American historian to discuss German writer Gunter Grass
American historian and writer Peter Gay — who as a young boy watched in horror as the Nazis rounded up Jews, ransacked Jewish homes and shops and burned down synagogues on that fateful November evening in 1938 known as Crystal Night — will deliver the 2007 Klutznick Lecture in Jewish Civilization April 17.
Born Peter Joachim Frohlich, the eminent cultural historian and prolific writer will speak at 7:30 p.m. at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. His lecture is titled “Gunter Grass and My German Question — Again.”
Gay escaped Germany with his family in 1939 for Cuba before ultimately arriving in the United States two years later. Had his parents left Germany aboard the ocean liner SS St. Louis, as planned, he and they would likely have been sent back and killed as were many Jewish passengers when the United States rejected their visas.
Instead, Gay wound up teaching history at Yale University and, in 1990, was awarded the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Gold Medal for History. Its only prior recipients were George F. Kennan, Barbara Tuchman and Henry Steele Commager. He retired in 1993 as Yale’s Sterling Professor of History Emeritus.
In his Northwestern lecture, Gay will discuss last year’s self-revelation by Nobel Prize winning author Gunter Grass — arguably Germany’s greatest living writer — that Grass had served in the Waffen SS. The SS started as Hitler’s private police force and ultimately ran the death camps responsible for the murder of millions.