Friday, December 2, 2016

Theresienstadt concentration camp documents, 1939-1945

The Theresienstadt Concentration Camp Documents collection at the Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections department consists of 200 daily bulletins of the ‘Jewish Self-Administration’ of the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia from 1942 to 1944. These documents contain orders relating to a range of issues, from housing and personnel in the camp to lists of Jews to be kept at the camp or to be deported to work and death camps in Poland and elsewhere.

The collection was donated to Brandeis University in 1973 by Emma Goldscheider Fuchs, a Holocaust survivor who was held at the camp along with her first husband and two children. Fuchs’ husband, Alfred Goldscheider, managed to collect and hide the documents while working in a minor administrative post within the Jewish Self-Administration of the camp. Alfred and the couple’s son Hanus died in German custody, and when Emma and her daughter Nina were freed by Allied troops they returned to Czechoslovakia to attempt to reclaim their home and business. Finding their factory under the control of the new communist government, Emma and Nina departed for the United States with a single package in tow – the documents from Theresienstadt. It was not until after the war the Emma Goldscheider Fuchs knew the full extent of the crimes that had been perpetrated against Europe’s Jewish population. Although she did not realize their full import at the time, the documents that she managed to save are among the most complete collections of administrative documents from Theresienstadt in existence.[1] Goldscheider-Fuchs’ decision to donate the collection to Brandeis was informed by her desire that the collection be available both to scholars for research purposes and to Jewish students, in the words of Professor Jacob Cohen, “so that they can abstract the spiritual values behind them.”[2]

The German-run camp in the ghetto of Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia served as a hybrid concentration camp and transit camp for European Jews from November 1941 to May 1945. While initially a transit camp for Czech Jews, it soon came to have a more specialized role as a holding camp for Jews from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia who were either elderly, disabled due to military service, or famous for their cultural and artistic work. From Theresienstadt, most inmates were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz and other death camps. Theresienstadt was unique in its role as a subject of Nazi propaganda. During the Second World War, the Nazi state sought to hide the full extent of its crimes against the Jewish population of Europe and other peoples it deemed inferior (Roma, homosexuals, habitual criminals, etc.). The fiction that the state sought to promote was that Jews were being sent to occupied Eastern Europe solely to take part in forced labor. In order to support that version of events, Theresienstadt was maintained as a camp for the elderly and others who could not be expected to perform hard labor. Incidents including an infamous visit by the International Red Cross to the camp in 1942 provided Nazi authorities with the opportunity to present a fantasy version of camp life by painting houses, landscaping, and staging cultural events. Soon after, deportations to the east restarted. Theresienstadt thus helped the Nazi regime to obscure the mass murder being perpetrated in Eastern Europe. Likewise, material conditions in the camp, including rations and availability of essential goods, were deliberately kept at low levels to facilitate the death of inmates from starvation and disease.[3]

Documents from this collection detail regulations to be followed by inmates and camp staff alike, as well as statistics and reports on the events in the camp. Tagesbefehl (Order of the Day) Number 185, distributed August 1, 1942, reveals several aspects of daily life at the camp and provides evidence of the deliberate manner in which material misery was forced on the inmates there. The document begins with an order “to all inmates of the ghetto” in the name of Theresienstadt’s Ältestenrat (Council of Jewish Elders). Noting recent cases of theft, the order outlines sanctions that can be taken against inmates in the event that they are caught stealing. It warns the “sharpest means” will be used to discourage theft, including “not only with deprivation of freedom and reduction of rations, but also with deprivation of belongings and goods, branding, and other harsh measures.” Given the poverty of most of the ghetto’s residents, stealing was often a means for survival. Responding to theft in this way thus magnified the effects of existing material deprivation. As if the consequences of this sort of policy were not already clear, the order continues by stipulating that, “The movable goods of those convicted of theft, down to their clothing, underwear and shoes that they are wearing, the necessary bedclothes and necessary eating utensils, will be forfeited for the benefit of the community.”[4]

Although Tagesbefehl 185 consists of just one double-sided page, it is unusually informative. In addition to revealing measures taken against thieves, it also refers to the “Ostentransport” – the deportation of Jews in the ghetto to concentration and death camps in the east, especially in Poland and Ukraine. According to the document, one such transport was planned for August 4th. Most of those who were sent east from Theresienstadt went to their deaths, either by gas, bullets, overwork or starvation. Other orders contain lists of those to be deported and those to be retained at the camp, which according to Professor Jacob Cohen “now can be translated as ‘who will live and who will die.’”[5] Between January and October 1942, approximately 42,005 people were deported from Theresienstadt to the east, mostly to their deaths. Between October 1942 and October 1944, an additional 46,750 Jews were deported from the camp to Auschwitz-Birkenau.[6]

