Léon Poliakov

Léon Poliakov (1910–1997) founded a centre for research on the Holocaust in France. He also published extensively on the subject of Nazi perpetrators.

© Mémorial de la Shoah/collection Germaine Poliakov
Léon Poliakov, place and date unknown.

Poliakov was born in St. Petersburg. After the Revolution of 1917, his family emigrated to Paris, where he studied Law and Literature. He then worked as a journalist and, together with his father, published a German-language exile journal.

© Mémorial de la Shoah/collection Germaine Poliakov
Poliakov (middle) serving in the French Army, place unknown, 1939. During the war against France in 1940, he was captured by the Wehrmacht.

In 1940, he was captured by the Germans as a French soldier. He managed to escape shortly thereafter. Poliakov joined the Résistance and participated in rescuing Jewish children. In 1943, working together with Isaac Schneersohn in the French Underground, he co-founded the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine (CDJC, Centre for Contemporary Jewish Documentation), a historical commission to document the crimes against French Jews. Today, it is part of the Mémorial de la Shoah, the central Holocaust memorial site in France.

“I wanted to know why they wanted to kill me alongside with a million other human beings.”

Léon Poliakov
© Wiener Library Collections
The first joint publication of Poliakov and Joseph Wulf about Nazism, 1955. One year later, they published "Das Dritte Reich und seine Diener" (The Third Reich and Its Servants), and in 1959, "Das Dritte Reich und seine Denker" (The Third Reich and Its Thinkers).

Poliakov acted as an expert-advisor to the French delegation during the Nuremberg trials. In his function as the director for research at the CDJC, he explored the systematic destruction of Jews. His publication Le Bréviaire de la haine. Le IIIe Reich et les Juifs (Breviary of Hate. The Third Reich and the Jews) in 1952 offered one of the first comprehensive studies of the Holocaust. Between 1955 and 1958, Poliakov and Joseph Wulf published three volumes of documents on National Socialist perpetrators in German.
Until the day of his retirement, Poliakov taught at the Sorbonne and researched anti-Semitism and racism.

Léon Poliakov by Lea Feibusch

Extract from the online event for the special exhibition "Crimes Uncovered. The First Generation of Holocaust Researchers"