Historian and author Jacques Presser (1899-1970) was an enthusiastic, highly original contemporary historian who regarded history writing as an art rather than an academic discipline. He came to fame as a committed chronicler of the murder of the Jews and as a much-loved professor, making frequent use of what he calls ‘ego documents’ – a term now commonly used for written sources of a distinctly personal character. Ondergang (Ashes in the Wind) was his last book, and it demanded the utmost of him.
In 1957, he published the novella De nacht der Girondijnen (The Night of the Girondists), which became an international beststeller. Its leading character is an assimilated Jewish teacher in the Dutch transit camp of Westerbork, who helped the Germans to select Jews for transport to Auschwitz, until he realised that, being a Jew, he was bound to share the fate of those he had sent away.