Jahresbrief 1966

100 Ivyhurst Road

Amherst, New York 14226

December, 1966

 

Dear Friends, For your address book's sake, you will be pleased to note that we are still in Buffalo. This has been a crowded and busy year for all of us, including the children. Jeremy likes the more adult atmosphere of senior high school compared with last year's junior high school and has become involved in a variety of activities such as debating, chess club, and his science project involving work with a computer. For the time being his interest in athletics has declined. Actually all three children are extremely busy with school work. We are quite pleased with the academic level of the childrens' schools, less so with the social atmosphere in the suburban setting. The alternative would have been moving into the city, where the schools are underfinanced and therefore notoriously poor, or as many of our colleagues do, sending the children to private schools. Nevertheless Jeremy in high school is now encountering a group of interesting kids, which Danny, also active in debating, misses in junior high school. Jonathan feels very much at home in school, seems much more challenged than in Chicago, and concentrates on reading and writing book reports to the detriment of his other subjects. His interests have shifted from Custer's last stand via the Civil War to World War II--but he still considers himself a pacifist.

 

Wilma enjoys Canisius College. While her teaching involves there now some literature, she has found some time for outside literary interests, including some research and writing. She had been working on the sense of self-identification of the German- and Czech-language Jewish writers in Bohemia. At present she is reading the page proofs of her book on Karl Kraus which was the topic of her moth-eaten doctoral dissertation. Both of us have been very much concerned about the war in Viet Nam and a good deal of our time has gone into activities in opposition to the war, which we feel not only politically but also morally wrong. We realize how little effect such protest has had on prosecution of the war. Nevertheless we consider it an important expression of conscience, which in the long run may yet have some consequences for national policy. Wilma has worked very closely with the Buffalo chapter of the Womens International League for Peace and Freedom and Georg has been active in campus peace activities.

 

For Georg the State University has been in many ways a new experience. This is the first time in his many years of teaching that he has been free of teaching survey courses and has been able to relate his teaching to his research. He teaches five hours a week--in New Orleans he generally taught fifteen to eighteen, at Roosevelt twelve--a lecture course to advanced undergraduates and graduate students in German history and a graduate seminar in European historiography or German intellectual history. The university is in the midst of rapid transition. Since the University of Buffalo was absorbed by the State University of New York three years ago, the enrollment has doubled, and the history faculty tripled. If the University of Buffalo was an institution which drew its students almost entirely from the Buffalo area, a serious attempt is being made now to create a major state university. Indicative of the changes is the increase of the library book purchasing budget from approximately $40,000 four years ago to $900,000. The undergraduate student body now comes from all over the state--last year about one third of the students came from New York City--nevertheless it will still be some years before the university will be able to achieve a reputation as a major graduate school and attract outstanding graduate students. Georg finds the atmosphere at school intellectually and personally congenial. He himself is being drawn into departmental and university affairs to a greater extent than elsewhere and perhaps more than is good for his research.

 

George received a grant from the State University to go to Göttingen this last summer to make final revisions on his manuscript on German historicism which will be published in about a year by the Wesleyan University Press. We took the occasion to accompany him. After several days stay in Paris and Seine-et-Marne, where we visited friends we made during the year we spent in France, Wilma and the kids spent a week in Holland traveling on a railroad pass while Georg proceeded to Göttingen. In Göttingen the boys at once again found their old friends and at least Jeremy and Danny very quickly spoke German again passably well. Although Georg was under quite a bit of pressure to complete his work in the limited time we had in Göttingen, we managed to find some time for interesting cultural events and more importantly people. All over West Germany, but especially in Göttingen, we have acquaintances, many of whom we consider good friends, coming from all walks of life. Although we heard and read a good deal about the resurgence of right-wing nationalism, we ourselves ran into few expressions of sympathy for it among the many people to whom we spoke. Similarly Georg was very much impressed, as he was four years ago, by the democratic orientation of the younger generation of historians, the men now in their thirties, who have become much more critical of German national traditions than their elders. The recent successes of the NPD should of course not be taken lightly. Even more we are disturbed by the strong currents of nationalism which extend over much broader segments of the population and have been encouraged by official policy, a nationalism which expresses itself in the emotionalization of all issues of foreign as they affect the division of Germany and the refusal to recognize even such political consequences of the second World War as the Oder Neisse line, or to realize, as recently some German political leaders have begun to admit, that the division of Germany, whether right or wrong, is here to stay for quite a number of years and requires a policy of reconciliation and détente with Eastern Europe if the two parts of Germany are not to be totally estranged. Although we would be frightened, as would many Germans, to see nuclear arms in German control, our observations lead us to believe that democratic government has much more stable foundations in West Germany today than it ever had in the Weimar Republic.

