Annual Letter 2015

Dear Friends,

Another year has passed, somewhat mixed on the personal level but very worrisome on the national and international level. As to health, I cannot complain. Considering that I just turned 89, I am in remarkably good health. Except for problems with my right leg which have been diagnosed as spinal stenosis, I am well, although dependent on medication. My leg does not prevent me from moving freely with the help of a walker, even making international journeys. I am keeping very busy with several scholarly projects; Wilma thinks I am too busy and not relaxing enough, although I go swimming almost every afternoon. Together with my good friend and colleague, Qingjia Edward Wang, with whom I have closely collaborated for the past thirty years since we first met in China, I have co-edited a volume, Marxist historiographies: A Global Perspective, on the role Marxist ideas still play today in historical writing in Western as well as non-Western cultures with contributors from throughout the world. The book, on which we were still working earlier this year, was published in July. At present Wang and I and our Indian colleague and friend Supriya Mukherjee are making final revisions for a new English-language edition of our A Global History of Modern Historiography which by now has appeared in five languages. When it was first published in 2008 it was the first English language history of historical writing which did not restrict itself to the West but dealt with the interaction of Western and non-Western historical cultures. Since then more works have proceeded from a global pespective and we have to bring our volume up to date. And there are several more limited projects which will keep me occupied for most of this coming year, including a small study I am undertaking, how American history is taught in the Buffalo and the suburban high schools. The question was raised at the local NAACP board, of which I am still an active member, whether history instruction continues to ignore the role of ethnic minorities, a history from above concentrating on white males. The director of social sciences of the Buffalo schools provided me with all the history text books used currently in the Buffalo schools. They, in fact, turned out to stress the diversity of the American population, very much in contrast to earlier text books which I examined. I am now meeting with teachers. I have gotten no cooperation from the director of history and the social sciences in the one suburban school, I am examining, which I understand has 20% minorities students, but in its staff of over eighty teachers only two African Americans, and none in history.

I still made three larger trips, in June to an international historiographical conference in Athens, Greece, accompanied by our son Daniel, in July to Little Rock, Arkansas, by myself, and in September to Havana, Cuba, accompanied by our son Jeremy Wilma was very cordially invited to join me in Athens and Havana, but decided not to go. The conference in Athens gave me an opportunity not only to discuss my own work but also to see European and Asian friends, and spend time with two Greek friends, Effi Gazi and Antonis Liakos, who had organized the conference successfully in a very difficult time for Greece. In Little Rock I participated on a panel at the national conclave of the historically Black Phi Beta Sigma fraternity of which I am a member and which coincidentally met this year in Little Rock. This also gave me an opportunity to spend a day at historically Black Philander Smith College, where Wilma and I had taught in the 1950s.

But the highpoint was the trip to Cuba. I had been there two and a half years ago as a guest of the University of Havana. At that time I had asked for an opportunity to meet with students, something which in East Germany had always been difficult. The university agreed and had me take over three history classes where we had open discussions. I wanted to do my part to break through the academic isolation of Cuba. The invitation this time came after the first steps of normalization had occurred, the US embassy had opened, but the travel ban and the embargo were still in place. Little had changed yet on the political level, the media continued to be strictly controlled and the standard of living had not improved markedly. But the general atmosphere had changed. Although there was general agreement that no significant political liberalization would take place soon, there were open discussions about Cuba’s future. The people in the history department all knew me from the previous time and from my writings, several of which had been translated into Spanish. This time our son Jeremy, whose Spanish is very good, accompanied me. Several colleagues told me that they expected me to come again in February. This time I shall not only give lectures followed by discussions in Havana but also meet with the Master’s students at the University of Cienfuegos 250 kilometers East of Havana, which will give me an opportunity to see another corner of Cuba. But the highpoint of this past trip was a meeting with students, who discussed the future of Cuba with an openness which would have been unthinkable earlier. I am attaching an account of my trip, which some of you may already have received. Since my return to Buffalo I have been in close e-mail contact with colleagues and students in Havana who are eager to break out of the Cuban isolation and whom I have helped to establish contact with American and European scholars.

Wilma has had a much more difficult year. She had not been in good health for several years, with bad arthritic pains, loss of balance - she fell several times - and insomnia. The doctors sought to deal with these problems with medication. This March she had a bad attack in the middle of the night. I could not awaken her and had the emergency team rush her to the hospital. We were afraid this was going to be the end. It was moving how the family held together. Dan came immediately from Toronto, the various grandkids from Canada followed as did Jeremy and Carol from Minneapolis, and, of course, Jonathan was there. Sarah, accompanied by little Ivy, had already spent the night with us because Sarah was concerned about Wilma’s condition, and joined us at the hospital in the middle of the night. Fortunately after two days Wilma had recovered consciousness and soon was moved out of intensive care. The doctors decided that she had been falsely medicated. She was released from the hospital after a week. Her arthritic pains became less and her balance better - she has not fallen once since then - she is better, but not yet well. She gets very tired during the day, But what is depressing her mood most is an increasing deterioration of her hearing. But mentally at age of 94 and 3 quarters she is as sharp as ever, also with her good sense of humor. She is quite busy with several projects. This year she co-edited an e-book, An Archivist on the Bicycle, on Jiři Fiedler, a Czech, non-Jewish, who as an archivist devoted his life to keeping the memory of the Jews in the Czech lands alive, and who was brutally murdered by a burglar together with his wife two years ago. Wilma is sorting hundreds of letters and other documents from her and my family going back to the nineteenth century, making them available to one of the historians in the Göttingen women historians’ circle, who wants to reconstruct the world in which she grew up and her life since then. and came from Göttingen to interview her. She is closely following developments in the Czech Republic and keeps in touch with friends there. At present she is preparing papers for the visit from a genealogist who is seeking to reconstruct the history of the family going back to the mid-eighteenth century.

