3401 Rauschenwasser über Göttingen
Im Bökeler 2
November 21, 1971
It is cold and blowing outside, the first snow storm of the season, a good day to write this letter. We have been here in Rauschenwasser since the end of August, a beautiful small spot located idyllically below the ruin of a medieval castle about five miles north of Göttingen. Our landlady, who lost her husband in the war, built this house in the 1950s for her nine children and began filling it up with students and visiting scholars as her own children moved away. She herself is very much of a religious pacifist and socialist and her personality gives the whole house, which she regards as a community, a very definite atmosphere. At present there are German, French, and Latin American students living here and an interesting Moroccan couple, both historians of mathematics, just moved away.
We are very much enjoying Göttingen. We still have many friends here from our previous stay and visits to Göttingen - even Jonathan does - and enjoy the city which even now after considerable growth is small enough to be relaxing yet has the intellectual and cultural advantages of a major university town. We are actually quite busy, yet after the pressures of Buffalo this seems like a vacation, even if a working vacation. The last year was particularly busy for all of us. In addition, Georg also taught a seminar at the University of Rochester in preparation for our sabbatical and found his load of persons whom he counseled on conscientious objection and the draft steadily increasing. He is now counseling American CO’s in the military in Germany but the demands on his time are not as large as in Buffalo. Six days a week, he and Jonathan leave the house at 6:10 in the morning to meet the school bus in Göttingen which takes Jonathan to his school in Kassel. Georg then drinks coffee in town and reads until the library opens and then has a fairly uninterrupted day to do his research. Wilma partly works at home, partly in town and finds the demands of the household cutting into her time for reading and study. That’s what you call women’s lib. Jonathan has made a surprisingly smooth adjustment to the Freie Waldorf-Schule in Kassel. He is relearning German rapidly, now is beginning to understand well what goes on, and seems to feel fairly much at home in his school. Four days a week he is back in Göttingen by 2 p.m. but on Tuesdays and Fridays, he has school until 6 p.m. and then has to take the train back. Daniel came with us in August and then went back in time for the beginning of school This past year he was a freshman at Canisius but also took some freshman seminars at SUNY/Buffalo and now is a second year student in political science at York University in Toronto. Jeremy is back at Carleton College for his junior year as a philosophy major. He spent the Spring term with a group of Carleton students at the University of Caen in Normandy, then in July instead of returning straight home to the United States joined two other young people who were driving across Asia. He left the group in West Pakistan, proceeded by train through India to Nepal, and then made his way back via Bangkok, Hongkong, and Japan where he spent two weeks with friends in Kyoto. We unfortunately did not get to see him this way but we received a large number of extremely interesting letters from him with his impressions particularly of India, Thailand, and Japan.
It is interesting now to compare our impressions of Germany with those which we gathered when we last spent a year in Göttingen ten years ago. Then, in May 1961, we arrived at the time the Eichmann trial started in Jerusalem and intensified the reexamination of the past here in Germany. Even then we were optimistic about the future of German democracy even if guardedly so although many traditional thought patterns which disturbed us persisted. The changes are striking. A generation is now beginning to take over the positions of responsibility which had not yet grown to maturity when the Nazi regime collapsed An even younger generation has now grown to maturity which had not even been born in 1945. The result has been a marked democratization of political attitudes and more slowly of the social structure as well. The young people seem very similar to their counterparts in the U.S. in their attitudes and values, and appearance. Having grown up in a society of economic affluence, they look critically at the irrational aspects of this society. The rejection of the military and of arbitrary authority is even more pronounced than in the U.S. and the proportion of young men applying for conscientious objector status considerably higher even without the Viet Nam war. The apathetic atmosphere among the students ten years ago has been replaced by a high degree of political consciousness. At last under student pressure, the various state governments have carried through long needed reforms of the university. The atmosphere in seminars has changed with greater openness in discussion between students and professors. Ten years ago we were struck how many Germans, including Social Democrats, were willing to admit Germany’s responsibility for the crimes of the past, yet unwilling to recognize the consequences which resulted from these crimes, such as the division of Germany and the loss of the Eastern territories. Today these issues raise emotions to a much lesser extent and a majority of Germans appear to support Willy Brandt in his attempt to normalize relations with the East. Not all is necessarily well in Germany. Many of the problems of a consumer oriented highly technological society which have troubled the US have also been apparent here although perhaps less severely, pollution, rising crime, narcotics, etc., although West German society seems to be much less coming apart at the seams than ours and fascistoid attitudes less common in this country which has experienced fascism. The Neo-Nazis have collapsed but the Christian Democratic Party, now in opposition, has moved sharply to the right and in parliament and in the mass press is appealing to nationalist sentiment and red baiting. On the left the radical anti-authoritarian organizations of the late ‘60’s have given way on the campus to the highly authoritarian, East German oriented Spartakus. The Bremen state elections last month which resulted in an absolute majority for the Social Democrats, revealed quite clearly that a very large number of Germans repudiate both the nationalism and the anti-studentism of the right (the Christian Democrats had fought the elections on the issues of the treaties with Poland and Russia recognizing the Oder-Neisse line and of university reform) and the authoritarianism of the German Communist Party which for the first time entered the election.
