Saturday, May 30, 2009

New York Times publishes obituary of Franklin

Franklin Littell, Scholar of Holocaust, Is Dies at 91 Article Tools Sponsored By

Published: May 30, 2009

Franklin H. Littell, a father of Holocaust studies who traced his engagement with the subject to the revulsion he felt as a young Methodist minister while witnessing a big Nazi rally in Nuremberg in 1939, died last Saturday at his home in Merion Station, Pa., outside Philadelphia. He was 91.

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Dith Pran/The New York Times

Franklin H. Littell, left, Methodist minister and supporter of Israel, with Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister, in 1981.

His wife, Maria Sachs Littell, announced the death.

Dr. Littell (pronounced lih-TELL), the author of more than two dozen scholarly books and a thousand articles, was among the first intellectuals to delve into the question of how baptized Christians in the heart of Christian Europe could have either killed or ignored the killing of six million Jews. A big part of the answer, as he found it, was that Christians from the time of Jesus on had shown systematic contempt for Jews and their beliefs.

Hubert G. Locke, a leading Holocaust scholar and former dean of the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, said in an interview on Wednesday that Dr. Littell had had “singular influence” in turning a focus on these ancient prejudices as the basis for the Holocaust.

Another Holocaust scholar, John K. Roth, emeritus professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, said Dr. Littell had “helped to turn the tide on the awareness of Christian complicity, shortcoming, indifference in the face of what was happening to Jews under Hitler.”

For more than a decade after the end of World War II, the Holocaust was studied and publicly discussed sparsely; the common wisdom was that survivors needed time to heal. But by the 1960s, attention to it was starting to grow with the publication of books like Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” the trial of Adolph Eichmann and other efforts to collect testimony of survivors.

It was around then that academic programs on the Holocaust were pioneered by Dr. Littell. At Emory University in 1959, he started the first graduate seminar on the Holocaust, preceding what are believed to have been the first undergraduate courses on it, in 1960 at Brandeis and in 1961 at Brooklyn College. In 1970, with Dr. Locke, he set up one of the first annual scholarly conferences on the Holocaust, a forum that continues today.

In 1976, at Temple University, he began the first doctoral program in Holocaust studies. And in 1998, he and his wife established the first interdisciplinary master’s degree program in Holocaust studies, at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

“When Franklin Littell started his work, it was almost the case that there was no such thing as Holocaust studies as a field,” Dr. Roth said. Now hundreds of colleges offer courses on the Holocaust, and many states require public schools to teach about it.

Dr. Littell also became an enthusiastic supporter of Israel, in part because he believed that its very existence refuted theologies that foresaw or favored the withering away of the Jewish people. He rejected the theology of some Christian backers of Israel that Jews must ultimately become Christian, Maria Littell said.

Soon after the Six-Day War, of June 1967, Dr. Littell started an organization called Christians Concerned for Israel, to promote a pro-Israeli spirit in Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant churches. In 1978, he founded the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel, which lobbied against arms sales to Arab nations and campaigned against the United Nations resolution, adopted in 1975 and since repealed, that described Zionism as racism.

Franklin Hamlin Littell was born on June 20, 1917, in Syracuse, graduated from Cornell College in Iowa and earned a divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary. Afterward he visited Germany on the way to a religion conference for young people in Amsterdam.

It was then that he attended the Nuremberg rally, out of curiosity. Later in life, he recalled having been appalled by its open racism and its religious glorification of Aryans. When Hitler made an almost godlike appearance, bathed in a halo of lights, Mr. Littell was so repelled, he remembered, that he had to leave.

Mr. Littell later earned a doctorate in theology from Yale and, after teaching at the University of Michigan, joined the United States high commissioner in occupied Germany as the Protestant adviser on de-Nazification.

In 1966, he founded the Institute for American Democracy to fight political extremists. It was attacked by far-right groups, and a window of his home was shot out.

In 1969, Dr. Littell published a book on political extremism, “Wild Tongues: A Handbook of Social Pathology,” in which he accused the prominent conservative author and columnist William F. Buckley Jr. of being a “fellow traveler” of fascism. Mr. Buckley sued for libel and won.

Dr. Littell’s first wife, the former Harriet Lewis, died in 1978. In addition to Maria Sachs Littell, he is survived by three daughters from his first marriage, Jeannie Lawrence, Karen Littell and Miriam Littell; a son from that marriage, Stephen; his stepsons, Jonathan Sachs and Robert L. Sachs Jr.; his stepdaughter, Jennifer Sachs Dahnert; 11 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Over his long career, Dr. Littell was also president of Iowa Wesleyan College and a founding board member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington.

His best-known book was “The Crucifixion of the Jews” (1975), in which he pressed his view that Christianity is essentially Jewish. Jesus, Paul and Peter, Dr. Littell said, would have been executed at Auschwitz.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Images of Franklin and Marcie

Dr. Rosalie H. Franks

Dr. Franklin Littell's scholarship, kindness, and warmth inspired me to teach about the lessons of the Holocaust that I learned from interviewing 92 survivors for the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation from 1994-1999. Starting in 1995 the Scholars' Conference helped me immeasurably to educate myself and my students about the annihilation of the Jews.