In addition to a brief reference to the movement of Jewish inmates out of Theresienstadt, the document notes the arrival of new inmates from Germany and Czechoslovakia. It mentions the arrival on July 30th of 50 people from Munich, 968 from Dortmund, 100 from Berlin and 1000 from Prague, as well as the arrival of an additional 100 from Berlin on July 31st. The second half of the document relates births and deaths in the camp, clearly demonstrating the effects of the harsh conditions there. Along with one birth, it lists 47 recent deaths. Each deceased person is listed by name, birth year and the number of the transport with which they arrived at the camp. Several facts about those listed in this section are worthy of note. To begin with, many are listed with the middle name Sara or Israel, names that German Jews were forced to adopt beginning in 1939. This is one way to tell German Jews from Jews of other nationalities. Second, the birth years of those who died are all between 1850 and 1896. This means that in 1942, they would have been between 46 and 92 years old. This underlines the function of the camp as a place for older Jews who could not be expected to perform hard labor, although the fact that many of those who died were in their 50s or early 60s may also testify to the harshness of life in the camp.

Another particularly instructive document of life at the camp is the December 15, 1942 Rundschreiben (Newsletter) of the building management department of the camp’s internal administration. While primarily concerned with issues such as housing, building maintenance and fire prevention, it also contains valuable statistics including a head-count of inmates at the camp (47,878 people). It also lists planned leisure activities, including comedy shows, operettas and readings from the Bible and Jewish literature. The strangeness of these events occurring amid such suffering and in the context of an ongoing genocide, points to the unique nature of the camp at Theresienstadt and its complex propaganda function. It is evidence of the Nazi administration’s willingness to allow for the continuation of Jewish cultural life within the camp, a cultural life that the regime held up as evidence that the Jews were being treated humanely. It is also evidence of the resilience of the Jewish community in the camp and its desire to maintain a degree of normalcy, collective identity, and hope in the very shadow of death. Also to the end of making Theresienstadt appear to be a normal civilian city, the S.S. allowed the Jewish Self-Administration to run a bank which printed unique paper money adorned with Stars of David and images of Moses holding the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. The administrative file for this collection contains examples of these bills, which were distributed to inmates beginning in 1943 in order to give the appearance of a normal economy within the camp.[7]

Later documents from the collection reveal the continuing harshness of life in the camp as the war and the Holocaust dragged on. Tagesbefehl 397, dated January 7, 1944, reveals the difficult material conditions in the camp. It reminds readers of the strict punishments that awaited those who failed to turn off lights in accordance with the curfew. It also reminds them that street lights are only to be turned on and off by officials of the Ghetto Watch, likewise threatening strict punishments for anyone who tampers with the lighting. The September 14, 1944 Mitteilungen (Message) of the Council of Jewish Elders mentions general administrative questions such as curfews and work schedules, also notes the deportation of two “mixed Jews” (Mischlinge) to a concentration camp as punishment for an escape attempt.[8]

These documents are likely to interest students of the history of the Holocaust, of the history and culture of German and Czech Jewry, and those who wish to better understand the lived experience of the Nazi genocide of European Jews. The documents are especially illuminating in that they reveal some of the contours of Jewish self-administration in the camp. Yet we should not be misled by the harshness of policies carried out in the name of the Council of Jewish Elders. After all, the Jewish administration could not be truly independent, and was in fact responsible to the S.S. Yet it could provide a front by which the Nazis could disguise their violent aims and even shift some of the blame for harsh conditions onto the Jews themselves. One should take care in interpreting these documents, given the will of the Nazi regime to make Theresienstadt appear normal for outside observers and thus to obscure the extent of state-sponsored mass murder occurring in Europe. Even so, they attest not only to the suffering of the camp inmates, but also to the unusual resilience of religious and cultural life there – the will thousands of people to carry on their lives amid incredible hardships.

1. Helen E. Sullivan, “Nazi Documents Presented to Goldfarb Library,” Brandeis University Gazette, vol. 11, no. 5, January 31, 1974.
2. “Nazi Death Camp Papers Given to Brandeis Library,” Boston Globe, 1/10/1974.
3. “Theresienstadt,” U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia.
4. “Tagesbefehl No. 185,” 8-1-1942, Box August 1942-February 1943, Theresienstadt concentration camp documents, 1939-1945, Robert. D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections Department, Brandeis University.
5. “Nazi Death Camp Papers Given to Brandeis Library,” Boston Globe, 1/10/1974.
6. “Theresienstadt,” U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia.
7. Margalit Shlain, “The Bank of the Jewish Self-Administration.”
8. “Mitteilungen der Juedischen Selbstverwaltung Theresienstadt,” 9-14-1944, Box: Original Copies 1944, Theresienstadt concentration camp documents, 1939-1945, Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections Department, Brandeis University.

