100 Ivyhurst Road
Buffalo, New York 14226
December 15, 1967
Once again the time has come when we are looking forward to hearing from our friends whom we left behind in Canada, Arkansas, Louisiana, France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere.
Wilma enjoys her teaching at Canisius College. This year for a change she has no beginners’ German courses, but literature courses instead. The academic atmosphere at this Jesuit college is increasingly open and ecumenical – even the theology department has now changed its name to the department of religious studies and a rabbi has been added to the faculty. The political conservatism of the students and much of the faculty has given way somewhat under the pressures of the Viet Nam conflict and an active peace movement has come into existence on the campus. Despite her responsibilities at home, and at school, Wilma is finding some time for research. Her book on Karl Kraus appeared this fall. She has become increasingly interested in recent years in the Jewish writers, both Czech and German, in Bohemia at the turn of the century and is currently working on a paper on Jewish themes in Czech literature since 1945.
Georg continues to be pleased with the university. Rapid strides are being made in building what is hoped will become a major graduate school. Despite the nominally light teaching load, committee involvements, mainly related to the expansion of the university and the department, leave less time for research and writing than one would expect. Nevertheless, Georg was able to complete revisions on his manuscript on German historical thought which he began during our year in Germany some years ago, and which is finally in press.
Jeremy, now 16, and Danny, 14, are growing up quickly. Both are taller than Wilma. Both demand more independence than we are quite ready to grant. The social isolation which all three experienced after our move to suburban Amherst has now been broken at least for the older two. Jeremy encountered a circle of likeminded friends when he entered senior high school. During the last school year he was involved with the debate team and the chess club. Chess is still his passion, but much of his spare time is occupied with editing an unofficial – the kids like to call it “underground” – high school paper called the Dissenter. He has little free time this year. The academic demands of the advanced placement courses he is taking often keep him up till late. He has suddenly expressed an interest in entering college after this year – he is in llth grade but will have completed all requirements except 12th grade English which he wants to take this summer – and while his desire makes some sense, the idea of his possibly leaving home already next September came to us as somewhat of a shock.
Danny and Jonathan are much less ambitious students. Danny has one good friend. He is very much interested in automobile designs and is constantly modeling cars. He has expressed an interest in studying architecture. Jonathan is a faithful supporter of the library club at his school and captain of his bowling team. His tremendous consumption of books on history – particularly military history – has now given way to an interest in sports, unfortunately almost entirely as a passive spectator rather than as an active participant.
The high point of the year was again our trip to Europe. Georg, who has worked extensively on West German historiography since 1945, expressed an interest to historians during our brief visit to East Germany last year to become better acquainted with the status of historical scholarship there. The result was a promise of an invitation to visit the University of Halle and lecture at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig. Despite the skepticism of some of our American colleagues, the invitations came through. Georg went in mid-June – the children were still in school – to attend the weeklong celebration of the 150th anniversary of the merger of the Universities of Halle and Wittenberg, an occasion which gave him marvelous opportunities to meet historians and philosophers from all over East Germany and Eastern Europe. At Halle he was invited by a group of Polish historians to lecture at the University of Poznan next May; one of the Poznan historians has since then been invited to lecture in Buffalo. Wilma and the children joined Georg ten days later and accompanied him to East Berlin, where Georg interviewed historians at the Academy of Science and the Humboldt University and both of us spoke with writers, saw two Brecht plays at the Berlin Ensemble and went to Die Distel, the satirical cabaret. Jeremy and Danny, whose German is still quite fluent, spent a day in an East Berlin high school. From Berlin we proceeded to Leipzig where Georg delivered two lectures, both followed by heated discussions. It is still rare for a non-Marxist historian to speak in East Germany and attendance at both of these lectures was restricted to professors and a select group of students. From Leipzig we went to Dresden which has been very nicely rebuilt, and the Zwinger restored. Before crossing into West Germany, we stopped in Eisenach and hiked up to the Wartburg.
Our visit to East Germany was both encouraging and discouraging. The reception we received everywhere, whether in university circles or elsewhere, was extremely cordial. We saw everyone we wanted to see. It was Georg’s impression that historical scholarship has become more sophisticated and less dogmatic. The university people, who represent very much of a privileged class in the supposedly classless society, seemed on the whole much more satisfied with conditions than non-university people, but even here the morale appeared somewhat improved since our previous visits. The economy is finally getting on its feet. There is construction everywhere, reflecting beginnings of an air of prosperity. On the other hand, the cultural and intellectual scene still seems bleak. There is little sign of a thaw. Censorship and travel restrictions not only isolate East Germany from the West, but also from the cultural ferment in the more liberal of the Communist countries. Writers unwilling to conform told us that they could no longer publish their manuscripts. We were particularly dismayed by the character of the anti-Israel campaign which was being waged by press, radio, TV, and street banners. On the whole, this campaign was unpopular, even among party members with whom we spoke. It is hardly fitting for a German state to identify the Israeli government as the heirs of the Nazis and compare the Israeli conduct of the war with the Nazi crimes at Auschwitz. Explaining Nazism as a function of “monopoly Capitalism,” the East German government holds that it has completely cleansed itself of the sins of the past. There is none of the serious soul-searching which strikes one in West Germany.
