Tribute to Jewish history academic David Cesarani: ‘A cross between Kafka and Eeyore’

David Cesarani who has died aged 58. Picture: Nigel Sutton

David Cesarani who has died aged 58. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

A leading historian who specialised in Jewish history and the Holocaust has been remembered fondly by his best friend as “a cross between Kafka and Eeyore”.

Professor David Cesarani OBE, of West Hampstead, died aged 58 last month following surgery to remove a cancerous tumour on his spine.

The academic was regarded as one of the leading Jewish historians, but was also a notable commentator on modern-day Jewish experiences.

His close friend Daniel Eilon, whom Prof Cesarani met while studying at the University of Cambridge, said in tribute: “David inspired all of us to be more curious, more thoughtful, more culturally aware, more interested, more questioning.

“He cared about so many things: not just about history, not just about the Holocaust, not just about Jews, and Israel – though of course all of these mattered enormously to him – but also music, films, literature, politics, justice, all the pleasures of life and its challenges.”

Born in London in 1956, Prof Cesarani pursued a career in academia after studying at both Cambridge and Oxford.

At the time of his death, he was professor of modern Jewish history at Southampton University and research professor of history at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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Among his achievements, Prof Cesarani’s research into Nazi criminals and collaborators in the 1980s helped bring into being the War Crimes Act 1991, which extended existing legislation to try British citizens for war crimes committed in countries other than Nazi Germany or Nazi-occupied territory.

Lawyer Mr Eilon, 57, of Finchley, added: “He inspired an enormous amount of affection. That is in spite of the fact that in his role as Woody Allen with anger management issues, the love-child of Kafka and Eeyore – as David Herman described him – he appropriated to himself all the outspoken privileges of a grumpy old man. Wisely it seems, he did this before he was ever old.”