Wednesday, October 10, 2012

WC Alum and Scholar to Share Story Of Correspondence Among Separated Austrian Jews


Dr. Jacqueline Vansant.

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Sometime between March and August of 1938, a small group of 15- and 16-year-old Jewish schoolboys stood on a bridge in Vienna and said goodbye to each other “forever.” Their families were about to flee Austria to avoid the increasing Nazi persecution. But pledging to stay in touch, the boys first devised a complicated plan for a group correspondence or “round robin.”

On Tuesday, October 23, Washington College alumna  Jacqueline Vansant ’76, a professor of German studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, will share the story of the remarkable correspondence the young men maintained for more than 15 years across three continents.  Her presentation, “Making Connections over Space and Time: The Extraordinary Group Correspondence of Jewish-Austrian Schoolboys,” will take place at 4:30 p.m. in the Washington College Hillel House, 313 Washington Avenue. It is free and open to the public.

Vansant says she was first drawn to exile studies as a student of Washington College professor of German Erika Salloch, who had fled Nazi Germany. She has long focused her research on post-war Austrian literature and culture and in 2001 published Reclaiming ‘Heimat’: Trauma and Mourning in Memoirs of Jewish-Austrian Reemigres.

When Vansant heard about the correspondence among the nine Viennese schoolboys, she saw an opportunity to study how the experiences of the youth compared with those of the adult Jews who escaped Austria. “I was also fascinated by the thought of looking at texts that were contemporaneous with the historical events described in them,” she adds. “The letters indeed are amazing!”

 John Kautsky.
Vansant has worked closely with one of the original correspondents, John Kautsky, now a professor emeritus of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis. She also met the son of correspondent Ali Hector, who emigrated to Erez Israel, and learned more about Ali’s life after the correspondence ended.

“My conversations with John Kautsky have given me a fuller understanding of just how important the correspondence was for the young men,” says Vansant. “John remained friends with some of the correspondents until their recent deaths. His wife, Lilli, has also shared her experiences of flight from Austria, which bring home how many stories are out there to be told.”

The Oct. 23 talk is sponsored by the Department of Modern Languages; the Institute for the Study of Religion, Politics, and Culture; the Office of Multicultural Affairs; and Hillel House.  For more information, contact Nicole Grewling at (800) 422-1782, ext. 5763, or by email, ngrewling2@washcoll.edu.

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