Jahresbrief 1969

100 Ivyhurst Road
Amherst, N.Y. 14226
December 19, 1969

Dear Friends:

We are sorry that our annual letter is reaching you so late this year. Pressure of work kept us from turning to it earlier. Last Sunday I finally locked myself in my office in school and when I came out several hours later, I found to my own embarrassment and horror that I had written nine single—spaced pages, most of them to be sure on the impressions from our trip to Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Israel this past summer. A family council which included the kids decided firmly that we could not impose such a letter on our friends. The letter had to be out and we decided to append a shorter version of the observations about our trip as a P.S. to this letter. You may conveniently detach it from this letter and drop it unread into the circular file under your desk or read it, as you please.

The one important change in our life as a family has been Jeremy’s departure for college. He is a freshman at Carleton College about forty miles south of Minneapolis. Danny, now 16½, is a junior in high school and is already being subjected to the first battery of college board tests. Like Jeremy he has found a congenial circle of friends and activities in senior high school. Jonathan, just turned fourteen, has shot up remarkably this past year, is as tall as I and weighs a good 200 lbs. Wilma continues to enjoy teaching at Canisius. She is on the faculty committee which recruits and counsels minority group students; is faculty advisor of Students for Peace and Involvement, the student activist group which by comparison to other campuses is still relatively moderate; and is president this year of the North East Modern Languages Association, which has been planning the program for the meeting of the association at Canisius College this coming April. I am able to teach courses increasingly close to my area of interest as the faculty in my department has doubled from 19 to 38 since my arrival here four years ago. while I was earlier teaching mostly German history, I am now teaching courses and seminars in intellectual history and historiography, including two seminars this past year on Marx and Marxism which led to a very lively dialogue among various shades of political thought on campus. My teaching responsibilities seem a good deal lighter on paper than they are in reality, but I do find somewhat more time for research and writing than in the past. I am still co-chairman of the university’s Committee on Co-operation with Predominantly Negro Colleges. The exchange program with Philander Smith College in Little Rock is coming to an end this June and the committee is beginning to develop a somewhat broader program of recruiting minority group graduate students.

In the community, our main activities continue to revolve around the issues of peace and race. Wilma continues to be active in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom which among other things has supported the efforts of the Draft Counseling Genter of Greater Buffalo to provide information on legal alternatives to the draft. I have been counseling for the center. The issue of the draft as a question of conscience is coming particularly close to home now that Jeremy has passed his eighteenth birthday and Danny will soon approach it. Both Wilma and I have continued to be active in the NAACP. The NAACP is the one predominantly black action group in Buffalo which continues to welcome white members and remains committed to racial integration. The problems of Buffalo are not that different from those which we knew in the urban South: unequal educational facilities, discrimination in employment and housing, police brutality. I am still co—chairman of the education committee of the local branch which has been concerned with accelerating the pace of school integration both by negotiations with the school board and by legal action and most recently has become quite concerned in involving the suburbs in the integration program. Right now we are preparing a suit against the so-called state anti-bussing law. This law, passed last spring by the New York legislature, forces the Buffalo school board to obtain written authorizations from all parents of children who are assigned to schools to achieve racial balance. Segregationists and black separatists expected that the law would cripple bussing in Buffalo. To their surprise almost all parents of children involved signed the authorizations while other parents took up the few places left vacant, thus demonstrating that there is still broad support in the black community for integrated schools despite justified frustration at the slow pace and the token manner with which it has proceeded. Danny in the past few weeks has become quite involved in a tutoring program sponsored by the NAACP for children who are being bussed out of the inner city and has found considerable enthusiasm among his friends whom he has recruited as tutors.

