Jahresbrief 1968

100 Ivyhurst Road

Amherst, New York 14226

December 15, 1968

 

Dear Friends: It is a Sunday, a real Buffalo winter morning, snow, wind, 10° temperature, a pleasure to be indoors. The family is still asleep and 1 shall take this opportunity to write this letter which should have been ready already for days.

As usual this has been a busy although for the most part a satisfying year for us. Wilma was particularly occupied, combining the duties of teaching fulltime at Canisius, with the household, some research and writing, and civic activities. She enjoys teaching at Canisius College. The atmosphere at this Jesuit school is quite open, even moreso than when she came, and the Jesuits are probably even more liberal on religious and political questions than the lay faculty. Wilma has tenure now. She is teaching more literature, including a graduate course, and less elementary language than in the past. She has been using much of her limited academic leisure to read current Czech literature. The end of August she read a paper at a meeting in Washington on Jewish Themes in Post-World War II Czech and Slovak literature. Despite the decimation of the Jewish population by the Nazis and the extinction of the rich Bohemian German and Czech-Jewish culture, the past ten years of cultural normalization in Czechoslovakia have seen a surprising interest in Jewish themes in novel and film. A steady flow of books from Prague arrives at our house. For this coming summer, Wilma has received a grant from Canisius College to go to Prague to study the reception of German literature in Czechoslovakia since World War I, although she is particularly interested in the period since 1945. Wilma decided not to run for another term as president of the Buffalo Branch of the Women's International League of Peace and Freedom but is still quite involved in their activities.

Of our sons, Jeremy has been the one involved in the largest number of activities, academic and non-curricular. He is seventeen now, a senior in high school and making applications to colleges. He has done very well on the various scholastic aptitude tests and is a National Merit Scholarship semi- finalist as well as a winner of New York Regents scholarship. His grades at school have been respectable but not as good as his test scores would indicate. He does not let school work interfere with his many interests. Having been editor of the school's now extinct underground newspaper last year, he now has joined the establishment to become editorial editor for the official school paper. This takes a fair amount of time. In addition he is on the school chess team, has gone out for track although he is not a particularly outstanding athlete, and goes fencing. He reads quite a bit of good, especially recent literature. Ever since he started senior high school he has been in the midst of a circle of friends with similar interests. Like Danny, but much more so, he has become very independent so that we see very little of him. We were not very happy about his long hitchhiking excursions last summer although we consented to them. Twice he hitchhiked to Fayetteville, Arkansas, with a friend to visit the Thompson family and once to Washington, D.C. He wants to become a journalist and may major in English or history in college. He shall know in April which college will take him. But he wants to be and should be in a stimulating atmosphere.

Danny is fifteen and a half and a sophomore in high school. He has grown tremendously in the last year and is now taller than any of us. He spends most of his free time with his friend Mike. One of his current interests is automobiles. He bought himself a brokendown Fiat-600 for $40 which he wants to put into running order. Danny goes to judo class twice a week and to a swimming course once a week and now during the winter uses his spare time to go skating frequently. He also reads a fair amount, likes to write, and does particularly well in his English and history courses, less well in courses which interest him less. He shows quite a bit of imagination in his writing and this summer wrote us beautiful and very sensitive letters from camp. He spent the summer at Shaker Village Work Group where he engaged in agriculture, carpentry, and pottery and helped rebuild an old Shaker Village. He thoroughly enjoyed it. A friend of ours at the University of Nottingham in England has invited him to participate in an archeological excavation being conducted by the University of Nottingham next summer and he is very much looking forward to going.

Jonathan just turned thirteen. Last month was Bar Mitzvah, an occasion for a very pleasant family reunion with relatives and friends coming from Canada, California, Illinois, and my father coming from the South. The Bar Mitzvah was almost to the day on the thirtieth anniversary of the arrival of the group of refugees, including Wilma, her family and many of her relatives and friends, who fled Czechoslovakia together shortly after Munich and settled in the Hamilton, Ontario, area of Canada. Many are still there and with the proximity of Hamilton, Toronto, and Brantford to Buffalo we see quite a bit of them now. Jonathan has changed quite a bit in the last few months. He is very big for his age and is taller already than Wilma. He is no longer as fat as he was. He is a very pleasant but very quiet child. Unfortunately he has not yet succeeded in making friends -- he always had a circle of friends before we came here. He reads quite a bit, listens to the radio, and spends some time at the Y. Like Danny, he does well in the subjects which interest him, social studies and English, and less so in science which he finds boring. He, however, very much enjoyed the nature study camp he went to in Northern Ontario last summer, his first camp experience, and would like to go again next summer. His main interests right now are books, bowling, radios and sports although he is much more a spectator than a participant.

