Georg and Wilma Iggers […] Williamsville, NY 14221 USA […]
December 16, 2014
Dear Friends: This letter will not be as cheerful as previous ones. We are very disturbed about the international and the domestic political situation, but as far as our own health is concerned we can be grateful that despite our advanced age, considerably beyond the expected life span, we are basically able to lead normal lives. I have little to complain; except for occasional pains in my right leg. diagnosed as spinal stenosis, a pinched nerve, which do not prevent me from moving about freely with the help of a walker, and traveling even overseas. Wilma is less fortunate. She is frequently troubled by severe athritis pains when she walks or stands up, which are only relieved partially by medication.
We are very comfortable in our senior residence, Canterbury Woods. We made the right decision three years ago to give up our house in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst and several years earlier our apartment in Göttingen, a decision which we regretted even more. But here everything is taken care of; we have a spacious apartment, meals are provided; there are classes which Wilma attends, and some cultural activities, and there is an indoor swimming pool, which is important to me, and where I regularly go swimming, often joined by Wilma. And although we have given up driving, the residence provides us with transportation during the weekdays and we have someone who is generally available in the evenings and weekends to give us rides at a reasonable fee. And when some day we have to move from independent living to assisted living in the residence, a special insurance included in our monthly rent provides for this without any additional cost to us. During the heavy snow storm. which made international news with friends in Europe, Israel, and South America inquiring how we were affected by the storm, the answer was that it did not affect us at all within the walls of this building. Thus Canterbury is a wonderful home for us. On the other hand I feel more than slightly uncomfortable that we are living in a residence which few people can afford. It bothers me that there is not a single person of color living here. People are friendly and join us at dinner, but there are only two, possibly three, people with whom we can have serious conversations. What we are missing is the circle of close friends which we had in Germany. But some of them, including a good Chilean friend, have visited us this year or are planning to visit us in the coming year.
But we see quite a bit of our kids. Jonathan joins us for dinner about three times a week. Dan in Toronto phones almost every day and helps us with many technical problems which we do not know how to handle. He comes quite frequently to see us, sometimes with Janet. Two weeks ago he drove Jonathan to the Cleveland Clinic for a cardiac procedure. Jeremy lives further away in Minneapolis, but he and Carol often phone and Jeremy just came to visit. We also see a lot of the children in Niagara Falls on the Canadian side of the border, our granddaughter Sarah, her husband Phil, their delightful seven year old daughter Ivy, and Phil’s daughter Kyra. Kyra, who is a gifted science student, has just been accepted for a workshop this coming summer at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, an institute which made international headlines this fall when one of its scientists received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Inspired by Kyra, Ivy has decided to become a scientist too and has constructed a laboratory in their basement. Although Ivy’s parents are non-religious, as is Wilma, they have celebrated Passover Seder with us and are celebrating Hanukah with her. And there are frequent occasions for a family gathering either at Canterbury Woods or on the Canadian side with all the children and grandchildren, including Kelly and Adam from Toronto and their partners. All this would not he possible if we had stayed in Göttingen. Only Jeremy’s son Micha lives farther away, but we are in touch. This September Dan and I spent time with him when Dan accompanied me to Vienna, and we also saw his mother, Christa.
As for my work, I remain very busy. My immediate project, which is now almost completed, is a book which I am editing with my Chinese American friend Q(ingjia) Edward Wang, a world-wide examination of the role which Marxist ideas play in historical writing and thought today. All the articles have been submitted to us with the exception of historiography in Sub-Saharan Africa, an article which we absolutely need. Since we have no one else who can write the article on short notice. I am now writing it. The topic is not entirely new to me, because I wrote the section on Sub-Saharan Africa for A Global History of Modern Historiography, which I wrote several years ago with Wang and an Indian friend,, but it still requires quite a bit of work. The volume is expected to appear with Routledge later in 2015. Our A Global History of Modern Historiography has now appeared in Chinese, Russian, and German. Two months ago the autobiography which Wilma and I wrote jointly was published in Chinese, the fifth language in which it has appeared.
Closer to home, I am about to begin a survey of how American history is taught in the high schools in Buffalo and the suburbs. The question came up at a meeting of the local NAACP board of which I am a member how minorities are dealt with in history instruction in the schools. I suggested that we examine the textbooks which are used and interview the teachers who teach these courses. I shall restrict the investigation to the eleventh grade in three high schools, so that I can manage it, one in the inner city in Buffalo with a largely minority student body, one almost exclusively white in the suburbs, and one, a magnet school in the city, Buffalo Honors, with a mixed but largely white student body. Although I have not yet started the project, I do not expect an imbalance like that in Texas schools, where the state very recently has censored all critical mentions of the American past, particularly as they relat to race relations. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see to what extent the books in use in the Buffalo schools proceed in the traditional manner with the elitist focus on leading personalities or come closer to a history from below.