Both Wilma and I had research grants this past summer to go to Europe. Wilma has been working on various problems in contemporary literature in Czechoslovakia and East Germany; I was working on the impact of the social sciences on contemporary historiography in Eastern as well as in Western Europe and also revising my book on German historicism for a West German edi- tion now in preparation. It was a very busy but interesting summer. (Wilma and I proceeded from Amsterdam to Czechoslovakia childless, where we spent about three weeks, to East Germany, and to Göttingen.) Jeremy and Danny acquired bicycles upon our arrival in Amsterdam and started out on their own. They rode along the Rhine and Mosel, through Alsace into Switzerland, staying at youth hostels. In Switzerland they disposed of their bicycles and continued by a combination of thumb and train to Vienna, Bratislava, and Prague, and Göttingen where they rejoined us in early August. Jeremy acquired a beard on the trip which he is still wearing. Jonathan in the meantime was in camp in Canada. He joined us in Göttingen in early August after incredible complications caused by the irresponsibility of a charter line which postponed its flight by a week without notifying us. From Göttingen, or rather Frankfurt, we all flew to Israel, the vacation part of the trip, where we spent two weeks. Danny left us again upon our arrival in Tel Aviv and on his own hitchhiked to the Negev, Beereheba, and Masada on the Dead Sea. Our paths crossed again in Jerusalem, where Danny, however, stayed in a youth hostel in the Old City. From Jerusalem he went to a kibbutz in Galilee to which he had been invited. For a description of our trip, see the attached P.S. From Israel Wilma, Jonathan and I went once more to Prague, where I participated in a conference on Fascism sponsored by the Academy of Sciences while Jeremy and Danny preceded straight to Amsterdam. The atmosphere was particularly somber in Prague the end of August after the new repressive legislation which had followed the August 21 demonstrations, commemorating the first anniversary of the occupation. Nevertheless, there was nothing in the conference to indicate that it took place in a Communist country. Interestingly, while Poles, Hungarians, and Western European historians and social scientists were well represented, there were no Soviet or East German participants. Once again we left Czechoslovakia with more friends and tokens of their friendship, and this time with a feeling of pessimism about the future of that country which has been born out by events since.

We hope that you, too, will write if you have not already done so, and wish you a good New Year.

