Annual Letter 1987

100 Ivyhurst Road
Buffalo, NY 14226
November 27, 1987

Dear Friends:

Before we enter the final busy period of the semester, we wanted to write you and bring you up to date on our lives during this past year. Shortly after we wrote you last year, we had a very nice gathering here of family and friends to celebrate my sixtieth birthday. A few days later we left for Bielefeld in West Germany where we stayed for almost eight months. Bielefeld was a different experience from any we have had. I was associated with a research project at the ZIF (the Center for Interdisciplinary Research at the University of Bielefeld). A whole team of researchers worked on a common topic, a comparative study of middle class (bürgerlich) society in nineteenth-century Europe. Approximately thirty scholars from a variety of disciplines from Western and Eastern Europe (including the GDR), the United States and Israel were in residence for longer periods of time in the Center which had its own complex of apartments and studios, its conference rooms and library, and its own swimming pool of which I took advantage daily. In addition a number of international conferences related to the project were held at the Center. We were located at the very edge of town, between the university – founded in the early 1970’s with a strong stress on interdisciplinary studies and housed in one huge building with a good library, which unlike other libraries in Europe has open stacks and remains open until l a.m. – and the Teutoberg Forest. There was intense pressure to work. Every Tuesday at least one paper by a member of the group was discussed. The working atmosphere was good. There were constant informal discussions and a formal session on Tuesdays at which each at some time offered his or her work for mutual criticism. Support services were excellent, secretarial and xeroxing, and a chauffeur brought the researchers to other research libraries and archives. We thus had an opportunity about once a month to spend a day in Göttingen where we combined library work with seeing friends. My own topic consisted of a comparative analysis of the political cultures within which historians in Germany and France worked in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. My work involved several trips to Paris, supported by the Center, to use archives, libraries and consult scholars there. My Bielefeld topic fitted well into my larger project of a social and intellectual history of history as a discipline in the Western world since the Enlightenment. I thought that Jurgen Kocka, the Bielefeld social historian who directed the project, did an excellent job in gathering a group of persons which included not only established senior, but also promising younger scholars in search of positions and a large proportion of women.

I very much enjoyed the stay in Bielefeld. Not disturbed by teaching obligations, I was able to do a considerable amount of writing. Wilma felt less well integrated into the team, although she attended most of the Tuesday sessions, partly because she was not a member of the project, partly because her interests were different from the strongly analytical thrust of the project, but partly also because some of the members, no matter how emancipated, perhaps regarded her primarily as an accompanying spouse rather than as a productive scholar. She also achieved a lot. Her book on the Bohemian Jews, which appeared the previous year, continued to receive very positive reviews in the daily press and on the radio and she was invited to a number of lectures and readings in West Germany and in the GDR. Various people in the community in Bielefeld invited us either socially or for discussions, the latter in church groups. On Passover I conducted the seder service for the minuscule Jewish congregation since there was no one else who could conduct it. Our travel was either directly research connected, like our trips to Paris, or involved lectures which gave us opportunities to discuss our work but which also gave us an occasion to see friends in West Germany, France, England, Switzerland and Italy. Twice we went to the GDR to lecture, once to Berlin and once for a week to Leipzig, where we now have quite a circle of good friends. Wilma interestingly was invited to give a reading from her book to a church group in Dresden.

We left Bielefeld the second week in August and then spent two and a half weeks in Australia. We both had had a long standing invitation to lecture there and took this opportunity before our return to Buffalo to go there. We saw only a very small corner of the country but this rather intensively – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Wilma went north of Melbourne to visit a fascinating Czech Jewish family on a farm; I spent a day in Canberra. In Brisbane we attended the biennial meeting of European historians, a very pleasant meeting which gave us an opportunity to become acquainted with the relatively small group of people in Australia working in the field. Not only from an intellectual but also from a human point of view the trip was rewarding. In Sydney we met Konrad Kwiet and his group of colleagues and students working on German and German-Jewish history. At the house of our good friend John Moses in Brisbane, who had arranged our trip, we were able to get something of a feeling of Australian life. We spent three very relaxing days in the mild Florida like winter climate in his apartment on an island off the coast of Brisbane. The high point, however, was meeting my cousin and family and my aunt in Sydney. Except for two very brief meetings, I had not seen my cousin since we were children in Germany. Despite the fact that we have had very different careers – he became a business man – we discovered how much we had in common in our intellectual and social interests and commitments.

