Georg and Wilma Iggers
100 Ivyhurst Road
Buffalo, NY 14226 USA
November 28, 1989
We write this letter this year deeply moved by the rapid and in many ways astonishing events which have taken place in the last several months in Eastern Europe, events to which Wilma and I felt particularly close. Preceding the events in East Germany and Czechoslovakia was the democracy movement in Beijing and the bloody repression which took us by surprise, particularly in view of the steady opening which we thought to have observed since our stay in China five years ago. The doctoral candidate with whom I work most closely here is from Beijing, has been involved with the dissident movement, and saw developments in China already sufficiently pessimistically before the blood bath to apply for asylum in the U.S. Our ties to East Germany and Czechoslovakia are, as you know, much closer. We were both in East Berlin and Leipzig in June and then spent a very relaxing week along a pond in the Bohemian Forest in Czechoslovakia with Wilma afterwards going for two weeks to Prague in connection with her work and my stopping once more briefly in East Germany. Never in the last twenty-some years since we have regularly visited both countries did we sense such discontent among our friends and acquaintances, also on the part of persons who in the past had refrained from criticism, but also a deep sense of despair that the regimes would resist all changes with force. In East Germany the TV repeatedly showed the official Chinese accounts of the events in Tienanmen Square but groups were already meeting regularly, such as in the weekly peace vigils at St. Nicholas Church in Leipzig, to protest government policies and call for reform. Wilma, who knows people in Prague from a broad variety of backgrounds, including active dissidents found an even starker pessimism. Here in Buffalo this fall we have been able to follow the events in East Germany in close contact with two young historians from East Berlin, part of an exchange which I had arranged, who left East Germany just as the refugee stream commenced and who will be returning home next month, as well as a young woman, a Lutheran minister from East Berlin, who joined her American husband who is a doctoral candidate in our department. We are, of course, overjoyed by the movement to democracy in both countries yet are uneasy with the repeated assertions one hears by public figures and in the media here about the victory of capitalism. Certainly the bureaucratized economies of the socialist countries with the accompanying repressive political apparatus have proved to be bankrupt, but we have no reason for complacency in our American society. The gap between the affluent majority and the impoverished minority has been steadily growing here, so that we have created conditions of the third world in our own cities. One of the most hopeful developments of the past year has been the lessening of tensions between the two major power blocs and the prospect of an end to the cold war. We hope that the U.S. too will respond positively to initiatives for disarmament. As Americans we are disturbed by the residues of the cold war mentality which play a role in our stubborn support of murderous regimes in Central American seeking to block needed social reforms. As Jews we are deeply troubled by Israeli policies which in their reliance on military repression go far beyond Israeli security requirements.
Our lives in Buffalo have been little changed. We both continue to be very busy, Wilma, even though she is teaching a reduced load in the fall and is free in the spring. She is very busy with her book manuscript on women of Prague and with preparations for the translation of her book on the Czech Jews into English. She will retire at the end of the coming academic year, but will be just as busy. I have no immediate plans for retirement. As in the last few years, we have had a host of international visitors here, primarily from West and East Germany. The number of visitors has snowballed and will probably reach its high point next year when the German Studies Association meets in Buffalo in October.
Before going to East Germany and Czechoslovakia last summer, we spent nine wonderful days in Sweden where a friend of ours had organized a lecture tour for us which also permitted us to see something of the country. In Gothenburg we also met a former teacher from Esslingen, where I spent the last year of my stay in Germany in 1938 in the Jewish orphanage although I was no orphan. He had been my favorite teacher then and only by chance did I find his address in Sweden, where he has lived since he was released from Dachau in early 1939. It was a good meeting after 51 years. He had alerted the city of Esslingen of my existence and the city invited Wilma and me to be their guests as part of its program to reestablish contacts with former Jewish residents. Altogether six former pupils of the orphanage and their spouses were invited this year. Our stay was very well organized. He met with civic and church groups, spoke at a school, spent evenings with members of the city council from all political parties, spoke with social workers, visited the Jewish historic sites and cemeteries in Esslingen and Stuttgart and were invited into homes. It was in many ways a moving experience and I hope that the contacts will continue.
Little has changed in Jonathan and Daniel’s lives. We see Jonathan several times a week and speak with him daily. Daniel and Janet manage to visit us with the grandchildren about once a month and in addition we manage to meet sometime halfway between Buffalo and Toronto. Sarah and her mother visited us this past weekend. Jeremy made a trip around the world this summer for his newspaper to study food and nutrition in third world countries, which included stays in Nicaragua, Ecuador, China, Viet Nam, India, Ethiopia and Mali and resulted in a series of articles on hunger in the world. Three years ago while in Nicaragua for his newspaper he met a young Viennese woman in Managua who has now joined him in Minneapolis. We expect all the children and grandchildren here next month during the holiday season.
Wilma and I shall be in Göttingen from early February to the middle or end of August. Our address there will be c/o Hahne, Schillerstrasse 50, D-3400 Göttingen, West Germany.
With very best wishes,