As far as our work is concerned, Wilma has been catching up on her reading until now and is ready to start on her project on Jewish literature in Bohemia. Georg is working on a comparative study of trends in contemporary historical science. In this connection we have already have had an opportunity to go to France where in addition to speaking with historians we also saw many old friends again and later this week on the invitation of Polish historians shall go to Poznan, Cracow, and Warsaw. Georg’s book on German historiography appeared in paperback in Germany shortly before we arrived here and has led to a fair amount of discussion here. It is a critique of traditional establishment way of writing history here from which the younger generation of historians is now, however, rapidly moving away. We would like again to thank those of you who wrote letters in support of Daniel’s CO application. We believe that he has a very strong case. His application was turned down, however, without his being invited to a pre-classification interview. He has asked for a personal appearance with his draft board but under the new regulations will not have it until he has received his lottery number next year.
We shall be back in Buffalo on August 16. With the best wishes for the holiday season and a more peaceful and humane 1972, the Iggers
Dec. 10, 1971. We are back from Poland. The trip was very interesting and the hospitality wonderful. In many ways the country was very different from what we had expected in terms of our readings and very different from Czechoslovakia and East Germany.
We arrived in Poznan by train from Berlin on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 28. Prof. Topolski, our host, met us at the station and took us to his home where we were served a fantastic meal and later an equally excellent supper. Polish gastronomy is first rate anyway, we discovered. Prof. Topolski, in his early forties, is a leading member of a very interesting group of Polish economic and social historians and perhaps the most important theoretician and methodologist of history in Poland. His wife, too, is a historian. He talked with me extensively about his efforts and those of his colleagues to revise the positivistic and deterministic interpretations of Marx which have plagued Marxist thought in the past. The conclusions about the methodology of Marx in Das Kapital which he expressed in various articles he showed me were remarkably similar to the interpretation which I had presented in a lecture in West Berlin the previous Friday and which had been sharply critized by some of the orthodox Marxist students there. Before very long it was time to take the night train to Cracow for the annual business meeting of the Polish Historical Association.
I did not attend any of the sessions in Cracow since these were all in Polish but Prof. Topolski had suggested that this would be a good place to meet Polish historians and so it was. Wilma and Jonathan went to Auschwitz for the day, about 40 minutes from Cracow. I spent most of the morning walking through the city with one of the historians from Cracow, talking about Polish historiography but also about conditions generally. Cracow, the medieval capital of Poland almost unscathed by the war, is one immense museum. I was interested in the street scene which seemed much less proletarianized than in the Czech or East German cities we know. There are few automobiles, but otherwise an outward air of prosperity. People are well dressed, there seems to be no shortage of food, and the shop windows, already decorated for Christmas, are full of commodities. I was struck by
the number of elegant cafes. In the cafe at the old market square renovated in the Jugendstil of the turn of the century one saw a public and felt an atmosphere which reminded much more of the Austria of Franz Joseph, of which Cracow once was a part, than any cafe in present day Vienna. The prosperity may, however, be misleading. As my guide pointed out, housing is still extremely scarce and the prices of textiles and consumers goods are quite high in relation to the wages. As in East Germany and much more so than in Czechoslovakia there is a wide span in incomes. The intellectual constitute very much of a privileged class. While some workers earn as little as 1,500 zlotys, many of the professors earn 6,000 or more a month. The latter can generally afford an automobile, often weekend cottages, trips abroad and maids, the former even with both husbands and wives working - as generally is the case - only a modest existence. Poverty, which afflicted pre-war Poland, seems to have virtualy disappeared, however. Every day life seems much more normal than in Czechoslovakia and working morale, at least since the reforms which followed last winter’s unrests, much higher.