 

Early in August we left for Czechoslovakia, the high point of our trip. We had assumed that we would have to go via Bavaria but found out to our surprise that it would be possible for us to cross East Germany on a regular tourist visa. It was a strange feeling when we turned from the busy Autobahn connecting West Germany with Berlin onto the almost deserted road to Magdeburg. We traveled very freely in East Germany and were not stopped once for identification, not even when we made an illegal U-turn in front of what we suddenly realized was a police vehicle. Nevertheless Western tourists are still very rare--in contrast to Czechoslovakia--and almost everywhere we parked we were engaged in conversation by passersby who stopped to admire our car. We were struck again, as we had been on our visit to East Berlin four years ago, how freely people spoke on the streets, in museums, in hotels and how very critical even the young people were of political and economic conditions. Economic conditions seem, however, to have improved considerably since the wall went up. We were impressed by the amount of construction. At least the downtown sections in Magdeburg, Erfurt, and Leipzig no longer looked drab. Downtown traffic was much heavier than it had been in East Berlin four years ago. There were still lines outside fruit and vegetable stores. Our first longer stop was in Halle, where we were cordially received by the historians at the university whom Georg had written only a few days before our departure from Göttingen. The pro-rector, chairman of the historical institute, had postponed his vacation by a day to be able to meet us. While a car from the institute took Wilma and the children sightseeing, Georg met several of the historians who were very willing to exchange views, although they themselves were very firmly committed to Marxist doctrine. In contrast to their Czech colleagues, East German historians are still relatively isolated from historians elsewhere but are not adverse to re-establishing contacts. Georg was invited to come back to Halle next summer for several weeks at a time when the university is in session. In speaking with East German historians of the older generation, Georg was struck how central a role the Nazi period and their own experience of resistance played in their emotional commitment to the Communist state. Much more than in West Germany, the public is constantly reminded of the crimes of the Nazi period. The Buchenwald concentration-camp near Weimar, which we visited, has been made into an impressive national memorial to the victims of Fascism. There is regrettably a tendency to oversimplify the whole question of guilt by claiming that the German Democratic Republic has made a complete break with the past while in West Germany the unreformed forces of the past are firmly re-established. From Halle we drove leisurely through the beautiful Cathedral town of Naumburg to Erfurt with its well preserved medieval city to Goethe and Schiller's Weimar where we spent a day. After a morning in Buchenwald and an afternoon at the Institute for German Historiography at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig, where we were received as cordially as in Halle, we left for Czechoslovakia.

 

The difference between Czechoslovakia and East Germany is striking. The economy appears stagnant but the political and cultural atmosphere freer. Even since Georg was there two years ago, remarkable changes have taken place. The political banners, omnipresent in Communist states, have disappeared. Prague is filled with tourists, both Western and Eastern. Czechs, too, are beginning to travel again abroad in increasing numbers. Culturally the country seems very much again a part of the West from the Beatles to the many translations of serious Western philosophical and sociological works. In movie theaters movies are shown from all over the world; the Soviet films which dominated a few years ago are now the exception. On the other hand, Western non-Communist newspapers, now available in some Eastern capitals, are still banned. The historians with whom we spoke, who two years ago still felt constrained to speak in Marxist terms, now have for a large part freed themselves from ideological considerations. The normalization and de-idealogization of life which has occurred in the last few years is encouraging. In our conversations with young people, including the hitchhikers we picked up, we were amazed how little influence twenty years of ideological training have had on the youth, and how critical they remained. As in East Germany, morale is low, especially as regards the economy, and people are perhaps even more outspoken.

