During the early 1970s, Dr. John M. Spalek, then Chair of the State University of New York at Albany's Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, initiated an oral history project to interview German-speaking academics who immigrated to the United States in the 1930s. Dr. Spalek and his team of researchers established contacts with hundreds of émigrés and their families and discovered that many still possessed important historical materials pertaining to their immigration. In 1976, recognizing the urgent need to save and preserve these papers, he proposed the establishment of what is now the German and Jewish Émigré Collection.
During the 1930s, totalitarian countries expelled thousands of intellectuals who opposed the rising power of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party. In Germany roughly 4,000 academics lost positions, and 1,700 of those scholars came to the United States. This enormous "brain drain" during the Hitler years cost Germany and Austria many of their most noted scholars. Some of these individuals would become Nobel Prize winners.
Many émigrés came to New York City and were hired by the newly created Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research, a "University in Exile" formed in 1933 to provide a safe haven for academics who had lost their positions in Germany. One member of the University in Exile, economist Hans Staudinger, was the first to agree to donate his papers to the University at Albany. Other New School faculty members soon followed his example. Within the next few years, Albany became home to the papers of political sociologist Hans Speier, economist Gerhard Colm, writer/philosopher Erich von Kahler, and political journalist Karl Otto Paetel. Over the last three decades, the papers of many other émigré social scientists, humanists, writers, and artists have been added to the collection.
Today the German and Jewish Intellectual Émigré Collection is preserved and accessible at the University Libraries' M. E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives. While the papers of former faculty members of the University in Exile of the New School for Social Research form the core of the collection, the current Émigré Collection consists of 108 collections comprising more than 1,500 cubic feet of personal papers, organizational records, political pamphlets, tape recordings, photographs, and related research materials documenting the German intellectual exodus of the 1930s and 1940s. The collection has been used by scholars from many European and American universities, colleges, and other research institutions to produce scores of doctoral dissertations, theses, books, articles, conference papers, exhibits, and videos.
Collection Profile and Overview: Brian Keough
Illustrations: Larry Gordon