British scholar Tony Judt dies aged 62

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

British historian Tony Judt died Friday of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 62. Judt was known for his contributions to European history and his controversial position regarding the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

Judt's death was announced in a statement from New York University (NYU), where he was a professor. He died in his home in Manhattan, said the school. Judt is survived by his third wife, dance critic Jennifer Homans, and their two children, Nicholas and Daniel. Judt's first two marriages both ended in a divorce.

Tony Robert Judt, a secular Jew, was born on January 2, 1948 in London, but spent much of his adult life in the United States. The descendant of Marxist Lithuanian rabbis, he was sent to a camp in Israel as a teenager, and became a Zionist. Later, he spoke at a Zionist convention in Paris and worked as a translator for the Israel Defense Forces in 1967, starting with the Six-Day War.

An alumnus of King's College, he began teaching at NYU as Professor of European studies in 1987. Judt had previously taught at Cambridge, the University of California, and Oxford University.

Judt, also an author, became a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his 2005 book Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. The almost 900-page book covers the history of the development of Europe after World War II. He also wrote about topics such as the fall of Marxism and Communism.

In September 2008, Judt was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. One form of motor neurone disease, ALS targets nerve cells and causes a loss of speech and movement abilities. Left paralyzed and unable to breathe without assistance, Judt continued to lecture. Earlier this year, Judt was able to write a group of personal essays for The New York Review of Books, in which he discussed the disease. "In contrast to almost every other serious or deadly disease, one is thus left free to contemplate at leisure and in minimal discomfort the catastrophic progress of one's own deterioration," he wrote. In 2009, Judt was the recipient of a special Orwell Prize, given to him for "intelligence, insight and conspicuous courage."

Judt's later views on Israel differed from those he had held as a teenager. In 1983, he called Israel a "belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno state," opposing a two-state solution. Earlier this year, he wrote, "most Israelis were not transplanted latter-day agrarian socialists but young, prejudiced urban Jews who differed from their European or American counterparts chiefly in their macho, swaggering self-confidence, and access to armed weapons." His stance on the topic was the subject of much controversy, even leading to his removal from the editorial committee for The New Republic.