Gerard Braunthal, 1923 – 2014


Gerard Braunthal, 1923 – 2014
In Memoriam

Gerard Braunthal, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst / USA, passed away on October 26 at the Fisher Home Hospice in Amherst after a few months of serious illness.

He was born on December 27, 1923 in Gera, Thuringia/Germany. In 1929 he moved with his parents and his younger brother to Berlin. Being of Jewish descent and politically active in the social-democratic movement – even young Gerard was already a member of the Rote Falken –, the family fled Germany in 1933 to Belgium, and in 1936 immigrated to the United States of America. From 1937 onward Gerard Braunthal’s intellectual and political education was formed at his secondary school at Queens New York, 1937-41, followed by Queens College in New York City (C.U.N.Y) in 1941-1943 and in 1946-47 where he got his B.A. He served the U.S. Army Intelligence from 1943 through 46, including a one year posting in Germany after the Second World War, and in the early 1950s he stayed for two years in Stuttgart as a civilian interviewer with the U.S. Air Force. One may not wonder at Gerard’s interest in social sciences considering, furthermore, his near family’s social and scientific engagements: his father Alfred Braunthal was an Austrian-German-American and international trade-unionist (International Federation of Free Trade Unions) and publicist, and his uncle Julius Braunthal was an internationally orientated politician, author, co-founder of the Socialist International, in 1951, and from 1954 onward (until his death in 1972), member of the Board of the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam.

In 1948, Gerard Braunthal received a master’s degree at the University of Michigan, in 1953 a doctorate at Columbia University, followed by a one year research assistantship at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge. In 1954 he started his teaching and organizing career at the University of Massachusetts Amherst which lasted until his retirement in 1987/88. In between he taught at Universities in Germany (Frankfurt am Main, Freiburg, Bonn) and at the Visva-Bharati University in India. His professional merits have been rewarded by numerous research grants and decorations, in 1988 the Federal Republic of Germany honoured him with the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit.

Gerard Braunthal will be remembered as a profound researcher on political, economic, party-related (the SPD in the first place), social, and mental developments and relations in, above all, West Germany, with implicit or explicit retrospectives of the Nazi period, the pre-1933 years and even the German Empire. Furthermore, he will be remembered as a mediator across the Atlantic, be it by his English and/or German language books and articles in renowned (international) journals as well as by his contributions in handbooks and encyclopedias, be it as member of the executive council of the Conference Group on German Politics or as member of the editorial board of the journal German Politics and Society. A good example of his mediatory ability is the American publication of Socialist Labor and Politics in Weimar Germany: The General Federation of German Trade Unions, in 1978, and the revised German version, of 1981, Der Allgemeine Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund: Zur Politik der Arbeiterbewegung in der Weimarer Republik. The latter expressively aimed at contributing to the West German debate on the politics of the ADGB and its relationship to the SPD and her politics during all the years from 1918 to 1933. Parties and Politics in Modern Germany, 1996, explained united Germany mainly for an American public. Political Loyalty and Public Service in West Germany: The 1972 Decree against Radicals and Its Consequences (1990; German edition: Politische Loyalität und öffentlicher Dienst: Der “Radikalenerlass” von 1972 und die Folgen, 1992), and the last greater study, Right-Wing Extremism in Contemporary Germany (2009), are testimonies of Gerard Braunthal’s personal and scientific concern with the improvement or the restrictions of democracy and freedom in (united) Germany, in the context of East-West controversies, or otherwise of global recession.

Ursula Langkau-Alex, Honorary Fellow, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam