"Religion dominated our lives," he wrote. "Mass, the adoration of the Holy Sacrament, and meditations marked the essential moments of our days. . . .
"The visit to various churches on Holy Thursday elated us, and the Good Friday services overwhelmed us: we were literally following in the footsteps of the Savior, imagining His sufferings, weeping at His death, exulting at the news of His Resurrection.
"I had passed over to Catholicism, body and soul. The fact that the misdeeds of the Jews were mentioned during Holy Week did not trouble me in the slightest."
Soon after he entered the school in the fifth grade, the boy decided on his new vocation: "I wanted to become a priest."
It was three years later, during a talk with a Jesuit priest who had befriended him, that the teenager's ambition began unraveling.
"Didn't your parents die at Auschwitz?" the priest asked.
Friedlander did not even understand the question because the nuns who ran his school had shielded him from the details of his mother and father's disappearance.
"What did this name mean? Where was Auschwitz?" Friedlander wrote. "He (the priest) must have understood then that I knew almost nothing of the extermination of the Jews."
Over the next couple of days, Friedlander remembers, he and the priest "talked at great length about what had happened" in the concentration camps. "For the first time, I felt myself to be Jewish--no longer despite myself or secretly, but through a sensation of absolute loyalty," Friedlander wrote.
As a result of this unsettling experience, Friedlander began to read about Judaism and to ask questions. A short time later he went to a Zionist youth camp where he accepted the argument that a Jewish state was necessary to allow Jews to take their fate into their hands.
In 1948, he said, at age 15, he dropped out of a public school, lied about his age and boarded a ship of 900 men who sailed to Israel to fight for the creation of a Jewish state. His motives for making the journey, he said, were to join "my personal fate to a common lot . . . dissolving my personal anxieties in the enthusiasm of a group." When he arrived, however, authorities discovered his age and an uncle was phoned to pick him up.
He has remained in Israel since that date, taking time out to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Geneva in 1963 and for numerous lectures and teaching assignments abroad.
He won his nation's top award for an educator--the Israel Prize--in 1983 and has been a leading participant at international meetings on the Holocaust. While he is here, Friedlander will teach an undergraduate course on "The Third Reich and the Jews" as well as a graduate research seminar.
According to Herbert Morris, dean of humanities at UCLA, the interest on the Holocaust chair endowment may be used to pay for research, books, scholarly trips, assistants or other expenses, but Friedlander's basic salary of $56,800 for two quarters will be paid by the state.
That salary level, Morris said, is reserved for scholars and professors of the highest distinction.
The dean said Friedlander, who was selected after an exhaustive search, fits that category because he would bring unusual breadth to his assignment. Specifically, Morris referred to Friedlander's expertise in researching archival materials and in the new specialty of constructing psychological profiles of historical figures, as well as sophistication in philosophy and the criticism of literature and art.
He has made extensive use of archival materials in several of his books, Friedlander said, including "Pius XII and the Third Reich," in which he argues that during World War II the Pontiff did not speak out to save the Jews, and that his silence was tragic because his voice could possibly have made a difference in their survival. Another study, "History and Psychoanalysis," explores the possibilities and limits of psycho-history.
Friedlander hopes to bring into the classroom his insights on the destruction of the Jews, which he thinks has an important lesson to teach.
"It's an essential chapter in modern history," he said. "A crucial chapter. There is hardly a period which can go beyond those events in their significance about what I would call the ultimate destructive potentiality of human beings in certain circumstances."