Independent historian, Halik Kochanski, has been named the winner of the Wolfson History Prize this evening for her sweeping history of resistance in wartime Europe: Resistance: The Underground War in Europe, 1939-45.
Halik Kochanski was named the winner of the Wolfson History Prize 2023 at a ceremony at Claridge’s in London, out of a shortlist of five other works considered for the UK’s most prestigious history writing prize.
Bringing untold accounts of wartime resistance to light, Resistance is the first English-language history of resistance to study the whole of Europe, uncovering powerful human stories that have been overlooked across the continent.
The book delves into the reasons that people chose to resist the Third Reich and the methods they used, from partisan warfare in the occupied Soviet Union to dangerous acts of insurrection in the Netherlands.
In Resistance Halik Kochanski reveals remarkable achievements of ordinary people and the formidable challenges that they faced amid oppression.
Celebrating the best historical non-fiction books from the past year, the Wolfson History Prize is the most valuable history writing prize in the UK, awarding a total of £75,000. The winner receives £50,000, and each of the five shortlisted authors receives £5,000.
Historians Mary Beard and Sudhir Hazareesingh joined the judging panel this year, working alongside fellow judges Richard Evans, Carole Hillenbrand, Diarmaid MacCulloch, and chair David Cannadine to narrow down the very best history writing in the UK from the past year to a shortlist of six books, before selecting one overall winner.
The judges commented on the Wolfson History Prize 2023 winner, Resistance: The Underground War in Europe 1939-1945 by Halik Kochanski: “Unveiling lesser-known acts of defiance, this is a remarkable history of pan-European resistance to the Nazis. Through diverse sources and captivating storytelling, it presents a compelling exploration of this critical era.”
David Cannadine, Chair of the Wolfson History Prize judges said: ‘Resistance is impressive in its breadth, blending macro and micro history into a single narrative. This book does more than recount the past; it breathes life into forgotten voices and untold tales of bravery, illuminating the spirit of ordinary people who challenged oppression.
‘Through meticulous research and powerful writing, Halik Kochanski highlights the indomitable courage of those who resisted the Nazis. In our own times of conflict and instability, Resistance is a timely winner of the Wolfson History Prize, and we offer our warmest congratulations to Halik.’
Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation said: ‘For over half a century, the Wolfson History Prize has celebrated history writing that is rooted in excellent research and which captivates readers. Resistance joins a rollcall of winners that achieve both – and with considerable elegance. Halik Kochanski presents an overarching analysis of European resistance during the Second World War, without ever losing a sharp focus on the human narratives that lie at its heart.‘
Since its publication in 2022, praise for Resistance has included:
- “The best book about the subject I have ever read.” (Max Hastings, Sunday Times)
- “Ground-breaking … a superb, myth-busting survey of the many ways in which the subjugated peoples of Europe tried to fight back.” (Saul David, Daily Telegraph)
- “A full and nuanced account of all the different forms of resistance… a timely book.” (Times Literary Supplement)
- “An excellent comparative study of wartime resistance in all its forms.” (BBC History)
Bringing new stories from history to the forefront, and challenging readers to rethink accepted historical narratives, the books shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2023 were:
- African and Caribbean People in Britain: A History by Hakim Adi (Allen Lane)
- The World the Plague Made: The Black Death and the Rise of Europe by James Belich (Princeton University Press)
- The Perils of Interpreting: The Extraordinary Lives of Two Translators between Qing China and the British Empire by Henrietta Harrison (Princeton University Press)
- Resistance: The Underground War in Europe 1939-1945 by Halik Kochanski (Allen Lane)
- Vagabonds: Life on the Streets of Nineteenth Century London by Oskar Jensen (Duckworth Books)
- Portable Magic: A History of Books and their Readers by Emma Smith (Allen Lane)
Recognising books that combine excellence in research with readability for a general audience, over the past 51 years, the annual Wolfson History Prize has championed the finest history writing by historians including Simon Schama, William Dalrymple, Amanda Vickery and Clare Jackson. Previous winners of the Wolfson History Prize include Antony Beevor for Stalingrad, Antonia Fraser for The Weaker Vessel: Woman’s Lot in Seventeenth-Century England and Sudhir Hazareesingh for Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture. The 2022 prize was won by Clare Jackson for Devil-Land: England Under Siege, 1588-1688.
The Wolfson History Prize is run and awarded by the Wolfson Foundation, an independent charity with a focus on research and education.
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