On Sunday August 30, we returned to Buffalo in time for the opening of the semester the following day. We found our house which had been rented for two years to an Israeli physician family here on a research grant with four kids in good shape but still with a lot of reorganizing to do. Our basement was full of books and papers which I had to move from the university when our department moved into smaller quarters and other materials accumulated during two years in Germany and awaited sorting. Wilma has gone on partial retirement at Canisius – she will teach a half load, which is still two courses, each fall and will have each spring free. At the same time she is very busy with further research and writing – she has signed a contract to write a book, a collection of biographies of several Prague born Jewish women of the turn of the century, and is now negotiating with an American publisher about an English translation of her book on the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia which she would translate. I am back in the routine of teaching – which involves a fairly heavy load of doctoral candidates, several from overseas – and have been involved in organizing several conferences and in coediting several journals which have all taken time from my writing but enable me to maintain international contacts. I am trying to meet a deadline by the end of next summer on a small book which I am writing for a German publisher on my research of the past two years. In connection with the German Studies association which this year met in St. Louis in October we had a number of East and West German visitors here in Buffalo. Since 1982 I have coordinated the visits of East German scholars to the German Studies Association, which brings together historians, Germanists and persons from other disciplines, and have arranged panels involving participants from both German states and North America. Some of the participants then come to Buffalo to participate in my seminars and meet colleagues and students. This fall we also started the first exchange of advanced doctoral students, one going in each direction, between the Academy of Sciences of the GDR and our history department.

We have very much enjoyed seeing our children and grandchildren after our long absence. Jonathan lives about five minutes from here and we see him almost every day. He continues to work for the county and to administer the houses he owns. Daniel, Janet and children have been here twice for a weekend since we came back and we have seen them in Toronto. Toronto is close enough for Daniel to come down for a day, as he did yesterday, Thanksgiving. Sarah, who just turned ten, we, of course, know well, but Kelly was still very young when we were here briefly last year and Adam will just turn two next month with both, including Adam, we can now communicate. Kelly even exchanges letters with us. Janet works again for the ombudsman; Daniel is looking for a new position after four years with the Law Society. He is s trained lawyer with little interest in law practice but a good deal of interest in writing and social problems. He is about to start an evening appointment as a justice of the peace to which he looks forward. Sarah has moved with her mother, Maggie, Maggie’s husband Rick, and her half brother, Jeff, to Owen Sound which unfortunately is almost three hours by car from Toronto. Nevertheless Sarah spends almost every second weekend in Toronto. The end of December Sarah, Maggie and family plan to visit us here. Last time they did – before we went to Germany – they were caught here by a snow storm and we had a very enjoyable, unintended vacation together. Jeremy has just moved to Minneapolis from Detroit. For the past several years he led a dual existence with Detroit as his main base as he wrote a weekly food column for the Detroit Free Press but also wrote for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. As this involved a lot of commuting, he has now decided to work full time for the Minneapolis paper; also because he still has many friends there from his student days and has not fully given up the prospect of writing a dissertation. His articles have combined interest in nutrition with broader social interests and always have reflected a good sense of humor. He has traveled quite a bit during the past year, to Nicaragua and Europe, and shall be going to the Cameroons in December; these trips inevitably result in stories.

We enjoy being back in Buffalo but also look forward to seeing many of our European friends this summer when we shall be in Göttingen from early June to late August. But before leaving, we intend to attend the annual picnic in nearby Canada the first Sunday in June when all those surviving who emigrated with Wilma’s family from Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939, but also the next generation, their children, and grandchildren assemble.

Healthwise we have been fortunate, considering our age. Wilma, however, was in the hospital for observation for several days in early October after she had had chest pains which fortunately turned out to be not an infarct but a recurrence of the relatively mild angina pectoris she has had for several years. Nevertheless, it was a warning sign. While she has not noticeably cut down on her activities, she as well as I have begun to watch our diets to cut down on cholesterol and calories which is a harder sacrifice for her than for a culinary barbarian like me.

The year promises to end with the first major breakthrough in nuclear disarmament. Let us hope that this is the beginning of a process of detente and reconciliation. May the coming year be a good one for all of you in health, happiness, and peace. With best wishes for the holiday season,

Georg and Wilma Iggers

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