I myself enjoy the University as much as ever. The university, which became part of the state system six years, is still in a process of rapid growth. There is much room for experimentation and new ideas both in the university and in our department. Our department is more than twice as large now than when I came; the number and quality of graduate students has risen while on the undergraduate level the huge lecture classes which existed when I came have now with added faculty been supplemented by undergraduate seminars. My teaching assignments have been interesting. Until now I taught the lecture courses in German history; we are now adding a German historian so that I can devote myself more to my main interests in intellectual history. This year I am teaching a graduate seminar the first semester on Marx, the second on Problems of Contemporary Marxism. The seminar in which I have several very articulate members of the New Left as well as several who very much disagree with them has been very lively. I am also teaching an experimental sophomore course on methodology and interpretation of history and next semester shall be teaching the senior honors course in historiography. My book on German historicism finally appeared. I am now continuing my work on ideas of progress and decline in modern historical thought and also working on a history of historiography which will deal particularly with the impact of social science methods on recent historiography.

My main committee responsibility has been as chairman of the Committee on Co-operation with Predominantly Negro Colleges. The co-operative arrangement with Philander Smith College in Little Rock, about which I wrote you in last year's letter, is continuing into its fourth year. It is difficult to judge whether it has been a failure or a success. There has been a good deal of activity, PSC faculty studying here, consultants going down, etc. We have been particularly interested in working with the compensatory education program at Philander Smith. Philander Smith College cannot become a strong liberal arts college at this time. Its main function must be to help graduates of disadvantaged schools to overcome their educational gap and prepare them to enter the competitive main stream of American life. The impact which we can have on the school is, however, a very limited one. This year we shall very critically review our participation, compare it with other similar programs, and possibly move in other directions.

Our social action commitments have continued to center around the issue of peace and racial equality. In both, the contribution which we can make as individuals is distressingly small. Wilma has, of course, been involved in the various peace activities of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She also participated in a walk across the Peace Bridge last winter sponsored by the Quakers to bring money and medical supplies to Canada for transshipment to the Red Cross organizations of North Vietnam and South Vietnam and the National Liberation Front. The Women's International League has co-operated with the Friends and other peace organizations in setting up the Buffalo Draft Counseling Center which in contrast to the Resistance explores legal alternatives to the draft, including conscientious objection, but will counsel on the alternatives of prison and emigration if all other channels have been exhausted. I have been a counselor for the Center since it began functioning last March, a work which I have found very satisfying. I have also become somewhat more involved in Buffalo integration problems. Unfortunately many channels of communication between the white and black communities have been broken with the increasing separatism, the result of black disillusionment, and the failure of integration has led many persons in the black community to favor school decentralization and local control of segregated schools. Since this summer I have been chairman again of the Education Committee of the Buffalo Branch of the NAACP, a function I held in Little Rock and New Orleans. The NAACP has been unfortunately inactive in the past but remains an organization committed to integration. I myself try to stay in the background as I did in Little Rock and New Orleans. The school problems are in many ways similar. The Common Council which has fiscal control over the schools has effectively stymied the very incomplete plans for racial balance adopted by the Board of Education under an order from the State Commissioner of Education which resulted from an NAACP action. Any further move toward school integration will now require legal action, as it did in Little Rock and New Orleans when I was there.

We watched with great suspense the developments in Czechoslovakia in spring and summer. A steady flow of letters and newspapers came from Wilma's old friends and relatives as well as from acquaintances we have made on our recent trips reflecting the euphoria as well as the premonitions of disaster of people there. After a break of several weeks after the invasion, this stream has continued.

The events of August 21 are saddening not only because of what they mean in terms of individual lives and the political and cultural development of Czechoslovakia but also because they destroyed the hopes for a more rapid liberalization of conditions generally in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War atmosphere. If conditions permit, we hope to spend several weeks in Prague next summer where Wilma will be working on her grant and I on trends in Historiography in Eastern European countries since World War II.

We were saddened by the passing of my mother in September. Although she had been ill for many years, her death came at a time when she had shown considerable recovery and we expected it least. We have suggested to my father who is now 74 to move to Buffalo but for the time being he intends to continue his work as a salesman traveling through the entire South and keep his apartment in Richmond.

This more or less sums up the main events and involvements in our life this past year.

We wish you a happy holiday season and a Happy New Year. The last year, marked by the continuation of war in Vietnam and Nigeria, by the invasion of Czechoslovakia, increasing tension in the Near East, and assassination in this country had its fill of violence, and suffering. Let us hope that the coming year will see an advance toward a more humane rational world.

Georg, Wilma, Jeremy, Daniel, and Jonathan Iggers