Georg and Wilma Iggers

P.S. From Amsterdam Wilma and I traveled slowly through West Germany–where we interviewed various historians, and in Wilma’s case persons knowledgeable on Czech literature–on to Prague where we spent the major part of July. The atmosphere in Prague was both exhilarating and very depressing. The intellectual and literary scenes were still very much alive and anything but gleichgeschaltet. We spoke with a large number of people, historians, writers, as well as relatives and friends of Wilma from all walks of life, in Prague and in the countryside. There is a certain warmth and openness among Czechs which I have found in no other country. Perhaps the inefficiency of the Communist economic system has unwittingly contributed to a certain relaxed pace which is unknown to us in the hustle and bustle of our lives. Nevertheless, in many ways, the atmosphere was very bleak. There was a feeling of utter helplessness about the political situation which was rapidly deteriorating during the summer and has deteriorated even further since then. When we were there, the press had already been muzzled again and many of the old Novoay men were back in office. On the other hand, book publishing was still relatively free, a film very critical of the Czech past in the post 1948 years was being shown to record crowds, travel to the West was still open with thousands of Czech tourists abroad, and the universities were still untouched. Everyone, however, feared the worse, and a good deal of it happened since then, the emergency laws following the August 21 demonstration which destroyed the remnants of civil liberties and gave the government complete power summarily to dismiss teachers and students–a power they did not have in this unlimited way even in the Stalin period—-and in October the restrictions cutting off almost all travel West by Czechoslovaks were imposed. “Socialism with a human face” which had enthused the masses of Czechoslovaks during the Prague Spring of 1968, now seemed a distant dream. The main form of opposition of the population seemed to be economic slowdown. Morale, including working morale, was terrible. The economy tottered. Public services, including the post office, trains, street cars, etc., functioned increasingly inefficiently. Industrial and agricultural production went down. Long lines outside of stores ap- peared as shortages developed. Persons desperately tried to dispose of their Czech crowns at any price or invest them in houses, or prepayments for automobiles not to be delivered for years to come, as everyone anticipated the collapse of the cur- rency. Nevertheless, the almost complete unanimity of the pop- ulation in opposition to the occupation and the passive re- sistance seemed unlikely to change the political situation. From Prague we made a week’s excursion to East Germany, where we spent an afternoon in Dresden, three days in Leipzig, and four in Berlin. The contrast with Czechoslovakia was striking. The economy functioned. we could tell the progress since our earlier visits in 1966 and 1967, not to mention 1962. There was a real air of prosperity. Dresden has been beautifully rebuilt – the Zwinger and some of the historic buildings restored, the rest of the city rebuilt in the 1960’s, in a modern international style which contrasts sharply with the drab Stalin style of much of Leipzig and East Berlin rebuilt in the 1950’s. On a Sunday afternoon Dresden with its well dressed, prosperous looking citizens, jamming the elegant coffee houses reminded one of many a Western German city. New building was visible everywhere in Leipzig and Berlin. The intellectual and cultural scene on the other hand, seemed more rigid and arid then even on our previous visits. The Czechoslovak developments have led to even stricter controls. When entering East Germany from Czechoslovakia the customs official spent half an hour going through my brief case, a search which was continued once more in the Dresden station. We felt badly that a Dresden friend, who met us at the station and who had recently lost his position at the university after having made some remarks about the need for socialist pluralism at a faculty meeting, had his name noted down by the passport police. The university and academy people in Leipzig and East Berlin were extremely cordial and helpful, like on our previous visits. Unlike their Czech colleagues they identify with the establishment. With a few exceptions they are intellectually much less sophisticated and more parochial than their colleagues in Czechoslovakia. One interesting experience was a visit to a reading by a young East German author, deBruyn, from his recent controversial novel, Buridan’s Donkey, before a meeting of foreign, mostly Eastern European, summer students in Berlin. The reading was followed by a very lively discussion of the merits of socialist realism. Two moderators from the Humboldt University were very much embarrassed as first a Czech and then a Soviet student to the applause of the assembled students, tore into the concept of socialist realism, indication that the younger generation is much better informed and sophisticated than one might expect from a highly regimented educational system.

From Berlin we returned to Prague and then after two days in Wilma’s old home region, visiting friends in the beautiful and peaceful Bohemian Forest, went on to Göttingen, our old stamping grounds in West Germany where we spent a very pleasant, but very busy two weeks. Despite all that has been written in this country about the new right in West Germany, we have quite a bit of confidence in the democratic orientation of the young generation. Some of this confidence was, of course, confirmed by the West German national elections.

From Göttingen we left on August 9 for a two week trip to Israel. This was the vacation part of the trip. A trip to Israel, of course, has many more emotional overtones to us than a trip to any other country. We had always wanted to go there for a visit but had always postponed it because I did not want to go as a tourist for two weeks, but hoped to spend a semester or a year there teaching to get to know the country. This opportunity never arose and it seemed was unlikely to arise, so that we finally decided to go, the last time probably that we could all go as a family. As a matter of fact, ironically, when we were in Israel the possibility was raised that we might spend our sabbatical year there. Two weeks, of course, were much too short and we left with surface impressions and many questions unanswered. Our inability to converse in Hebrew turned out to be much more of a handicap than we had expected in communicating with the young native born generation, whom we unfortunately had little opportunity to meet.