The finding aid for the Theresienstadt concentration camp documents can be found here.

description by Drew Flanagan, Archives & Special Collections Assistant and PhD candidate in History

Friday, October 28, 2016

Leonard Baskin & The Gehenna Press, 1951-1971

The Gehenna Press, founded by Leonard Baskin (1922-2000) in 1942, and located in Northampton MA, was one of the premier 20th-century fine presses in America. Leonard Baskin, a noted sculptor and illustrator, created many of the books etchings himself. This Spotlight, based on our digital exhibit of the same name, highlights the collection of early Gehenna Press books and ephemera that was donated to the library by Maurice and Edith Shulman in 1972. The items in the Leonard Baskin and the Gehenna Press collection date to 1951-1971, roughly the first two decades of sustained productivity of the Gehenna Press. The web exhibit was made possible by the gracious permission of Lisa Unger Baskin. The copyright to the Gehenna Press books remains with the Baskin family and should be honored accordingly.

About Leonard Baskin

Leonard Baskin was born on August 15, 1922 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The son of a rabbi, he spent most of his childhood in Brooklyn. At the age of 13 he watched a clay modelling demonstration at a department store and knew then he wanted to be a sculptor. He attended Yale on a scholarship, and it was there he discovered the works of William Blake, which gave him the ambition to become an artist, poet, and printer. The idea for Gehenna Press was born.

Baskin left Yale to join the US Navy during World War II. In 1947 he married Esther Tane and in 1950 spent a year in Florence and Paris studying art. This year had a profound effect on him, opening his eyes and mind to the Renaissance artistic traditions and methods. In 1951 he and Esther moved to Worcester, Massachusetts where he taught at the Worcester Art Museum school and began publishing his own wood engravings under the Gehenna Press imprint. In 1953 he began teaching at Smith College. Throughout these years he continued to sculpt and paint along with running the Gehenna Press. Baskin considered himself first and foremost a sculptor. As he once said, "Although it has been my prints which have won me praise, my [real] and profound concern is for sculpture." His body of work is tremendous, with his most famous sculpture being the Roosevelt Memorial bas-relief in Washington DC.

In 1967 Leonard Baskin divorced his first wife and married Lisa Unger. In 1974 they moved to England. Here they could be closer to the poet Ted Hughes, with whom Baskin had a decades long collaboration and friendship. They inspired each other. Hughes would send Baskin poems which would inspire Baskin to create new woodcuts, and these woodcuts would spark new poems from Hughes. In 1981 the Baskins returned to Leeds Massachusetts, where they remained for the rest of Baskin's life. He continued to run the Gehenna Press and create art. He died in 2000 at the age of 77.

While Baskin considered himself chiefly a sculptor, it is his printmaking that has given him the most attention and fame. His study and use of traditional methods and the years he devoted to mastering and developing these skills resulted in an impressive body of work. Baskin avoided abstraction, preferring to work in the tradition of figurative art. This came out of his belief that the human being was the center of the universe as we know it. As he once stated "man is glorious", and while Baskin often had a bleak view of the world, he believed in the final redemptive power in man. And his art was an attempt to communicate that power.

About The Gehenna Press

In 1942 Leonard Baskin founded the Gehenna Press while at Yale (the name coming from a line in Milton's Paradise Lost: "And black Gehenna call'd, the type of Hell."). Inspired by William Blake's example of being both a poet and an artist and bookmaker, Baskin's first printed book, On a Pyre of Withered Roses, was a selection of his own poems. Due to the war (World War II, in which Baskin served in the Navy) and five years of dedicated artistic study, much of it in Europe, Baskin's second book, A Little Book of Natural History, was published nine years after the first.

The Press' books in the early 1950s have an almost naive charm. Either printed on different second-hand printing presses or commercially printed, they show Baskin developing his wood engraving and bookmaking skills. By 1959 Baskin felt that he had begun to "invent typographic structures of originality and sensitivity."

Around the same time Baskin relinquished his role as the sole printer. Starting with the book Thirteen Poems by Wilfred Owen, Baskin partnered with Richard Warren of The Metcalf Printing and Publishing Company, and for Horned Beetles and Other Insects, Baskin began using Harold McGrath as the Gehenna Press pressman. This led to a new level of superb workmanship in the Gehenna Press books, complemented by an increasingly sophisticated and elegant choice of typeface.

Throughout the 1960s Baskin published both books devoted to his woodcuts and to literary works illustrated with his, or other artists, engravings. The 1960s output of the Gehenna Press is diverse, including such stunning achievements as Flosculi Sententiarum and Euripides Hippolytos. In the mid-1960s, due to rising costs, Baskin occasionally designed and/or printed books for other publishers.

In 1974, after selling the Press equipment to Harold McGrath for one dollar, Baskin and his family moved to Devon, England. There, Baskin and Hughes collaborated on a broadside of the Hughes poem "Pike" but had never done a book together. After several years of Baskin devoting himself to other artistic endeavors, he and Hughes collaborated on their first Gehenna Press book: A Primer of Birds.

In 1983 the Baskins returned to America and settled in Leeds, Massachusetts and Baskin began publishing under the imprint of Eremite Press. By 1989,  though, he had switched back to using the Gehenna Press designation. Arthur Larson of Hadley, Massachusetts was a frequent printer of Gehenna Press books at the time, and woodcuts were often printed by Daniel Keleher of Wild Carrot Press, also in Hadley. The Gehenna Press bindings at this time also achieved a new level of elegance, with many of the books now being bound by Gray Parrot of Easthampton, Massachusetts.