In Cracow, as in Poznan and Warsaw, but perhaps even more so in Cracow, one is very aware of the links with the past, There is little on the surface to remind one in Cracow that one is in a communist country but one is constantly aware of being in a Catholic country. There are nuns, churches – incidentally well attended on Sundays by young as well as old – and religious bookstores. In Poznan and Warsaw the attempt has been made successfully to rebuild the old sections which were destroyed during the war stone by stone and to recapture the atmosphere of medieval Poland. There is an intense consciousness of the national past, hence also very much historical work and excellent historical museums. In no country in Europe in the seventeenth, eighteenth and even under partition in the nineteenth century did the nobility play as central a role in life and thought style of the cultured Polish nobility has maintained itself in Polish public consciousness until today. Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon we were taken by Polish colleagues to restaurants which cannot be matched in Buffalo. In talking with Polish historians, the strong continuities with the pre-war past, not only as regards historical scholarship but also the composition of the historical profession became apparent. In contrast to East Germany, where the historians represent parts of a new elite of whom the older ones have been often old-time activists persecuted by the Nazis and the younger ones often have come from working class backgrounds, many of the Polish historians come from old scholarly families. They live well but free of the nouveau riche manners of many of their East German colleagues. They are also much more cosmopolitan. The close scholarly ties with France, and to a lesser extent with the U.S., continue. There was no purge of “bourgeois” historians comparable to what occured in other Communist countries. Topolski and others were trained after the war by historians like Bujak and Rutkowski who before the war laid the foundations for modern Polish social history. Since 1956 research has been quite free of Marxism in its dogmatic form. Some highly interesting and original work is being done by Polish social historians using highly modern methods and collaborating closely with the social science oriented historians of the Paris Annales circle. Indeed many of the historians I spoke with had been in residence as students or visiting scholars in Paris.
Tuesday morning we were taken on a tour of Wawel, the residence of the Polish kings with its museums. Tuesday afternoon we returned to Poznan by train with a group of professors. Wednesday Prof. Topolski took us on a ride through the Polish countryside around Poznan. There was less mechanization than in the West but the farms, almost all privately owned, seemed prosperous. Tuesday evening we went to the Opera. The opera, Offenbach’s Orpheus in the underworld, was fun - even if I did not understand the Polish – and well done. It was interesting to watch the audience which was much more democratic than in the West - many persons who were obviously workers, students, soldiers, etc. The seats were amazingly inexpensive. Thursday I spent most of the day at the university, visiting the history department and library, talking with students, sitting in on a class Prof. Topolski teaches in English for the American exchange students. Poznan has a two way exchange program with the University of Kansas. Many of the American students are graduates from Catholic high schools, most of them of Polish descent, including a nun from Buffalo. In the evening I gave my lecture, on trends in most recent German historiography. The atmosphere at the discussion was much less ideologically charged than in West Berlin. Over dinner a group of us then continued the discussion until about midnight.
At 5:40 Friday morning, Prof. Topolski and I took the train to Warsaw. Wilma and Jonathan followed later. Prof. Wyczanski met us at the station and then took me on a tour of Warsaw. Warsaw had been almost totally destroyed by the Nazis after the 1944 uprising. Miles and miles of new building along broad avenues have been erected, some in the somewhat grotesque style of the Stalin period, much among more modern lines. Warsaw makes an elegant impression. We then drove to the monument for the dead of the Jewish Ghetto, an impressive monument to the martyrs in Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew inscription. This was in sharp contrast to Auschwitz where Wilma told me almost all the commemorative tablets contained Polish names and there was almost no mention or the fact that the vast majority of those murdered were Jews. Jewish life in a country, where once more than three
million Jews lived, has disappeared with almost no trace, even more completely than in West Germany or in Czechoslovakia where a very conscious effort has been made to keep alive the memory of Jewish culture. Prof. Wyczanski stressed that it is impossible to study Polish history without considering the role of the Jews and that yet today there are virtually no Polish scholars who know Yiddish or have an understanding of Jewish traditions. Of the 30,000 Jews who still remained in Poland in 1968, many left after the anti-Semitic acts by the government which accompanied the repression of the student unrest of the year. From the Ghetto we drove to the beautifully reconstructed old city and the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences. Here I spent the rest of the morning talking with Wyczanski, who is one of the very interesting Polish historians who have worked closely with the Paris Annales school, about his work. I then had an opportunity to talk briefly with some of the students at the English and American Studies institute of the University. It was much easier linguistically, of course, to communicate with these students than with those in Poznan. Nevertheless a very similar picture emerged. As in Czechoslovakia, the students are surprisingly well informed and have been little effected by the indoctrination of the school system They are very critical of the university system, which they consider antiquated and unimaginative, too much lecturing, too few discussions, are very critical of the governmental restrictions of free expression, and critical of the government’s economic policies, although the gap between the students and the government has probably narrowed since the workers’ riots last winter toppled Gomulka. To us it appears that they too uncritically admire the life style of the West. Nevertheless one does not have the same feeling of the total alienation of students and intellectuals from the state as in Czechoslovakia. There is a strong feeling of Polish national consciousness which seems to hold the country together, a consciousness deeply rooted in the past.
