given the 25,000 euro ($35,500) peace prize on the final day of the annual book fair in an award ceremony at Frankfurt's St. Paul's Church.
Following the presentation, a 44-year-old man rushed at German President Horst Koehler as he was leaving the church, grabbing as his suit. The assailant was quickly arrested and did not harm the head of state.
Among Friedlaender's best-known works is his two-volume collection "The Third Reich and the Jews." He also published a memoir about his childhood and arrival as a young man to Israel in 1948, "When Memory Comes," in 1979. The association said Friedlaender was chosen for his firsthand approach to Holocaust history.
"Friedlaender is one of the last surviving historiographers to have witnessed and experienced the Holocaust - a genocide that was announced early on, planned openly and carried out with machinelike precision," the association said. "Friedlaender rejects the distanced approach often associated with the writing of history: He creates a space for incomprehensibility - the only possible reaction to such an unfathomable crime."
Previous winners of the award include German sociologist Wolf Lepenies in 2006, outspoken Turkish author and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, and former Czech President Vaclav Havel.
The prize was first awarded in 1950.
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