Georg and Wilma Iggers 715 Renaissance Drive, Apt. B-111 Williamsville, NY 14221-8033 USA December 24, 2011
This has been a very busy year. This explains why this letter comes so late. The most time consuming part was certainly the move out of our house on Ivyhurst Road in which we lived since we arrived in Buffalo in the fall of 1965. During that time we accumulated all sorts of things and hardly ever discarded anything. One problem was disposing of books and papers. The university library took a lot of my books, particularly those in German. I kept only the minimum which I expected to need for further reference; this, however, means that I now have to borrow my own books from the library. Wilma had a much larger library. Her Czech books went largely to the University of lllinois, the University of Toronto, and the CzechSlovak National Museum in Iowa. Her German books were more difficult to place, although some with Jewish themes went to the Leo Baeck Institute in New York and some to a book store specializing in German Jewish books. And then there were things we had collected over the years with which we found it hard to part. Fortunately two friends, Dagmar Friedrich and Renate Schieldrop, came from Germany for three weeks to help. They were of immense help as were neighbors who helped us with the actual move on June 15, as did our son Dan and our grandchildren Adam and Kelly from Toronto and our son Jeremy who came from Minneapolis. Now the sale of the house has finally been closed. We believe that we made the right decision although, as we shall explain below, our first move to the Weinberg Campus senior residence turned out to be a mistake. We are both in good shape, but we believe that at our advanced age it was time to move. As you know, we had originally planned to move to Toronto, and after considerable delay had received permanent residence in Canada, but because of the serious health problems of our son Jonathan decided to stay in the Buffalo area. He has serious heart and also other health problems, and has great difficulties organizing his life. After investigating various senior residences, we decided on Weinberg Campus for a variety of reasons: its proximity to the university, the fact that it has several stages of care, from independent living to assisted living and skilled nursing, and its location adjacent to the Jewish Center with its physical facilities and pool. Some of the Jewish activities at Weinberg such as Friday evening services also appealed to me. I also expected there to be people with whom we could talk.
However, we very soon realized that we did not fit in. I was asked to chair the weekly current events session, which I gladly accepted. But I quickly encountered antagonism when I sought to discuss serious questions in the weekly news, specifically the death penalty and the Buffalo schools. But the straw which broke the camel’s back was when I spoke out against a campaign originating with some tenants but having the full support of the management to “support the troops.” This meant collecting tooth paste, shaving cream, etc. to thank them for “defending our freedom.” When leaflets lay on all dining room tables urging the tenants to attend a rally to show their solidarity with the “troops”, I placed my own letter explaining why I would not attend the rally. Half an hour later the manager and the assistant manager came to our apartment irate, telling me I had no right to express what they considered my personal opinions, and informing me that they had confiscated my letter. Subsequently I was also insulted by a resident for my lack of patriotism. But already before this incident we were isolated in the dining room. Moreover, we found the facilities at Weinberg inadequate. We did have a very nice apartment. The food was mediocre at best. It seems that they were cutting comers left and right. The elevator in our part of the building was not repaired for almost two weeks. On the other hand, the CEO of this non-profit organization, as you can read in the Internet, received a compensation of $951.776 in 2009, including admittedly some back pay.
On October we moved to Canterbury Woods nearby. We had looked into it before, but decided against it because the cost was considerably higher and it was more luxurious than what we needed. It required a very massive deposit, 90% of which will be returned to our heirs or to us if we decide to move out. Considering the fluidity of the stock market, this seemed like a relatively safe investment. And there were other advantages. Canterbury Woods has the three stages which Weinberg has, but includes a very generous long term insurance scheme which covers what would normally be the extra cost of these higher stages. And the atmosphere is totally different from Weinberg. We feel very much accepted. At almost every meal we have been joined by other tenants. The clientele is very different. Recently a recipient of the Nobel Prize died here. There are a fair number of retired colleagues from the university, some of whom we already knew. There is an active cultural program, and there is an indoor swimming pool which I try to use every day. Transportation, some of it free, is available during the day so that we need to do very little driving. There is a very elegant dining room with a broad selection of foods. This residence is sponsored by the Episcopalian Church, but there are actually a far number of Jews here and some Jewish religious activities. This week there is a lighting every evening of the Hanukah candles; today there is a Sabbath service.
We have traveled more than in the last few years. On March 23 we celebrated Wilma’s ninetieth birthday. Wilma was flooded with congratulations by e-mail and phone calls, many from overseas. We had a very nice gathering, still in our house on Ivyhurst, with all children and their spouses, grandchildren, and our great granddaughter present, except understandably for our grandson in Vienna, and local friends. Afterward I took Wilma on a very enjoyable, brief honeymoon to Niagara on the Lake. After that we stayed put until fall, except for two short trips which Wilma made, one to Hamilton for a gathering with her cousins and with her sister who had come from Illinois, the other to Minneapolis to visit Jeremy and his wife Carol. In late October we flew briefly to St. Petersburg, Florida, for the opening at the Florida Holocaust Museum of a traveling exhibit “From Swastika to Jim Crow”, about refugee scholars who had fled from the Nazis and had taught at Black colleges in the American South. We seem to be the last survivors.
