Annual Letter 1972

100 Ivyhurst Road
Buffalo, NY 14226
December 16, 1972

Dear Friends:

Our letter to you last year came from our sabbatical in Germany. The remainder of our stay in Göttingen was both very pleasant and very busy. We very much enjoyed the community in which we lived in Rauschenwasser a few miles outside of Göttingen which we described in our letter last year, a large house, owned by Mrs. Bokemeyer, a very dynamic Christian pacifist and socialist, who, after her nine children had married and moved away, filled her house with students and visiting scholars. The house, beautifully located in the rolling countryside, was full of persons and activity, of children and grandchildren of Mrs. Bokemeyer who came to visit, friends, former residents, pacifists, persons requiring care whom Mrs. Bokemeyer took in temporarily or permanently, and we had the benefits of the relative privacy of our corner of the house as well as the feeling of being part of a larger family.

Our days were very full. Six days a week Jonathan and Georg left the house a few minutes after 6 a.m. to deposit Jonathan at the station in Göttingen from where a school bus took Jonathan to the Waldorfschule in Kassel, Georg then stayed in town, drinking coffee until the libraries opened. Wilma preferred to carry dozens of library and interlibrary loan books to the relative quiet of Rauschenwasser. She has been studying the Jewish literary and cultural life in mid-nineteenth century Bohemia. Our travel after the trip to Poland which we described in our last letter was restricted to a number of overnight trips to various west German universities, an extended weekend trip to East Germany to see friends and historians in Leipzig, Halle, and Erfurt and a very nice ten days which the three of us spent in Southern Italy during Jonathan’s Easter vacation and which Georg combined with visiting various Italian historians. Wilma, who after all had born the burden of the work involved in the daily routine of life, went on a much deserved two week vacation to Greece with a German study group in May.

1971-1972 was a particularly interesting year to spend in west Germany. The universities still have somewhat of the atmosphere of the American universities in the late sixties. The last five years which saw the emergence of the student movement in West Germany also had finally brought the beginnings of reforms in the universities which until then had been governed quite autocratically by the full professors (Ordinarien). The reforms had brought pressures for further extension of student participation and for a more “radical” curriculum but also stiffened resistance by the old guard. The conservative media sought to create the impression that the universities had largely collapsed as centers of serious study and had become centers for the training of Marxist cadres. But except perhaps in a handful of isolated departments, e.g. in Berlin, this hardly was the case. The staid academic climate which we found in Göttingen ten years ago had dissolved. The old respect for the authority of the professor had been replaced by a very lively give and take which made for much more serious discussion and examination than in the past, even if at times these discussions were marred by an unfortunate penchant for dogmatism and clichees among some of the participants. The political scene was dominated by the heated national debate about the ratification of the treaties with Poland and the Soviet Union. The issues were much more charged with emotions than most Americans realized. They involved not only the final renunciation of the Eastern territories and the acceptance of the political division of Germany but also in a very fundamental way a conscious confrontation with long treasured national traditions and illusions which still after 1945 had prevented many Germans from honestly facing the consequences of the Third Reich. In their bitter attacks against the Eastern Treaties, the opposition parties laid the basis for their campaign against the Brandt government. They combined an appeal to nationalist sentiments with an attempt, not unfamiliar to us in this country, to mobilize fears about the supposed breakdown of law and order, political radicalization, the students, etc. They succeeded in bringing about a parliamentary crisis which forced Brandt to call early elections. We left Germany before the election campaign began. We are very much reassured by the extent of Brandt’s victory which we think reflects the basically democratic orientation of particularly the younger German voters.

Daniel, who had hoped to work in Buffalo for a few weeks before joining us in Göttingen for the summer, decided in view of the difficult job situation in Buffalo to come to Germany already in mid-May. The German economy is still booming and glad to absorb foreign labor and two days after his arrival in Göttingen Daniel was at work at a well paying but somewhat tedious night shift job on a production line which he soon exchanged for more pleasant outdoor work on the construction of the new Göttingen campus. Both Daniel and Jonathan left in mid-July, Daniel for Buffalo, Jonathan for an archeological dig in England, which he very much enjoyed, and a hosteling trip to Scotland and the Orkneys afterward. The two of us spent our final week in Germany in early August as resource persons at a conference on racism sponsored jointly by the British and West German Councils of Christians and Jews. The conference was an interesting dialogue, involving students, young teachers and social workers from several countries, but above all Jewish kids from London and a very articulate group of young Germans of the democratic Left. After a brief stay in London, where we visited relatives and friends and met up with Jonathan, we flew back to New York on August 15.

Since our return we have been very busy with teaching with relatively little time for research and writing. Jonathan is back in high school; he is a junior now. Jeremy, who is home at present for the holidays, will receive his B.A. this spring from Carleton, is seriously thinking of getting an A.M. in creative writing, where his interests lie, but also considering working for a year. The big news in our lives is that Daniel got engaged. We like Maggie, his fiancee, whom he met at York University very much and see them fairly often. Daniel, who accelerated his college work, expects his B.A. from York in Toronto this May and is seriously considering working for a year or two before going back to school. Georg’s father in Richmond, Va., is in good health and is now at age 78 for the first time seriously thinking of retiring and moving to Buffalo.

How does it feel to be back in the U.S. after a year abroad? Life seems a good deal more normal than it is described in the European press. Many of the pressures of a highly commercialized, technological society are certainly similar here and in West Germany, even if the historical background is different. Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly a much more disturbed society than West Germany today. There is also much more disillusionment here today about the possibilities of dealing with the irrationalities of a modern society than there is in Germany at this point, as the very different election results in the two countries reflect. Coming back to the U.S. we are struck by the growing apathy about the war in Viet Nam, even among some of our students no longer faced with the draft, and by the complacent assertions that the war is fading away in a year in which it has actually been escalated by both sides and possibly more human beings have been killed, maimed and displaced in Indochina than in any other year, including 1968, the year of the Tet Offensive. We are, of course, particularly disturbed by the hardening of racial barriers, the increasing resistance to attempts to overcome racial inequities, and the sharpening line between ghetto and suburb. Our own concerns have remained the same even if our activities have changed. Georg is still active in the NAACP but what can be done in Buffalo seems much more complex and what we can do as individuals much more limited. We are less active in the organized peace movement than before; on the other hand, Georg at least is as involved in peace activities as before but more on a person to person level through the Draft Counseling Center in Buffalo. He does less draft counseling now and counsels more men in the military, as he did already during his sabbatical in Germany.

The news from Paris today (Dec. 16) is that peace is not “in sight”. May we nevertheless hope and strive that 1973 will bring greater peace and a more humane world.

With all best wishes for the Holiday Season and the New Year, Georg and Wilma Iggers

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