 

After thinking, and even more, emoting, about a trip to Czechoslovakia for many years, we crossed the border near Cheb in early August--it was Wilma's first visit in twenty-eight years. It was getting dark as we drove into the Bohemian Forest, peaceful and quiet and, after all that time, actually very familiar: the hills on the horizon, the tall fir forests, the mushrooms in the wet moss, and the deteriorating roads as we approached Tremesne pod Primdou, the village where Anita lives with her family, and where we then spent a few days. The village is typical of many: it used to be German-speaking until the expulsion of the Germans in '46; now it has four hundred inhabitants, less than half of the pre-war number, quite a few of whom live in the high-rises built for the employees of the consolidated state farm. Therefore many of the old farmhouses and other buildings are standing empty as ruins, or have disappeared completely.

 

We visited various families in the village,: the all-day nursery school, an apartment in the high-rise, and had a very Czech, good, substantial, and plentiful lunch at the "House of Culture"; where people now go to drink.

 

We spent an evening--until midnight--carrying and heating and disposing of water, washing about five loads of clothes in a three-poundwringer-type machine, and then hanging them by moonlight on the fence post in the chicken yard, while the boys watched a Western on TV at the neighbors, and then slept in the tent in said chicken yard. We stuffed ourselves with a whole hamper full of fried mushrooms the size of a saucer, and Wilma with stag-liver in sour gravy with dumplings. (Anita's husband also shot twelve wild boars last winter, but they were out of boar meat.)

 

With Anita, we also went to Horsovsky Tyn-Bischofteinitz, Wilma'a home town. Although it never was a bustling metropolis, it did seem very quiet, but in good shape. The town administration is showing more awareness of the treasures of baroque and older architecture in the town square than the pre-war ones ever did. Especially in visiting the Renaissance castle, which has partly been converted into a museum, and the truly beautiful park, one becomes particularly aware of the many reminders of what seemed feudal characteristics, even in Wilma's time, on the one hand, and the almost totally new population which has no roots there, nor for the most part elsewhere, on the other. We ate in the House of Labor, formerly Hotel Traube, and then, after satisfying ourselves that the roof of the railroad station on which we used to sun ourselves hasn't changed, we climbed, boys and all, up the Schmalzberg and along the crest to the lovely old pilgrimage church, St. Anne's. It is in deplorable condition, apparently a victim of the fury of people who saw in it the burial ground of the Trauttmansdorffs, a symbol of the German, capitalist and Catholic past.

 

"Our" house has been completely transformed--into a mouse-gray box, used as the office building of a co-op dairy. The dairy itself stands in what used to be the garden. We walked around it as far as we could, hoping to find a tree-- or anything--left from before.

 

On the way back to Tremésne we stopped in Mirkov, in the house where Wilma was born, and had a long talk with the manager of what is now a two-thousand acre state farm. We also stopped in Neuhof, which she had last seen with her father in September 38. The buildings looked aged out of proportion to the years, and although there has been quite a bit of building, the farm gives the appearance of neglect--something of which the present inhabitants and even the manager are well aware.

 

We walked to the pond, Suchana, just as the sun was beginning to go down. With the seven hills in the background, it was not less beautiful than Wilma had remembered it. Mana, the manager's wife, whom I knew from school, told me that they had finally solved the riddle of the wooden hut, which, except for an essential feature, looked like an outhouse--and there it was: the little shelter we used to use to undress to go swimming. I don't know why these little man-made things from the past stand out so much in my memory. There was also the bridge my father built with me in 1933 across the Radbusa for my use, now a public thoroughfare.

 

We went back another day, also visiting the farms in the surrounding area where our relatives used to live, and speaking to laborers there. Although they must be better off than in the past, they, too, spoke nostalgically about the good old days when, also according to them, the farms were in»much better shape.

 

By then we were visiting Wilma's friend, Iva, a widow who lives with her teenaged daughter and her parents in a beautiful large garden--her father is a gardener-- at the foot of the Ryzmberk. The best part of our visits was feeling so much at home with people--this was actually also true of Georg and the boys who consider Czechoslovakia the highlight of the trip. Iva arranged a gathering for us with as many of our classmates as she could get together at a friend's house in Domazlice. They and most of the people to whom we talked seemed to emphasize and agree on several things: the Stalinist period is over, thank God, but some are not sure if it is so for good. One can talk and criticize rather freely, but the government pays little attention to criticism.