The 1990s saw Baskin continuing his close collaboration with Ted Hughes, publishing Capricco and Howls and Whispers. The Gehenna Press printed a variety of books throughout the decade, with Baskin continuing to develop and grow as an engraver, including the incorporation of more color into prints. In 2000, Leonard Baskin died, as did both Ted Hughes and Harold McGrath.

No other private press has achieved anything near its output and longevity, and after over 100 books and 50 years, the Gehenna Press can be called the most successful private press of all time.

Click here to see the finding aid to the Leonard Baskin and The Gehenna Press collection.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Witches, Demons, and Ghosts in Special Collections

Among the items held in the Brandeis University Archives and Special Collections are numerous rare volumes on a subject quite fitting for autumn in New England: the supernatural. Among the topics covered in these books are witchcraft, demons, and ghosts. The field that studies such phenomena is referred to as demonology. The volumes range in date from the 16th to the 20th century and are written by figures from literature, religion, and the history of medicine. Interestingly enough, many of these books are skeptical, rational responses to the rising paranoia caused by Reformation era witch trials and anti-Enlightenment or Romantic era obsessions with the supernatural.

De praestigiis daemonum, & incantationibus ac veneficiis libri sex: postrema editione sexta aucti & recogniti : accessit liber apologeticus, et pseudomonarchia daemonum: cum rerum ac verborum copioso indice, Johann Weyer (1583, originally published in 1563)

The title of this book, written by notable 16th-century Dutch-German demonologist Johann Weyer, translates to On the Illusions of Demons. Written in Latin, Weyer’s book is considered a foundational study in the field of the supernatural, and also to be quite ahead of its time in method and scope. De Praestigiis covers magic spells and potions but its most famous section is Pseudomonarchia Daemonum [The False Kingdom of the Demons], a catalogue of major demons and their supposed rankings in Hell.[1] Weyer wished to address the rampant witch hysteria of his day and he believed that “evidence” of the supernatural could be explained by logical, rational means. His famous index of demons is generally considered an attempt to debunk theories of vast hierarchies of Hell. While Weyer based his research and writing in contemporary theology, he was ahead of his time in proffering ideas that today might be categorized as literary studies, cultural and folk history, psychology, sociology, and medicine. Due to his focus on mental origins of witchcraft and demonic possession, Weyer is sometimes considered a proto-pioneer in psychiatry. The Brandeis University Library holds English translations of this text.

Letters on demonology and witchcraft: addressed to J. G. Lockhart, Esq., Sir Walter Scott (1830)

Sir Walter Scott, famed author of Romantic historical novels, wrote Letters two years before he died, while recovering from the first of several strokes and looking for a change from his typical subject matter. The book is composed of ten letters to his son in law J.G. Lockhart (who suggested the topic) and presents a rational view of demonology and the supernatural. Scott presents these phenomena and the witch trials that followed as resulting from medical causes (much like Weyer) or stemming from early Christians’ misunderstanding of foreign religions (especially Islam). He also noted that as witch trials grew in popularity, the charges were often conflated with political crimes against the state. The book itself is bound in a beautiful red cover embossed with images of typical witch’s items: pointed hats, broomsticks, toads, and cats. Particularly stunning are the ten full-color illustrations, drawn by George Cruikshank, depicting the creatures and figures discussed in the text.[2] Cruikshank was also a noted illustrator for Victorian novelist Charles Dickens, who is in turn connected to the next book discussed below.

The Mystery Revealed: Containing a series of transactions and authentic testimonials respecting the supposed Cock-Lane ghost, which have hitherto been concealed from the public, Goldsmith, Oliver (1928 reprint of the 1762 ed. printed for W. Bristow, London.)

This artifact is a 1928 reprinting of a 1762 pamphlet presumably written and produced by Irish playwright and author Oliver Goldsmith. The subject of the pamphlet is the “Cock Lane Ghost,” the name given to a strange occurrence that achieved widespread fascination in late 18th-century England. William Kent, a usurer from the countryside, moved to London with the sister of his dead wife, with whom he was in a relationship. His lover later died and many thought foul play was involved. Kent and his landlord, Richard Parsons, entered into litigation about money. Some years later, at the building that served as their lodgings in Cock Lane, Elizabeth, the daughter of Kent’s landlord, began to suffer fits accompanied by strange sounds in the building, most notably “knocking” or “scratching” sounds. It was claimed the ghost of Kent’s first wife was haunting the children. This became a something of a national obsession, and was investigated through two séances organized by a committee of noted figures of the day, among them the writer Samuel Johnson. Johnson and others believed it was a hoax to cover up foul play and impropriety, and Parson and several of his supporters were eventually tried and found guilty of conspiracy against Kent. [3]

The pamphlet takes the view that the ghost is real, and was intended to support Kent’s innocence in the entire event. The Cock-Lane ghost remained a cultural touchstone of English life for the next century, giving rise to the popular phrase “One Knock for Yes, Two Knocks for No” used in the popular images of séances. Its impact on literature was especially notable. Charles Dickens, writing in his great novel A Tale of Two Cities almost one hundred years later, uses references to this ghost as a way of developing a sense of the time for the late 19th century in the opening chapter “The Period.” [4]

These are just a few of the fascinating items on occult that are held by the Archives and Special Collections at Brandeis University. And of course, all these items are available for public and scholarly perusal!