I suspect that my trip to Athens may have been my last trip to Europe. This was the first year that we have not visited Germany. We miss our friends particularly in Göttingen, but also in Darmstadt, Leipzig, Berlin, Bochum, and elsewhere, and in Wilma’s case the Czech Republic, and, of course, Vienna where we have a grandson, his mother, and friends. But we will not lose contact. And this year several of our best friends came to visit us here in Buffalo.

Now to our children: Jonathan, our youngest, who lives in Buffalo, has not been in good health for many years, with a heart condition, atrial fibrillation and serious fatigue, but continues to work daily on his job at the Erie County Division of Social Services which he has held for over thirty three years. He turned sixty in October and is now seriously thinking of retiring. He joins us for supper almost every second or third day. Daniel, 62, in Toronto, is semiretired. He keeps very busy, driving for a rental agency, as a film extra, volunteering at a food mission, and spending time with his children and his granddaughter, our great granddaughter, Ivy. We phone almost every day and he assists us with all sorts of practical problems, often relating to our computers, which he can handle better than we. He is wonderful. Although he no longer practices law, he is called upon to hearings and expects in January to go to Namibia to counsel the government there on new financial legislation. Janet, Dan’s wife, although also retired, still occasionally assists in projects at the Ontario Ombudsman office. Jeremy, now 64, who recently retired from the online newspaper in Minneapolis which he had founded a decade ago, is keeping quite busy and this fall has taught a journalism course at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. He comes several times a year to see us. His wife Carol also keeps busy with volunteer work,

As to our grandchildren, we celebrated two weddings. Our granddaughter Kelly married her longtime friend Eric in a ceremony at Toronto City Hall early this year. She is expecting her first baby this coming summer and has the benefit of living in Canada, a year long paid maternity leave and assurance that she can return to her position as an elementary school teacher in the Toronto public schools, a job she has carried out with great enthusiasm. Such a leave would be unthinkable in these United States. Adam and Stephie were married in a beautiful setting in Eastern Ontario. Adam works with an NGO with young indigenous Indians on reservations in Ontario. Our youngest grandchild, Jeremy’s son Micha, now 26. leads a very unconventional life, earning his living as one of the most successful poker players in the world.

We see particularly much of our granddaughter Sarah, her husband Phil, both waiters, and their daughter Ivy, now eight years old, who live on the other side of the border in Niagara Falls, Canada, but only forty-five minutes away by car, and come to see us almost twice a month. We so had the great fortune of seeing Ivy grow, an affectionate, very bright kid, who is a real joy.. Kyra, Phil’s daughter, Ivy’s stepsister, also a part of the family, who just started her university studies, spent a part of the summer in Göttingen at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and met our various friends.

I wish I could end this letter on a more cheerful note about the world today. Masses of innocent peoples are being massacred in the Middle East and in Africa and millions are in flight. And the world looks by, The refusal of most of Europe, the United States, Australia, and Israel reminds us of the situation we faced in 1938 when we had to escape from the Nazis and only very few Jews were able to escape because almost all countries closed their doors.. And we are very worried by the wave of xenophobia which has contributed to ultra right parties gaining strength everywhere. As a Jew, no longer a Zionist, who nevertheless still has a deep emotional tie to Israel, I am deeply troubled by the racism there, in an extreme form the lynching of an Eritrean refugee in the Ber Sheba bus station. And here in the United States the police killings of young Black males continue. And what worries us about Donald Trump is less Trump than the fact that all of the Republican candidates share many of his views and receive broad popular support. With Congress firmly in the control of ultra right Republicans we dread what will happen if the Republicans win the presidential elections and the increasing social and economic inequality and American military involvement which will result. We are supporting Bernie Sanders, fully aware that he has little chance to become the Democratic candidate, but because he is fulfilling an important role in raising awareness of the fundamental problems facing this country. We are certain ultimately to vote for Hillary. The country is deeply polarized, but I have confidence that there is also a better America. Despite my fears, I still believe that a Republican victory is not inevitable. There is also a ray of hope coming from Canada, symbolized by Trudeau’s welcoming the first Syrian refugees to arrive in Canada. And we admire Angela Merkel’s courage in handling the refugee question in Germany, but are also aware that she may not survive politically.

On this troubled but by no means hopeless note Wilma and I wish you happy holidays and all the best for 2016.

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