 

With regard to overall economic policies as well as themany instances of detail, lots of mistakes are being made which result in the general deterioration (from a never too-high level) of the economic conditions, and very poor morale. I am not commenting as an outsider, but rather paraphrasing what I have heard numerable times when I say that one important fault is that there is no reward for initiative--that, in fact, individual initiative seems to be discouraged.

 

We also spent a few days with Wilma's friend Frantisek and his family in Nyrsko and from there explored Devil's Lake: and the southern Boh(emian) Forest, as well as Chodsko, the folkloristically unique villages where Wilma's grandparents lived, and Ronsperg, where her grandparents were buried. If moss-covered tombstones, demolished by the Nazi, were not lying around chaotically, the cemetery would look like a thick primeval forest.

 

The Prague part of the trip was a little less gustily sentimental, but very nice and very interesting. There we met and enjoyed relatives, some of whom Wilma had not known before either, and met several people with whom we hope to stay in touch. We even became acquainted with a couple of communists.

 

Since Wilma was on the lookout for good recent Czech libraries, and soon found that publishing policy there is such that, also thanks to the avidly reading Czech public, books are quickly sold out, she decided to go directly to several publishers. In spite of vacation time, and of the suddenness of this idea, she had a very interesting day talking to editors, and is now supplied with Czech belles, some time to come.

 

Between Georg's discussions with historians, sight-seeing with the boys, and people, there was no time for theater, movies or political cabarets, which, we were told, are worth seeing. Very reluctantly we tore ourselves away from our alternating diet of sour craut and duck, Svickova and dumplings we passed through the beautiful, completely quiet town square of Budéjovice, wondering if one would have a similar feeling in Pompei. Our last hitchhiker, a student, insisted that we go with him to a village where they sell ice cream which be recommended as made by private enterprise. A few hours later we saw the lights and traffic of Linz, Austria. From there we drove without further extended stops over the Austrian and Swiss Alps and Northern ltaly and through France to Paris, where we took charter flight, said good-bye to Europe on our last day from Vezelay, the romanesque abbey overlooking a large area in Central France, and then once more, late at night with the Herzfelds in Nemour, by the light of flaming crepes suzette.

 

Shortly after our return from Europe, there was Danny's Bar Mitzvah, which turned out to be a very nice family reunion. In the last few months Georg has become increasingly involved in an exchange program between the State University of New York at Buffalo and Philander. Smith College, the college in Little Rock at which we both taught from 1950 to 1956. Ever since we left the South, Georg has tried to establish a relationship between a predominantly Negro institution in the South and a major university in the North. Both Buffalo and Philander Smith College which now has an administration which is much more realistic, about the limitations of the school than its predecessors, expressed an interest. Georg negotiated an agreement between the two schools last spring and this fall, with a major grant from U.S. Office of Education, the program got under way. The purpose of the exchange is to strengthen the level of instruction at Philander Smith College. This year a steady exchange of persons will take place to establish contacts between department at the two schools. The education departments are cooperating in the development of an extensive remedial education program, an honors program, and a lyceum series in Little Rock. Beginning this June, Philander Smith college faculty members will come to Buffalo for further graduate work during the summer and the regular school year, and Buffalo graduate students, and possibly some faculty members, will go to Little Rock to teach. The interest in the project among faculty members both here and in Little Rock and graduate students in Buffalo has been very gratifying. The role of the predominantly Negro college is, of course, changing at a time when higher education is becoming rapidly integrated in the South. Philander Smith College will, however, in our opinion continue to have a function to fulfill in the next years both because no public college exists as yet in Little Rock and because institutions are needed which will enable students to make the transition from disadvantaged, segregated elementary and secondary schools to the competitive demands of an integrated society.

 

We had better stop. With best greetings for the Holiday Season and the New Year to all of you, Georg and Wilma Iggers and the boys.