Two weeks later we flew to Germany. I flew with Rabbi Alex of the Reconstructionist congregation, Temple Sinai, to which we belong, to Göttingen, where he was invited to participate in the commemoration of November 9, 1938, known to most of you as Kristallnacht, but now more properly called by Germans, the Pogrom, which marked the beginning of the Holocaust. He made a very good impression and in tum this was a very important experience for him to get to know a new and different Germany. Wilma and I then stayed three weeks in Germany, half of the time in Göttingen which for us has become a second home, several very crowded days in Berlin and Leipzig to visit friends, and to Herford, where a group is working on a dvd on us, and as usual the last day and night with friends in Darmstadt and Griesheim near the Frankfurt airport. While in Berlin, I also participated in a memorial conference in Potsdam for Fritz Klein, a highly respected East German historian with whom I had organized an exchange of doctoral candidates between Buffalo and East Berlin before the Wall came down, and where I also gave a talk. I was consequently invited to participate in a conference comparing the work of historians in East and West Germany during the Cold War, many of whom I knew personally. I have also have been asked to join the planning session for the conference in Jena the beginning of March and shall make a quick trip to Germany, this time without Wilma, and from Jena shall take the train to Vienna to spend the weekend with our grandson Micha and his mother Christa.
We have also been occupied with various scholarly projects. Wilma has spent quite a bit of time getting the English translation of a book by an old friend, Rudolf von Thadden, into shape. It is a fascinating book, a history of the von Thadden estate in Pomerania from the Napoleonic period until it became Polish after World War I, tracing the social and political transformation of a village. The book has already gone through four German editions and is about to appear in Polish and is scheduled to appear in French. Berghahn Books has accepted it for publication in English. I have probably taken on too many projects. The book, A Global History of Modern Historiography, which I co-authored with a Chinese friend, Q(ingjia) Edward Wang, and an Indian friend, Supriya Mukherjee, first appeared in 2008, has already appeared in Chinese and is being translated into Russian and Greek. A German edition is now being planned by a German publisher who has received a formidable grant for the translation, but this will not be a straight translation but will be a very thorough revision and updating, which will involve quite a bit of work. In addition the three of us have committed ourselves to publishing a global historiography reader to accompany the English book, a selection of significant historical texts since the eighteenth century. There already exist several historiographical readers, but they all restrict themselves to Western historical writing, that is to European and North American historians. Ours will be the first reader to include historians, including women, from the rest of the world as well. In addition I have several minor projects. One, which will have to wait, is the revision in book form of articles on the relevance or irrelevance of Marxist historical writings in various parts ofthe world today which Wang has edited and which are to appear in a journal 2012, but which he and I are planning to rework in book form.
The time has come when Wilma and I should cut back. A few weeks ago, we regretfully cancelled a two week visit to which we had looked forward to the Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar in Quito, Ecuador, where both of us were to lecture. It would just have been too much. One positive aspect of our living in Buffalo is that we are actually very close to Canada. Dan not only calls almost every day, but visits us very often from Toronto, either with Janet, his wife, with our grandson Adam, or with our granddaughter Kelly and her partner Eric. In May Adam completed his MA at York University in the political science department with a focus on developing countries. As you may remember, he spent his junior year abroad in Ghana. His MA thesis dealt empirically with the negative effects of neoliberal economic policies on migrants and ethnic minorities in Ontario which is being published in an international journal on migration. He is now working for an NGO to help train leadership persons in Indian reservations in Ontario. Kelly is completing her MA in education at the University ofToronto. After completing her BA in history and Bohemian studies, she was urged by her mentor to enter the Ph. D. program, but instead decided to become a teacher. She recently invited Wilma to come to the elementary grade class in which she was practice teaching and Wilma was impressed. Dan’s oldest daughter, Sarah, and her husband Phil live with our four-year old great granddaughter in nearby Niagara Falls, Ontario, and come over quite often to see us. Sarah and Phil work in restaurants. Ivy is alert and affectionate, a real joy. Understandably because of the distance we see less of our grandson Micha in Vienna, but, as I mentioned above, I shall visit him this March. Jeremy manages to see him much more often. He is earning a living, believe it or not, playing poker. Austria still has selective service and he is currently doing his alternate civilian service.
Wilma and I are very disturbed by the political situation at home and abroad. We are disappointed in Obama’s presidency, having had high hopes in him. We can forgive him some of the economic compromises he has had to make, but are very disturbed that he has continued Bush’s policies on detention which constitute serious threats to civil liberties. Yet we see no alternative to voting for him this coming November. The alternative, considering the extremism of the Republican party, would be disastrous. America has become a very flawed democracy in which most of the legislators and many of the elected judges depend on the financial contributions of the corporations. And as persons who once very much believed in Israel, we are disturbed not only by the settlement policy, which is making peace impossible, but also in the resurgence of an ultra right nationalism, supported by Orthodox fundamentalism, which seriously threatens civil liberties. Following Reaganite policies, Israel has experienced an economic takeoff so that per capita income now almost approximates Western European standards, but with this takeoff a gulf similar to the one in the United States has occurred so that according to the CIA Factbook, which is certainly not an anti-Israel publication, in 2010 23.6% ofthe population lived in poverty. This is very far from the model of social justice which we once, probably very naively, expected Israel to become.
Ironically in contrast Germany today, despite and in part because of its catastrophic past, seems a relative voice of sanity, although there are too problems of social inequality and xenophobia. We in our old age are no longer involved very actively in today’s problems other than contributing to causes which we consider worthy. I still regularly attend the meetings of the local board of the NAACP. And there are some signs of hope. In our suburban congressional district which has been solidly Republican for many decades, for the first time a Democrat was elected, incidentally a woman, after the Republicans with the assistance of Speaker Boehner, concentrated on the repeal of Obama’s health care reform. And the world wide “Occupy Wall Street” movement is an encouraging sign. Not that we have any illusions that it will affect substantial changes in the economic or social system, but it is making people aware of the injustices of the status quo. The other day I joined the peaceful demonstration in downtown Buffalo to show my solidarity.
Wilma and I wish you somewhat belatedly a pleasant holiday season and all the best for the coming year. Georg