For more on Brandeis's supernatural special collections, see this BrandeisNOW article on "Witches in the Archives."


[1] Wikipedia. De praestigiis daemonum.
[2] Edinburgh University Library. The Walter Scott Digital Archive.
[3] Wikipedia. Cock Lane Ghost.
[4] Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities, 1859.

Description by Matthew Chernick, Masters Student in Comparative Humanities and Archives & Special Collections assistant.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Zora Neale Hurston’s Jonah’s Gourd Vine

University Archives & Special Collections proudly announces the recent acquisition of a first edition of Zora Neale Hurston’s debut novel Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934). Hurston (January 7, 1891 – January 28, 1960) was an American author, folklorist, and anthropologist whose work is closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance. She published several pieces on black folklore and culture in the American South and her work includes four novels and over fifty plays, short stories, and essays. Her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is widely considered to be a vastly influential work of both African-American and women’s literature.[1] Hurston inscribed this particular copy of Jonah’s Gourd Vine to Kate Thompson, daughter of anthropologist Harold Thompson, with the words “To/ Kate Thompson/ A gold throne-angel/ with shiny wings/ Zora Neale Hurston.”[2] This book, along with its restored, rare dust jacket was procured through the generous support of the Ann and Abe Effron Fund.

Jonah’s Gourd Vine is a semi-autobiographical narrative of a philanderingAfrican-American preacher named John Pearson as his family travels from Alabama to Eatonville, Florida (Hurston’s hometown).[3] Hurston wove into the text of the novel elements of her parent’s life and marriage, as well as her own education and anthropological research. The book’s title is derived from a passage from the Book of Jonah, which describes a vine being eaten away by a serpent.

This first edition of Jonah’s Gourd Vine is a beautiful artifact of the art, literature, and society of the Harlem Renaissance. Its stunning, pictorial dust jacket vividly portrays detailed scenes from the novel. The introduction is by Fannie Hurst, a noted Jewish-American author and activist of the early twentieth century, and writer, photographer, and fellow cultural luminary Carl Van Vechten is quoted on the dust jacket. Both Hurst and Van Vechten had close ties to many members of the Harlem Renaissance.

Hurst served as Hurston’s patron, while Hurston was Hurst’s trusted confidant, also sometimes working as Hurst’s chauffer, maid, and secretary. Though the relationship between the two was complex and often fraught with racial and socioeconomic tensions, Hurst, along with Van Vechten, was strongly supportive of the extremely intelligent and talented Hurston. Hurst’s and Van Vechten’s patronage included ensuring Hurston’s admission into Barnard College, where she finished the degree she had begun at Howard University.[4] Hurston went on to conduct graduate work in Anthropology at Columbia University.

On its own, this novel is an excellent addition to Brandeis University’s Special Collections, but its research value is greatly enhanced due to its multiple connections to other holdings in the department. Special Collections is home to a large collection of Fannie Hurst’s papers, and included among these materials is a letter from Hurst to Hurston. In addition, Special Collections’ Carl Van Vechten photographs collection includes images of Hurst, Hurston and a number of other figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Lastly, Special Collections is home to other literary works of the Harlem Renaissance, including several works by Langston Hughes, with whom Hurston collaborated on the 1930 play Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life.

1. Wikipedia: Zora Neale Hurston.
2. Bookseller's note.
3. Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. Jonah's Gourd Vine (novel, 1934)" (digital exhibit).
4. Jewish Women’s Archive Encyclopedia: “Fannie Hurst.”

Description by Matthew Chernick, Masters Student in Comparative Humanities and Archives & Special Collections assistant.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Dr. and Mrs. Bernard H. Kessner Collection of Doughty Birds

It sometimes surprises our visitors to learn that Special Collections is home not just to books and papers, but to objects as well. Objects, just like books, can tell important stories—stories about their creators, stories about their owners, stories about the world in which they were made and used—and we can learn from objects in much the same way that we can learn from textual documents. Take, for example, our collection of Chinese snuff bottles...which is both visually stunning as well as utilitarian in nature, as these bottles were originally meant for daily use. Thus, in one collection we simultaneously learn about popular customs and class distinctions as well as about the artistic methods employed in China during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