In the evening we were at the Wyczanskis. Jonathan enjoyed himself talking with their twenty year old son, who speaks English fairly well, a university student who managed to convince the government that he is a conscientious objector – something extremely difficult in Poland – and is doing some sort of alternate service. Wilma got into a long conversation with their fourteen year old son in a mixture of Czech and Polish. Wilma managed to learn quite a bit of Polish before our trip – there are many similarities between Polish and Czech – and to make herself quite well understood in Poland. Saturday morning Mrs. Wyczanski picked up Wilma and Jonathan and Wilma in this way was able to get some insight into Polish everyday life. I went back to the Institute to continue my conversations. I had had a very informative conversation on Friday afternoon with Prof. Ryzska, one of the leading Polish scholars of modern Germany, and om Saturday Prof. Grabski, a leading Polish historiographer, came from Lodz to see me. All of this was very helpful and revealed a historical profession and scholarship which is open, undogmatic, and critical.
We had planned to take the night train from Warsaw to Berlin. The Topolskis, however, urged us to stop in Poznan for a party that evening. I am glad we did. There were about twenty-five people there to celebrate Mrs. Topolski’s nameday, many of these people non-university people, although all fairly much persons in positions of responsibility. I wish we had had more opportunity to talk with workers. Wilma did on the train from Poznan to Warsaw when she interpreted between a French communist who praised the regime to the sky and the Polish passengers who were very critical. The discussion at the party, like all discussions we had in Poland, was very free. All the persons there, including the secretary of the union at the university (presumably therefore a party functionary) stressed the need for political liberalization and more pragmatic economic planning. There was a complaint about what one person called unemployment in Poland - everyone gets a job but often busywork because for many skilled people there are no jobs open in which they can use their skill. People seemed to enjoy themselves as at few American parties. There were folk songs, songs parodying Russian songs and making fun of the Russian communist [?] excellent food and drink. We had a long talk with a chemist, trained in the Soviet Union, who still often travels to scientific institutes there, and who incidentally has also worked in Canada, who said that while the general atmosphere was much more conservative in the Soviet Union than in Poland, even there many of the younger scientists are very undogmatic in their outlook and speak of the need of greater liberalization.
We left on Sunday for West Berlin with many impressions, often superficial, which we find it difficult to integrate into a coherent picture. Nevertheless we had the feeling that Poland is a country very much alive. The years since l945 have seen the virtual disappearance of poverty and many social inequalities. We were impressed by the tremendous reconstruction of a devastated country without the basis of industrial capacity and skill which Germany had. The year 1968 with its governmentally sponsored anti-intellectualism and anti-Semitism again clearly demonstrated the limits of freedom in Poland. On the other hand, Polish thought and much of Polish life has developed relatively independently of governmental intervention. The years since 1956 have been extreme creative years in Polish culture and scholarship. Polish history appears to have been more powerful than any political doctrines or parties. This has probably had both its good and its bad sides. A class system seems to reassert itself which has many similarities with the past. On the other hand, the creative sources of Polish culture remain very much intact.
We arrived in West Berlin shortly after the police had broken up with tear gas a demonstration protesting the death the night before of a militant anarchist in what the police described as a shoot out. From this morning’s newspaper, however, it appears that the anarchist was unarmed and that there was no shoot out.
Please don’t be surprised at the US stamp on the envelope. We are sending this letter to Buffalo for distribution.