Librarian as Witness - Seven: Emil Fackenheim and the J.I.R.
We just received a copy of Emil Fackenheim's memoirs, An Epitaph for German Judaism: From Halle to Jerusalem (University of Wisconsin Press, 2007).
Fackenheim (1916-2002), a major Jewish thinker and philosopher in the last half of the twentieth century, was barely able to escape from Nazi Germany by the skin of his teeth.
With typical Germanic Tuechtigkeit [thoroughness] Dr. Fackenheim appeared to have saved every scrap of paper, for the book contains many interesting facsimiles of numerous documents and letters.
One of them, on [unnumbered] page 268, is a letter dated January 20, 1939 from Henry Slonimsky (1884-1970), Dean of the Jewish Institute of Religion, informing him of his appointment as "assistant librarian."
Both Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Institute of Religion (at that time two separate institutions) did their best to rescue as many scholars as they could from Nazi Germany.
But extraordinary visas to the United States were granted only to clergy. So while Dr. Slonimsky's letter got him out of a concentration camp, Fackenheim was not technically a rabbi, and so was precluded from coming to take this position in New York.
Shalom Spiegel (1899-1984) was Librarian at the J.I.R. at the time, with Rabbi I. Edward Kiev (1905-1970) as Assistant Librarian. It would be a few more years that Dr. Spiegel left the J.I.R. to become a professor uptown at the Jewish Theological Seminary and that Rabbi Kiev became Librarian.
The J.I.R. clearly did not need two assistant librarians, so this offer of a position must be seen as a bold effort, as an act of rahmanut, to save a life.
I had no idea that the Jewish Institute of religion ever figured in Emil Fackenheim's life, but at least Dr. Slonimsky's letter afforded his release from imprisonment.