One particularly fascinating set of objects proudly housed in Special Collections is the Dr. and Mrs. Bernard H. Kessner Collection of Doughty Birds. This collection consists of seven hand-crafted bone china sculptures of birds (and one bee!) designed (and signed) by famed British sculptor and potter Dorothy Susan Doughty (1892-1962). Doughty, known mainly for her American bird models, also designed models based on English birdlife during the second half of her life. The seven porcelain sculptures were fired at the Royal Worcester Ceramic Works in Stoke-on-Trent, England, a city famed since the 17th century for its industrial-scale pottery manufacturing. Royal Worcester is one of the oldest remaining English porcelain brands in existence today and has been granted Royal Warrants three times since its founding in 1751. Donated in 1972 by Dr. and Mrs. Bernard H. Kessner, the sculptures are: Female Yellow-headed Blackbird and Spiderwort, Male Yellow-headed Blackbird and Spiderwort, Bee in Apple Blossom, Female Yellowthroat and Water Hyacinth, Male Yellowthroat and Water Hyacinth, Female Scarlet Tanager and White Oak Spray, and Male Scarlet Tanager and White Oak Spray.

Whimsical, natural, beautiful, delicate, and strong, Doughty’s sculptures were clearly meant to be viewed from several angles – each angle providing the viewer with a different perspective of the bird in its natural habitat. Doughty posed her birds in an array of emotive attitudes and always depicted both the male and female of species. Upon close inspection, the viewer is able to see the lifelike expressions on the birds’ faces, to notice the distinction between their individual markings, and to find the hidden details. It can be easy to lose yourself in the tiny world surrounding each bird, similar to the way you might lose yourself in the glory of a birdwatching excursion.

The Kessner Collection is not the only gateway to nature visitors will find in Special Collections, and in fact, it nicely complements two other collections held in this department. One of these collections is a set of spectacular wildlife photographs taken by famed naturalist, avid photographer, and editor of the Peterson field guides, Roger Tory Peterson. Special Collections is also home to naturalist and painter John James Audubon’s stunning set of life-sized, hand-coloured prints entitled Birds of America (these are bound in a four-volume set of double-elephant folios, each as large as one of our Reading Room tables!). Doughty, Peterson, and Audubon each portrayed the birdlife of America, not in isolation, but in the context of its natural habitat. All three artists portray their winged subjects surrounded by the flora and fauna among which they existed—some perched near shrubs, some standing half in the water, some with bees buzzing nearby.

The Doughty bird sculptures, like Peterson’s and Audubon’s works, do more than merely depict American birdlife. They are pieces of art, pleasing to the eye as well as to the mind. They should prove interesting to art historians, botanists, ornithologists, and amateur birders alike, and all three serve as primary source examples for the study of art, birds, and plant-life in America over the past 200 years.

The Kessner Collection of Doughty Birds is open to all researchers and visitors, whether you are looking for a little natural beauty to brighten up your day, or to conduct a study of the flora and fauna of America. While several of the statues are on-site in the University Archives & Special Collections Department (Goldfarb Library, Level 2), a few are on loan and can be viewed at the Rose Art Museum as part of Mark Dion's permanent installation “The Undisciplined Collector.”

Description by Chloe Morse-Harding, Reference Archivist and Surella Evanor Seelig, Archives & Special Collections Outreach Librarian.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Franz Lehman letters and other material, 1943-1949

The ninety-one letters and official documents that make up the Franz Lehman letters and other material collection at Brandeis University’s Robert D. Farber Archives & Special Collections provide a fascinating, touching, and rare personal look at the myriad experiences of Franz Lehman and his family during and after the Second World War. Franz Lehman served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946, first as a Private First Class and then as a Corporal. His German language skills helped to qualify him for service in the American military government that was tasked with administrating a conquered and devastated Germany in the months and years after the war. Lehman’s letters home detail his experiences at Fort Ord, California, in England preparing for Operation Overlord (1944), and during the Allied advance across France, Luxembourg, and finally into western Germany. His letters contain detailed descriptions and opinions on the conduct of American and French military governments in postwar Germany. They also address the process of finding and prosecuting members of the Nazi party and the efforts of the “Monuments Men” to locate documents, art, and cultural artifacts in the ruins of Germany. His letters, as well as those of his family and friends, also address the Lehman family’s quest to help their relative, Franz’s Aunt Hedi, who was held captive at the German concentration camp Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia.

Lehman’s attempts to help his aunt are evidence of a lesser-known but no doubt common experience for Jewish families during and after the Second World War. On July 19, 1944, Lehman received a letter from the “Help the Deportees Committee” of the British Jewish charity Union of Self-Aid Organisations for Relief and Rescue of German and Austrian Nazi Victims. The letter informed Lehman that it was impossible to send money to Theresienstadt, as Lehman had apparently attempted to do, due to an agreement between the Portuguese and German governments. That agreement also stipulated the types of parcels that could be sent to the camp, and required written evidence that the person to be helped was in fact in the camp.[1] This red tape was an additional humiliation imposed by a Nazi regime that by then was in terminal decline, and once that regime was defeated Lehman himself set out to try to find and help his aunt. His visit to Theresienstadt (which took him through Munich, Ulm, and Nuremberg) appears to have been fruitless and he concludes a July 4, 1945 letter about the trip by saying: “But unfortunately of aunt Hedi, nothing can I report yet. That I have to move now the next few days is also unfortunately [sic] for her, if to Neustadt, she wanted to come.”[2]

Also of interest is Lehman’s account of his military unit’s travels across France and Luxembourg and into Germany, as well as his account of the setting up of the American military government in Gau Westmark, a region of Germany that included portions of the contemporary states of Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate. Lehman reflects at length on the situations of the French, Luxembourgish, and German peoples in the wake of the war, on the social displacement caused by collaboration and postwar purges of those who collaborated with the German occupations of France and Luxembourg, and on the situation of Jewish, Russian, and other displaced persons in postwar Europe.

