Leni Yahil

(nee Westphal) was born in 1912 in Düsseldorf, Germany and raised in Potsdam. Her studies in Germany were cut short when the Nazis ascended to power and she immigrated to Palestine in 1934. In 1936, she began her studies at the Hebrew University, where she majored in history, with a dual minor in Jewish history and Hebrew literature.

Besides editing the English-language monthly News from Israel, Yahil served as academic secretary to her university teacher Professor Benzion Dinur , Israel’s first Minister of Education and Culture (1951-1955).

While working on preparations for a programme of seminars as Berl Katznelson’s secretary, she met Chaim Hoffman (later Yahil; 1905-1974), who was one of the lecturers. They married in 1942 and had two sons: Amos, born in 1943 (now a professor of astronomy) and Jonathan, born in 1945 (fell in Jerusalem in the Six-Day War in 1967).

From the 1960s, Yahil played a regular role in other aspects of Holocaust study, the Encyclopedia Judaica, and received a number of major prizes. She received her doctorate on the dissertation “The Jews of Denmark During the Holocaust” at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1965. Her main work, in terms of content and scope, is The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry (1932-1945).


"Dear Hannah Arendt..."

Correspondence between Leni Yahil and Hannah Arendt, 1961-1971

When Hannah Arendt went to Jerusalem in the spring of 1961 to observe the Eichmann trial, she befriended Leni Yahil, a German-born historian and Holocaust researcher. They began a correspondence that alternates between personal, philosophical and political issues. In 1963, after the publication of Arendt’s articles on the Eichmann trials, it ended abruptly. Yahil’s attempt to revive the correspondence eight years later failed: their friendship did not withstand the “Arendt controversy”.

Read in Journals