Professor Otto Dov Kulka

Holocaust survivor who became one of the leading Israeli historians of his generation


DJ0M5W Munich, Germany. 18th Nov, 2013. The Israeli historian and Holocaust survivor Otto Dov Kulka poses with his book 'Landscapes of the metropolis of death: reflections on memory and imagination' after a press conference in Munich, Germany, 18 November 2013. Kulka will receive the 34th Geschwister-Scholl Prize. Photo: INGA KJER/dpa/Alamy Live News

The distinguished Israeli historian, Professor Otto Dov Kulka, professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who has died aged 87, had an astonishing range of interests; they included antisemitism and Jewish thought in Europe from the early modern period to the Holocaust, Jewish-Christian relations in modern Europe, the history of the Jews in Germany and the study of the Holocaust.

Kulka was born Otto Deutelbaum in Nový Hrozenkov, a small town in Czechoslovakia. He was born to Erich Schön and Elly Deutelbaumová (née Kulková) but at the time his mother was married to Rudolf Deutelbaum, Erich’s uncle. In 1938, Rudolf and Elly divorced and Erich sued to be recognised as Otto’s legitimate father.

Following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939 Schön was arrested by the Nazis and in 1942 was deported to Auschwitz. In September, 1942 Deutelbaum, his second wife Ilona and daughter Eva (Otto’s half-sister), were deported to Theresienstadt (Terezin)and then to Treblinka where they were all murdered. Otto and his mother were also deported there and then to Auschwitz. Otto survived but his mother died at Stutthof in January, 1945. After the war Otto and his father returned to Czechoslovakia. To commemorate Otto’s mother they changed their family name to Kulka in 1946.

In 1949 Kulka emigrated to Israel. He added the Hebrew name Dov to his original name. From 1958 he lived in Jerusalem. He married Chaia Braun and they had a daughter, Eliora Kulka-Soroka.

Kulka studied at the Hebrew University and in 1966 joined its Department of the History of the Jewish People. His PhD (1975) was on The ‘Jewish Question’ in the Third Reich. From 1988 he held the Sol Rosenbloom Chair in Jewish History. He retired from teaching in 1999 after being diagnosed with cancer.

Kulka was a member of the board of directors of Yad Vashem, the Leo Baeck Institute for the Study of German and Central European Jewry, and the editorial board of the journal Yad Vashem Studies.

He wrote and edited a number of major scholarly works including Judaism and Christianity Under the Impact of National Socialism 1919-1945 (1987), Deutsches Judentum unter dem Nationalsozialismus (1997) and (with Eberhard Jäckel,) The Jews in the Secret Nazi-Reports on Popular Opinion in Germany, 1933-1945 (2010). His last book was a collection of essays, German Jews in the Era of the “Final Solution” (2020).

Sir Ian Kershaw said: “The whole volume is brilliantly conceived and structured.” Kulka was awarded prizes in Israel and in Germany for his scholarship. But he is best known for his masterpiece, Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death (2013), a dark, difficult work about his return to Auschwitz towards the end of his life. Like Lanzmann’s film Shoah or the books of WG Sebald, it explores the distance between the remembered past and the remembering present. It is one of the great masterpieces on the Holocaust and is the book for which he will be remembered.

He is survived by Chaya, Eliora, three grandchildren and a great grandson.David HeRman


Otto Dov Kulka: born April 16, 1933.

Died January 29, 2021

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