The U.S. Third Army’s advance across Europe initially took Lehman to France and Luxembourg. On January 18, 1945, shortly after his arrival in Luxembourg, Lehman had the chance to compare his impressions of the two countries. “The French remind me now of when I had to read De Bello Gallico. In it Caesar said about the French that they were “cupido rerum novarum,” hungry for changes, and maybe that makes them the advance guards of all things pleasant and good to live for. Here in the funny little concoction of a country [Luxembourg], their motto is “Mir wolle Beiwe wat mir sin,” [“I want to remain what I am”] the veritable glue that ties them down from ever changing.”[3] If Lehman was struck by the austerity and conservatism of Luxembourg’s culture, he was more pleased by their treatment of those accused of collaboration, which he compared favorably to the purge then occurring in France. In a January 23, 1945 letter he notes the “realistic” manner in which the Luxembourgish dealt with suspects, which included “no public shavings of women’s heads like in France.”[4]

Upon arriving in postwar Germany, Lehman’s letters begin to describe the process of putting in place a U.S. military government and the army’s efforts at bringing former Nazis and war criminals to justice. His descriptions of his own work in the military government and the conditions in postwar Germany are richly detailed and contain many insights and observations. The U.S. military government headquarters were set up in what Lehman describes as the “palace” of former Gauleiter Joseph Bürckel. Lehman writes of how some Germans would approach the occupiers to ask for help or offer services at the beginning of the occupation, insisting that they had been opposed to Nazism all along and speaking in “a sort of petulant tone and so “bieder” [respectable] it burns me up [so] that I just turn them out.”[5]

Lehman was struck by the sheer quantity of files kept by the Nazi administration, stating that “there are records, files and what not to float a battleship in.” Lehman’s work put him in close contact with the German population, as well as with Displaced Persons (probably former forced laborers) from throughout Hitler’s fallen European empire. He writes that he and two other soldiers were responsible for moving these files with the help of twenty-five “Poles, Russians, Italians and French” from a nearby Displaced Persons camp.[6] In addition to dealing with the human consequences of Nazi policy, the U.S. military government sought out qualified Germans to administer the region. In an April 24, 1945 letter, Lehman describes some of these characters. One was a famous history professor who had a lot to say about the history of Germany, and whom Lehman described as “the ideological dreamer.” “Another much more refreshing type was a tall slightly stooped young doctor with glowing eyes and a tremendous forehead and a young voice that could vibrate over the weariness of the figure that we had considered as the new potential leader,” Lehman writes, noting the contrast between generations. He stresses the difficult circumstances facing these men as they try to create a functioning German government while still “having to lean on our [the U.S. military government’s] power and our good will.”[7]

Lehman’s letters show his efforts to come to terms with the harm that Nazism and the war had done to German culture and social life. In a May 10, 1945 letter addressing the end of the war in Europe two days earlier, Lehman has this to say about the effects of Nazi propaganda: “Germany has not only lost the war, it has lost its future and its past ceased to exist since 1933. […] But now, even the German language was made a servant to diabolical double talk that one cannot use the language without being conscious of all of its devious misconceptions that have been created by the Nazi language that was further coaxed and cultured in the steamy plants of the Propaganda Ministry. I cannot conceive an indigenous German government that could issue its ordinances or a German paper talking about things that would mean just what it says.”[8]

Lehman’s letters contain detailed and critical reflections on many aspects of the occupation, including several interesting observations regarding the behavior of the United States’ French allies. He criticized the French authorities harshly for their “noncompliance with orders given by Eisenhower, strife and continuous confiscations of civilian goods” as well as rapes by French troops and his sense that the French lacked a consistent policy toward Germany.[9] His concerns intensified in July 1945 when the French took over the occupation of the former Westmark from the Americans. On July 16, 1945, he complained that the French were replacing the German administration chosen by the Americans with a government that would be a “rubber stamp” for their military government, and France was angling to annex the Saarland on the basis of “historical and racial points.”[10]

Franz Lehman’s letters are full of information, emotion, wit, and insight, and will be an invaluable source for those seeking to understand the experience of American soldiers in Europe during the Second World War, the experience of American Jews during that time, and the processes of military occupation, Denazification, and reconstruction in early postwar Germany. This collection provides a striking and deeply personal glimpse into one man’s unique and unusually broad experience of World War II and its aftermath.