Our first impression was that this country, which we expected to know so well from all we had read and heard from friends and relatives, turned out to be so strange. The first impression of the street scene and the population was a much less European and more Oriental one than we had expected. Somehow we had expected it to be much more a mixture of Central and Eastern Europe and had thought that we would still hear quite a bit of German and Yiddish. This, of course, was unrealistic. Half the country is of Near Eastern origin and a generation or more has elapsed since the great waves of Russian, Polish, and German settlers came. A new, uniquely Israeli culture has developed in the meantime. Surface impressions are annoying at first. In no country we have visited have we encountered as much discourtesy–in hotels, post offices, bus stations. Central Tel Aviv which I, from photographs, had pictured as an elegant modern city, something which applies to the suburb of Ramat Gan, seemed noisy and rather dirty and shabby. Going south to Yaffa, we ran into bad slum sections in the southern part of the city. Leaving Tel Aviv, the picture changed. Haifa on the slopes of Mount Carmel overlooking the Mediterranean, is a beautiful and despite its industry, clean city. Here we visited a cousin of mine, whom I hadn’t seen since we left Germany before the war, and her husband and two adopted children, one a beautiful dark-skinned little Yemenite girl, who communicated with us in almost perfect German. From Haifa we went on a two-day bus tour of Galilee. The contrasts are impressive; the ruins of ancient Meggide, modern Arabie Nazareth, Sfad, the city of scholars and artists, Kibbutzia, new industrial cities which have sprung up almost overnight, the subtropical city of Tiberius, below sea level, along the beautiful lake and the new part of the city 2,000 feet above the lake. The countryside is rugged, mountainous, dry, rocky. Out of the rocks orchards and vegetable gardens have been won. The ethnic mixture is impressive, settlements of Hungarians, Germans, Rumaniane, Algerians, Iraqi, Moroccans, older Sefardic, Jewish settlers, Christian and Moslem Arabs, Druses. On our return to Haifa, we took the bus at 6:30 a.m. to Afule to make the connection with the only daily bus which goes the length of the occupied West Bank to Jerusalem since we wanted to see as much of the occupied areas as possible. Most of the bus passengers were armed soldiers going to their posts on the West Bank. The cities, Janin, Nablus, Ramallah, seemed as if they came from the Arabian Nights. The country side was rugged as in Galilee, but not as intensively cultivated. Jerusalem, of course, was the high point of the trip. There is no city like Jerusalem, especially now that the city has been reunited. The cultural diversity of the country exists here in concentrated and accentuated form. Ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews, a variety of Christian denominations, Moslems coexist. The Old City, with its holy places and its teeming Arab messes, had a special attraction for us. But we also admired the New City, including the new campus of the Hebrew University and the magnificient Israel National Museum.

Thanks to a good American friend of ours who had migrated to Israel and his Israeli wife, we were able to make excursions in the surroundings of Jerusalem as well, to visit two Kibbutzim, in one of which interestingly, twenty non-Jewish Finnish families had settled, and an Arab village, where we were very cordially received, invited into two homes, fed tea and coffee, and conversed extensively about the political situation, with one host in English, with the other with our Israeli friend, who speaks Arabic, acting as interpreter. The country side is breathtaking in its rugged beauty.