I became better acquainted with Franklin when I traveled with him and Marcie during the Richard Stockton College's Lest We Forget Graduate Study Tour of Lithuania, Poland, and Hungary. In spite of his advanced years in 2003, Franklin continued to lecture about the early warnings of genocide and educators' responsibility to teach students about the lessons derived from history and the past. He was a provocative and inspiring teacher.

I loved Franklin's infectious sense of humor, his sharp intellect, his willingness to listen, and, most of all, his openness to educators needing to study and learn from his wisdom. I will miss Franklin's smile and curiosity about his students and the world.

Marcie was a wonderful helpmate and, fortunately, we have her to carry on his revolutionary scholarship. She like Franklin are a blessing to all of us.

My condolences to Marcie and her family.

Rosalie H. Franks, Ed.D.
Roger Williams University
Department of Writing Studies, Rhetoric , and Composition

From Patrick Henry

Franklin was an absolutely irreplaceable human being. This is why his loss is so heavy and why we are all so fortunate to have known him and to have been influenced by him. 

Patrick Henry
Whitman College 
Walla Walla, WA 99362

From Hank Greenspan

Along with Hubert Locke and a handful of others, Franklin and Marcie were pioneers in our fields. They became pillars. No one was there when they were. No one did what they did. No one continued to do what they have done.

We will always be grateful.

Hank Greenspan
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Dr. Jud Newborn's reflections

Pierre's words bring out the deeds and, with a nod to Pierre, the spiritual weapons of Frank Littell for me. I've communicated mostly with Marcie, to whom I send heartfelt condolences. But, in the midst of pursuing my various
projects on the White Rose - not only resistance heroes but among the great Christian martyrs
 - I realize I have missed out on what might have been the
great gift of knowing Frank personally.  I have his writings, though and those live on, don't they, Marcie?  I'm taking about, "The Crucifixion of the Jews" to re-read, and to tell others to do the same.

With condolences, admiration and warmth,

Jud Newborn, PhD
Special Projects Curator, Cinema Arts Centre (LI)
Founding Historian/Curator, NY's Museum of Jewish Heritage (1986-2000)
Lecturer: SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER (dramatic multimedia presentation, based
on book)

From Pierre Sauvage

I join in lamenting the passing of Franklin Littell.  While I had been only an intermittent presence in his life over the last thirty years, his friendship had meant a lot to me, as does Marcie’s.  I guess one mark of a special person is that he manages to make a lot of people feel they are special to him.  Franklin, obviously, had a long line of friends and admirers.  But I had come to count on his sturdy—and, frankly, eternal—presence.


Over the years, there were those wonderful hugs at conferences or in some strange places (Berlin…), but I admit that they have blurred with the passing years.  I had been thunderstruck when I came across “The Crucifixion of the Jews” in 1982.  I had shot what later became “Weapons of the Spirit” but had just begun editing it—and couldn’t make sense of these Christians.  What a discovery that the people of Le Chambon had a kindred theological spirit in the U.S.!  (It would later turn out that Franklin had in fact met pastor Trocmé of Le Chambon in 1939, and was a great admirer.)


It was in 1983 that I first wrote to Dr. Littell, notably asking him whether he would be willing to be on the new Chambon Foundation (then Friends of Le Chambon) Board of Advisers.  Franklin will remain on that Board as long as it exists, as people do when they matter to me; he joins Harry James Cargas, whose Christian friendship I also treasured, in this posthumous presence.  Furthermore, I will expect his continued input!


A few months later, I was earning a little money accompanying across the country French-speaking foreign dignitaries who were guests of the State Department.  There was going to be a stop in Philadelphia, and I boldly called and asked Dr. Littell whether I could meet with him on the only evening I had free.  He said he was speaking at a synagogue that evening, and suggested that I come with him.  I remember that he did not drive slowly, despite an animated conversation to which he gave his full attention.  I also remember that his remarks that evening forcefully stressed Christian responsibility for what had happened in the Holocaust.  I don’t remember if he wore his cowboy hat or a bolo tie, all of which would further endear him to me.


Rereading our subsequent correspondence, I am reminded how touched I was when he thanked me “for the help you have given me in introducing a basic affirmative note in teaching the lessons of the Holocaust.”  I wrote back:  “I am inordinately flattered that you are taking what I am trying to convey so seriously, and am impressed by the ease with which you convey this to me.  I know enough about the righteous to know that they begin by letting as little as possible stand between them and the truth.”


At that time, I was wrestling with understanding and communicating the importance of the righteous Christians of the Holocaust—then an inordinately obscure subject, of interest to only a handful of us.  Now as I grapple with a far more controversial subject—the American Jewish share of responsibility for what happened, and the challenging testimony of Peter Bergson in this regard—I am frustrated that I will never receive Franklin’s invaluable, straight-shooting philosemitic feedback.


I hope I will be forgiven these candid remarks, no doubt too much about me: I take Franklin’s death personally.  I may regret having sent out these words the moment I hit the send key.  But I welcome the feeling I have now of being a member of a big family who will, each in our own way, cherish the memory of Dr. Franklin Littell.  May that memory be for a blessing.  Goodbye, Franklin, and stay in touch.


Pierre Sauvage of the Chambon Foundation and 

Varian Fry Institute

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dr. Franklin H. Littell's Obituary

Dr. Franklin H. Littell touched many people's lives through his teachings and writings. Dr. Littell passed away in May of 2009. You can read Dr. Littell's Obituary by clicking here or on his picture.

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