The 1998 Dr. Bernard Heller Prize Awarded to Counte Folke Bernadotte, posthumously - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Skip to main content

The 1998 Dr. Bernard Heller Prize Awarded to Counte Folke Bernadotte, posthumously

Main Content
Wednesday, July 1, 1998

The sons of Count Folke Bernadotte, Vice-President of the Swedish Red Cross during World War II, accepted the Dr. Bernard Heller Prize on behalf of their father at the Commencement Exercises of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion on June 3, 1998 at the Isaac M. Wise Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio. Also in attendance was Ambassador Anders Liden, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Sweden to the Security Council of the U.N. During the Holocaust, Counte Bernadotte led a Red Cross relief expedition of "white buses" to Germany to bring concentration camp victims to haven in Sweden. At the end of the war, he also passed on Germany's surrender offer to the Allies. He was the first official mediator for the United Nations, working in Palestine to achieve a truce in the Arab-Israeli war. During political negotiations, he was assassinated by Jewish extremists.

During the award ceremony, Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, HUC-JIR President, asked the audience if anyone had been saved from the Nazis by Bernadotte. Joan Mermelstein, a Cincinnati grandmother and Holocaust survivor, came forward. She recalled suffering from typhus in Bergen-Belsen when the Swedish Red Cross arrived. Mermelstein was treated and brought to Sweden to convalesce.

The Dr. Bernard Heller prize is an international award presented to an organization or individual whose work, writing, or research reflects significant contributions to Arts, Letters, the Humanities, and Religion, and carries an award of $10,000. Dr. Heller was a rabbi, scholar, and writer deeply concerned with the survival of the Jewish people and their culture. Co-trustees of the Heller foundation are Ruth O. Freedlander, Carole L. Weidman, and Bea Weidman.

Bernadotte's eldest son, of the same name, delivered the acceptance speech, and accepted the prize with his brother Count Bertil Bernadotte. In the speech, the sons recounted some of Bernadotte's inspiring speeches after the Red Cross rescues, in which he said "I am infinitely thankful for having been one of the links in this chain of people who try to work amongst those who now suffer." Bernadotte also told is sons that "we have come to this world not to be happy ourselves but to make other people happy. What is possible is already done, it's what is impossible that must be achieved."

The two sons announced they will contribute the award to the College-Institute to establish the Count Folke Bernadotte Memorial Lecture Foundation at HUC-JIR for lectures on "Work Toward World Peace." The series will begin in the year 2000, HUC-JIR's 125th anniversary.

During the Commencement Exercises on June 3, Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, President of HUC-JIR, bestowed five Ph.D and ten Master degrees in the fields of Hebraic and Cognate Studies and one Master of Arts. Thirty-four rabbinic studies received the Master of Hebrew Letters degree after completing four years of a five-year program.

The College-Institute also conferred four honorary Doctorates on religious and academic leaders. The honorees were Dr. James O. Freedman, President, Dartmouth College; Dr. Bernard Jackson, Alliance Professor of Modern Jewish Studies, University of Manchester, England; Dr. Frank E. Manuel, Kenan Professor Emeritus at New York University, Alfred and Viola Hart University Professor Emeritus at Brandeis University; and Sister Francis Marie Thrailkill, O.S.U., President, College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.