Our last five days were spent somewhat against our intentions in a seaside resort on the Mediterranean near Netanya. The travel bureau was supposed to have put us up at a kibbutz, but slipped up. We didn’t particularly appreciate the tourist atmosphere, but made excursions to Wilma’s nearby cousin, who, until recently, had lived on a kibbutz, and whose husband took me on an extended tour of a nearby moshav, a co—operative settle- ment in which farmers own plots of their own, in contrast to the collectively operated kibbutzim. We met some of the local people, On the morning the Al-Aqsah Mosque burned–we were not aware of it-—we went to nearby Tulkarem, an Arab city of about 25,000 just inside the West Bank, where we were clearly by our clothing, the only Westerners except for the Israeli military petrol which came circling every few minutes in its jeeps. Again we were re- ceived with much friendliness, served coffee, had considerable difficulty in communicating but finally found a teacher and later a young man who spoke English and with whom we discussed the political situation at length. There were several things which surprised us. How relaxed the occupation was, for example. There were no checks at the border. There was completely free movement wherever we went on the West Bank, except that Danny was ordered out of Hebrom, where there has been considerably more tension and where he went by himself by Arab bus, by the Israeli patrols by sundown, because they did not consider it entirely safe. The Arabs we talked to seemed all much more conciliatory than we had expected. They disliked being out off from the Arab world, complained of not being able to visit relatives in Jordan, although some travel is permitted, and the two men we talked to in Tulkarem made it very clear that they did not want to be a part of Israel. The one wished the return of the area to Jordan, the other the creation of a Palestinian state. All however, believed that there must be co-existence. They had few complaints about the occupation, except that they wished, of course, that the troops would go away – two Armenian students we spoke with in Old Jerusalem, one of whom interestingly was a medical student in Soviet Armenia, home on vacation, considered the new status of Jerusalem an improvement. The men in Tulkarem stressed the economic advantages to the population from employment in nearby Israeli industry with its much higher salaries, which outweighed some of the negative economic effects of the seperation of the country from the East Bank. The areas we visited were perhaps not entirely typical and the atmosphere in other areas, particularly the Gaza strip, where there have been nightly curfews, appears to have been more tense. We left Israel with mixed impressions, mostly positive, some negative, all admittedly very superficial. I was impressed by the tremendous economic energy of the country which exceeded anything I expected. There is a high level of industrialization, an extremely efficient agriculture, and a standard of living, which is not far behind Western European levels, although some pockets of poverty continue to exist. Again and again, in talking to Israelis, one is reminded of the persecution which brought them here, the refugees from Hitler, the survivors of the holocaust, the immigrants from the ghettoes of Morocco. The country has enabled thousands to rebuild lives with dignity. The other side of the coin is, of course, the conflict and the dislocations of other tens of thousands, which the establishment of the state of Israel produced. I was impressed by the lack of conflict between the ethnic groups within Israel and the lack of resentment among North African immigrants with whom we spoke towards the older European settlers. On the other hand, power and status is still very much concentrated in European hands. At the Hebrew University we were told that approximately 85% of the students are of European background, although 50% of the population is of Near Eastern origin. Israel faces the problems of overcoming the lack of western skills of many of the North African immigrants and the educational and cultural disadvantages which are being transmitted to an Israeli born population, despite the de jure equality of educational opportunities, and the conscious efforts to extend these opportunities to all citizens.

I was least pleased with the attitude of many Israelis – I suspect they represent a majority in government and in the population – on the question of borders. Wilma disagrees with me on this point. She feels that Israel has no alternative but to hold on to the occupied territories at least until the Arab states are willing to negotiate. I agree that Israel has few alternatives, that Israeli moderation will not by itself overcome Arab intransigeance. I am, however, disappointed that Israel did not make it very clear after the Six-Day war that she had no intention to keep the occupied territories. Most Israelis, distrustful of the rest of the world, believe that only military strength will preserve them from certain destruction. The memory of the holocaust is still very much alive. They fail to recognize the role which political factors will play in the long run in Israeli security. Admitting that Israel may be entitled to certain border revisions such as perhaps, the Golan Heights, in contrast to the Golan Plain, or Latrun, or even Sharm el Sheik, and that there should be open access to the entire city of Jerusalem (something which I do not think has to be identical with annexation of the Old City), I nevertheless think that an irredentist Arab minority is of much greater danger to Israel both domestically and in her foreign affairs, than the presence of jet planes, three rather than ten minutes from her cities. The Arab diehards have not left Israel much choice; but Israel has made an almost hopeless situation even more hopeless for the few voices of moderation among the Arabs– and probably contributed to the fall of moderate governments in Lebanon, for example. It would be unfortunate if a permanent state of war should in the long run poison Israeli society as it is threatening to poison ours. I was encouraged to find that some Israelis see this danger. At the Hebrew University, we met a group of professors who expressed very similar opinions and there is apparently an active group of students and professors at the Hebrew University organized in a society for “Security through Peace.” It is also encouraging that Israeli society still permits a high degree of dissent, even in the midst of a state of war, and that the Jerusalem Post, for example, was able to carry advertisements by Jewish and Arab intellectuals and notables openly criticizing the dominant attitude on the border question.

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