Wilma too has kept quite busy. She reads extensively and is engaged in a fascinating project. She has found boxes with correspondence going back to her early days in Czechoslovakia and is now sorting the many scattered items in the boxes. They throw light on the Central European Jewish world from which she came. They may lend themselves to an interesting publication. Most of them are in German, some in Czech, and some more recent ones in English. They may very well be of interest to the archives of the Leo Baeck Institute, the center for the study of the German speaking Jews. For many years I have urged her to record German and Czech expressions which she remembers from her childhood and youth, including some in Judaeo-German and in the Egerländer dialect of her region,which were commonly used at the time but have not been previously recorded. She still has close contacts with friends in the Czech Republic, including with her hometown of Horṧovský Týn (formerly Bischofteinitz) of which she is an honorary citizen. She has been consulted by the cultural commission of the town, which is now exclusively Czech, for a historical publication about its German, including Jewish, residents before the war. Two years ago she visited Horṧovský Týn, most likely for the last time, taken there by car from Vienna by Christa. Since then the last of her friends from her days in the Czech Gymnasium,have passed away, but she is still in contact with their children and grandchildren. This year too another friend, Walter Kotrba, a Prague German died, who during World War II had the courage to desert from the Nazi army in Italy, made it to the British lines and offered to join the Czech legion to fight Hitler. The Czechs did not take him because they considered him a German. After the war he organized the Circle of German-Czech Friendship to which Wilma also belongs.
I only took one major trip this year, in September to Vienna and to Germany, to conferences in Bochum and Vienna, and then, what was most important to me, ten days to see friends in Göttingen, and briefly in Darmstadt. Wilma did not come along; our doctor had advised her against going, and it was probably the last time that I shall go. I made two smaller trips, one to Washington to the centennial of the African American fraternity to which I have belonged since 1953, where I participated in a panel on civil rights, the other to Georgia, where I visited friends in Atlanta and then conducted a historiography seminar at Columbus State University. Our friends in Columbus took me to nearby Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, which reflects the deep division in America; on the capitol grounds are the statues of the major Confederate generals and the flag of the Confederacy; only a few blocks away is the Baptist Church at which Martin Luther King was the minister in the 1950s and the Montgomery bus boycott was organized.
Much in the United States upsets us very deeply, not only what happened in Ferguson and Staten Island, but the extent to which the country is becoming less and less of a democracy. The election system is such that almost all elected officials in both parties depend on donations from large corporations to which they then are subservient. The result is that the most urgent social and economic reforms are blocked and the gap between rich and poor has become greater than in any other democratic country. And although it has become unfashionable to express racist sentiments, in fact much of the opposition to social reforms is inspired by racism. Ferguson has shown again how racially divided American metropolitan centers are.
The situation elsewhere in the world looks very grim. The massacres and civil wars in the Middle Eastern states and Africa go on unabated. If we had hoped with the end of the Cold War that Russia would become a democracy closely associated with Europe, we have been disappointed. And as Jews concerned with Israel, we have been particularly disturbed with the direction in which Israel has gone. The West Bank continues to be treated as a colony and what occurred in Ferguson is constantly occurring as Israel security forces kill young Palestinians, Wilma and I were particularly disappointed in the way in which the Jewish Federations in this country organized Jewish opinion to show blind solidarity with the Netanyahu government in the Gaza war. There was no room for dissident opinions. I wrote a letter to the monthly newspaper of the Buffalo Jewish Federation pointing out the extent to which present Israeli policies contributed to the war. As was to be expected, my letter was not published. I was pleased when our congregation organized a session with a speaker from J Street, an organization which has stood for an end to the occupation, an end to the extension of settlements, and a negotiated peace leading to a two state solution. Wilma and I had hoped that this would lead to an open discussion, but were deeply disappointed by whatt happened, Every person who attended the session was given a pamphlet entitled “J Street Exposed”, a not very intelligent rebuttal of the peace process for which J Street stands,and concluding that J Street’s proposals “are tantamount to advocating Israeli national suicide.” There was no open discussion. Instead after the talk by the J Street speaker person after person arose to attack what he had said. It seemed apparent that the reaction to the speaker had been well organized before. Next week a speaker from AIPAC, the powerful lobby supporting present Israeli policies, is scheduled to speak.
On this not very cheerful note Wilma and I wish you all the best for the Holiday Season and the New Year and express our hope for a more peaceful and just world,