Academic journal article Romani Studies

Obituary: Gilad Margalit, 1959-2014

Academic journal article Romani Studies

Obituary: Gilad Margalit, 1959-2014

Article excerpt

Gilad Margalit, Professor of General History at Haifa University, died on 23 July 2014 in his home after a battle against a brain tumour. He was 54 years old. Margalit grew up in Haifa and studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he completed his PhD thesis in 1996 working under the supervision of Professors Moshe Zimmermann and Dan Diner. Margalit's research on policies toward Gypsies in post-war Germany broke new ground both in the context of Israeli holocaust and genocide studies, and in the context of post-war German history. In the Israeli arena he was criticised by some for questioning the notion of the uniqueness of Jewish victimhood and for proposing an analysis of Nazi racial persecution as multifaceted and complex, of which antiSemitism was just one of several components. His publications on the subject (e.g. Margalit 1996, 2000) triggered much debate in Israel. He was eventually invited by the education ministry to author a curriculum unit on the persecution of Roma by the Nazis, which made its way into standard Israeli textbooks on modern history. Among scholars of modern German history, he was regarded as provocative in offering a differentiated analysis of the continuity of discriminatory policies against Roma and Sinti in the post-war period. He proposed that post-war public debate about Gypsies in Germany followed one of three narratives: the 'Nazi narrative', which condoned persecution directly and continued to replicate the very same racial stereotypes; the 'Jewish-like' narrative, which relied on a comparison with the fate of the Jews as the principal argument to condemn the persecution; and the 'Syncretic narrative', which condemned the persecution but claimed that the victims shared responsibility for their fate by refusing to conform to society's norms and expectations.

Margalit's point was that all three strands played a role in shaping post-war policy toward Gypsies. Moreover, he argued that all mainstream narratives in the post-war period failed to acknowledge the very particular character of antiGypsy persecution, including the role of so-called 'romantic' images of Gypsies in shaping bigotry. Gilad's critique of some of the NGO narratives (later to be adopted as official state positions following the 1982 declaration by Helmut Schmidt) was that they derived Gypsy victimhood from the acknowledgement of the Jewish holocaust, rather than tackle it head-on as an independent historical event worthy both of commemoration and of independent research and of course of political acknowledgement. …

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