After four pleasant weeks in Göttingen, where Georg used the libraries, we spent a week in Czechoslovakia. The contrast with East Germany is striking. The economy, collectivized to a much greater degree than in East Germany, is still stagnant despite reform plans to decentralize production and introduce some of the aspects of a market economy. Criticism of the government is even more general than in East Germany on economic and political grounds. On the other hand political relaxation has gone much further than in East Germany. Culturally and intellectually Czechoslovakia is alive and again very much a member of the international community. Ideology plays an increasingly small role in the arts and in scholarship. Inspite of severe restrictions on the export of currency, Czechs travel again abroad. Prague is full of tourists from East and West, but mostly West. On each successive visit – Georg was there in 1964, both of us in 1966 – we have been struck by changes. This summer, however, relaxation reached a critical point. Everyone was talking of the Writers’ Congress in early June which had led to a direct confrontation of intellectuals, demanding further liberalization, and the government. This confrontation, however, revealed the limits of intellectual freedom. Later in the summer, after we had left, the government disciplined various writers and took control of Literarni Noviny, the excellent and outspoken weekly of the Writers’ Congress.
Buffalo like many other American cities had its riots this summer, not comparable to the explosions in Newark or Detroit, but nevertheless expressive of the deep frustrations which exist in the Negro community. Georg is still a member of the executive committee of the Buffalo branch of the NAACP but the branch has been relatively inactive. There are few other channels of interracial communication left. Georg is still very much involved in the exchange program between the University and Philander Smith College in Little Rock, which is now beginning its third year. During the past year a regular stream of consultants traveled between the two campuses, Philander Smith faculty members came here on short-term visits and for study, and two Buffalo graduate students have gone to little Rock to teach. With help of the School of Education at Buffalo, a center for remedial educations has been set up at Philander Smith College. A major part of Philander Smith’s freshman class is taking non-credit courses in this center in preparation for admission to regular college courses. For most students at Philander Smith College this will ultimately mean a five year B.A. The Committee at this campus concerned with this exchange is now trying to establish similar exchange arrangements with other colleges and to maintain close touch with SEEK programs preparing disadvantaged students in Buffalo for college work.
All of this seems almost irrelevant in the face of the stark tragedy of the war. And in the face of the war, our actions, whether contributing to ads or signing protests, appear so impotent, more expressions of conscience than effective opposition. At present both of us are helping to organise a draft counseling center in Buffalo and preparing to become counselors ourselves, a concern particularly close to our heart with three boys approaching draft age. Wilma has given a good deal of her time to the Buffalo Branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, of which she is president this year. This has not been easy because the members of the organization, like those of many peace and civil rights groups, are today very much divided on questions of aims and tactics. After having been for so many years in the left wing of the civil rights and peace movements in the South, we now find ourselves in the strange position of having to defend ourselves against the critics of the left. Under the pressure of the war and the tensions of the ghettoes, portions of the anti-war and civil rights movements have moved into directions which we cannot follow. We were deeply disturbed by the resolutions adopted at the New Politics conference in Chicago, both because of the nihilism and the lack of political realism implied by these resolutions. While there are many signs of sickness in American society, we still believe that there are elements of humanism and democracy in the American tradition which leave hope for evolutionary change to a more humane society. Perhaps this is too optimistic a view in the face of the horror of the war and the misery of the ghettoes. But violent confrontation is likely only to lead the protest movement to isolation from the main currents of public opinion and reduce it to political ineffectiveness. And violence, even where successful, has a tendency to corrupt the ends for which it is used.
In this difficult time of searching for meaningful action, our friend Heide Friedrich together with other Göttingen pacifists has initiated a tangible project. After a year of negotiations, they have succeeded in obtaining free places in Göttingen hospitals for four Vietnamese children so seriously wounded, both legs gone, lower jaw shot off, napalm burns, etc., that they cannot be adequately treated in Viet Nam. Göttingen is a major university medical center. Money is needed to transport the children from Viet Nam to Germany. If you would like to contribute, please make your check out to Frau Heide Friedrich, 34 Göttingen, Rasenweg ll, West Germany.
With best wishes to all of you for the Holiday Season and the New Year, the Iggers Family