Annual Letter 1963

5527 S. Dorchester Ave., Apt. 1

Chicago, Illinois, 60637

December 16, 1964

 

Dear Friends: Again we come to you with greetings for the Holiday Season and the New Year, and in many cases with apologies for not having written during the year.

This year, which promised to be relatively uneventful, actually turned out to be an extremely crowded one. When we last wrote you, we had just begun to settle down in Chicago. The last curtains and pictures were hung; Wilma had mustered the courage to take her Illinois drivers’ test; and we had settled down in the routine of teaching at Roosevelt and Loyola Universities respectively which left little time for other activities. The same mail in February brought two pleasant items of mail, an invitation for George to teach summer school at the University of Arkansas and a grant from the Newberry Library in Chicago, providing George with much needed research time during the fall semester to make the final revisions on his book on German historicism and to return to an older, uncompleted manuscript on the idea of progress.

Early in July the two of us and Jonathan drove to Fayetteville while Jeremy and Danny went to camp for the first time before joining us at the end of the month. We always, the kids included, like to return to Arkansas. The years in Little Rock were very meaningful ones and in the year we spent at Fayetteville we felt very much a part of the community. The summer was very pleasant despite the heat which was unusual even for Arkansas. The university has suffered a great deal, also academically, from the interference by Faubus and the state legislature which followed the Little Rock Crisis. It has been difficult to replace many of the stronger people who left. Nevertheless, the atmosphere among the faculty and the students continues to be generally liberal although a much more conservative administration has resegregated dormitories and imposed restrictions on outside speakers. In the city of Fayetteville, by contrast, many public facilities, including the swimming pool (closed in Little Rock and Pine Bluff this summer) were integrated already before the enactment of the Civil Rights Bill.

Upon our arrival, a letter reached George which had been sent to New Orleans months earlier inviting him to read a paper at a conference in Salzburg in September. The American Council of Learned Societies agreed to pay his trip despite the lateness of the date and he spent most of his spare time in the air-conditioned basement of the library writing his paper. As a result we did not even spend the few days in Little Rock on which we had counted. September then became a hectically busy month. We returned from Arkansas on the eve of the Jewish High Holidays; Wilma left three days later to read a paper at a meeting in New York from which she returned just in time for George to leave for Europe. George flew first to Richmond, Va., to spend the following day, his father's seventieth birthday, there, and then proceeded to France where he briefly visited friends in Le Mee sur Seine and environs, where we had spent a year, on his way to Salzburg.

The most interesting part of the trip was the week in Czechoslovakia which followed his stay in Salzburg. Wilma has been corresponding over the years with Czechoslovakia school friends but was afraid to visit them when we were in Europe despite their repeated invitations. There was no difficulty in obtaining a visa this time. It was a very nice week. Wi1ma's various friends, whom she hasn't seen since before the war, received him with a cordiality and hospitality rare in our more restrained world. Living with a family in the small town in Western Bohemia where Wilma went to school, he was able to get a glimpse at Czech everyday life. He was surprised how traditional many aspects of life still were despite (or perhaps because of) the Communist regime. The social by-products of the economy of abundance prevalent in Western Europe and the U.S. are largely missing. Suddenly one is freed of the many aspects of a commercialized mass culture. The result is that the youth seems much more unspoiled and idealistic (and less sophisticated) and that life goes at a much slower pace. There is much charm in this. Nevertheles these positive aspects of Czech life seem inextricably interwoven with dictatorship and cultural control and the failure of the govern- ment through its doctrinaire economic policies to attain a higher standard of living. The government is, of course, not interested, nor is the population, in maintaing this simpler way of life but in overtaking the West in efficiency and production and in this way it has, of course, miserably failed in terms of its own values. Actually, real poverty which existed before the war, and which still exists in many corners of our own country, has virtually disappeared except among some of the elderly who have been cruelly neglected in Czech social legislation. George was also surprised at the extent of political conversation on the trains, in the streets, everywhere, most of it critical of the government. There has been a considerable relaxation in the last few months. In general Czechs are confident that there will be further liberalization. There were Czech scholars at the meeting in Salzburg and in George's discussions with them as well as with historians in Prague he was impressed by the extent to which Czech social scientists in conversation, even if not yet in print, have emancipated themselves from doctrinaire Marxism, "Marx was no economic determinist," he was told at the Czech Academy of Sciences.

On his way back, George briefly visited friends in Göttingen and Denmark and arrived in Chicago in time for the preparations for Jeremy's Bar Mitzvah. Jeremy's Bar Mitzvah came after several years of Hebrew and Jewish study accompanied by doubts and questioning. The Reform service was dignified and meaningful and we were pleased by the many relatives and friends of the family who came to be with us on the occasion.

Since then we have settled back into our normal routines, Wilma enjoys especially the literature courses she teaches at Loyola. George is about to hand the final chapters of the book to the typist. Jeremy has been busy with his science fair project for which he won first prize in his school. His main pursuits have been less intellectual, however, neighborhood club, coin collecting, scouts and listening to disk jockeys on the radio way after we think that he is asleep. Danny, now eleven, is still very much of an individualist, reads, follows his own interests, but neglects his school work with disastrous effects on his grades. In contrast, Jonathan, now nine, has become ambitious in his school work and seems much more grown up now.

The last few weeks have brought a very attractive offer from a large Northeastern state university and we shall have to decide very soon whether to pull up our stakes again. Our choice is com- plicated by the likelihood that there will be an opportunity of staying in Chicago under similar conditions, even if perhaps in a less challenging teaching situation. The children are eager to go to a smaller (although this would be by no means a small) city. In some ways, we have liked Chicago, especially our teaching, the libraries, and the liberal atmosphere of Hyde Park, although the impersonality of the city (and of Hyde Park especially) and the long commuting in Wilma's case annoy us. We miss the challenges of the civil rights situation in Arkansas and Louisiana. The problems exist and are acute, but the contribution which we can make here as individuals in this highly complex situation seems to be a much more limited one than in the South.

 

With best regards from all of us, the five Iggers

 

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