Click here for the Finding Aid to the Franz Lehman letters and other material collection

1. Franz Lehman to family, 25 December 1944, Box 1, Folder 38, Franz Lehman letters and other material collection.
2. Franz Lehman to family, 4 July 1945, Box 1, Folder 70, Lehman collection.
3. Franz Lehman to family, 18 January 1945, Box 1, Folder 40, Lehman collection.
4. Franz Lehman to family, 23 January 1945, Box 1, Folder 44, Lehman collection.
5. Franz Lehman to family, 11 April 1945, Box 1, Folder 57, Lehman collection.
6. Franz Lehman to family, 3 April 1945, Box 1, Folder 55, Lehman collection.
7. Franz Lehman to family, 24 April 1945, Box 1, Folder 59, Lehman collection.
8. Franz Lehman to family, 10 May 1945, Box 1, Folder 61, Lehman collection.
9. Franz Lehman to family, 31 May 1945, Box 1, Folder 64, Lehman collection.
10. Franz Lehman to family, 16 July 1945, Box 1, Folder 72, Lehman collection.

description by Drew Flanagan, Archives & Special Collections Assistant and PhD candidate in History

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Burmese Palm Leaf Manuscripts

The Brandeis Archives and Special Collections Department is fortunate to own two 19th-century Burmese Buddhist texts, handwritten on palm leaves. Donated by Philip Pinsof, these make up part of the department’s Rare, Non-Western Manuscripts collection. The language of both manuscripts is Burmese but the exact dates and origins of the manuscripts are unknown. The more complete of the two manuscripts in Brandeis’s collection (#38) is composed of, literally, sixty-six leaves – rectangular, dried, cut, and smoked Palmyra palm leaves, or peisa – on which, using ink, a scribe has copied what is most likely a Buddhist text. The handwriting is beautifully clear, with little decorative flourish. The leaves measure roughly 5 cm wide by 50 cm long, and the manuscript is bound on each side with a wooden board. The edges of the two protective boards have been painted in red and maroon, and the edges of the manuscript leaves themselves have been gilded. The whole piece is held closed with two fabric cords which pierce the leaves and wood at either end, and allow the reader to open the manuscript like a fan. The second manuscript, #39, is a fragment of 25 palm leaves, tied with fabric cords threaded through the leaves, but without the protective boards. This is believed to be a Buddhist history of priests.

The use of palm leaves as material for manuscripts has a long tradition, dating to the pre-paper era - it is believed they were being used as far back as 5 CE. Likely having originated in India, palm-leaf manuscripts have appeared throughout South and Southeast Asia. It is believed that the initial durability and toughness of palm leaves made them ideal for Buddhist monks and others to use them as a writing surface, and, “unlike wood and bamboo, palm leaves require a simple manufacturing process of boiling and drying to render them suitable for writing.”(1) Unfortunately, due to the high humidity of the climate in Southeast Asia, palm leaves decay rapidly, and therefore it is rare to find examples of these delicately constructed manuscripts that are more than 200 years old. In fact, it was common practice to copy the manuscripts to new palm leaves as the old ones weakened and began to disintegrate. This practice only came to an end relatively recently, in the 19th century, with the advent of industrial-scale printing presses.(2) Most of the older examples which have been preserved are generally those that were carried by Buddhist missionaries to Central Asia, where a colder, drier climate – one less destructive to the materials – was prevalent. The earliest surviving palm-leaf manuscript dates to 9th century Nepal, and the most recent examples to be found date (like Brandeis’s manuscripts) to the 19th century.

Some scholars believe that the physical nature of the palm leaves was actually a central factor in the development of rounded scripts in Southeast Asia. Rounded writing would have been easier to copy onto leaves without causing damage to the writing surface, while more angular scripts were likely to split the leaf. (2) As well, the shape of the palm leaf itself was copied and can be seen in manuscripts made from a wide variety of materials, such as birch-bark (India), cotton cloth (Burma), and copper-plate charters (South and South-east Asia). “After the introduction of paper to India by the Muslims in the early 13th century, certain types of manuscripts retained the characteristic oblong shape of palm-leaf manuscripts and even the blank space in the text, originally left by the scribe to provide room for the cord; this became a focal point for decoration.”(3) Compared to the more ornamental Kammavaca palm manuscript (generally used for formal monastic ceremonies), the palm leaf manuscript is rather plain, yet still beautiful in its own way. Brandeis’s two palm-leaf manuscripts are available to all visitors to be viewed by appointment.

(1) and (4) Ward, Gerald W. R., (editor). The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 2008, p. 356.
(2) Wikipedia. Palm-leaf Manuscript. Accessed June 6, 2016.
(3) Steever, Sanford “Tamil Writing;” Kuipers & McDermott, “Insular Southeast Asian Scripts,” in Daniels and Bright, eds., The World's Writing Systems, Oxford University Press, New York: 1996, p. 426, 480.

Description by Max Close, recent History graduate and former Archives & Special Collections assistant.