A Report on My Fulbright Fellowship

By Peter Brier

Combining Renata’s list with the words I had been collecting sporadically during the past year, I now had enough to support a “preliminary” study to show Professor Galinsky. Although I was not obligated to report to him, I felt that academic courtesy required some kind of exchange between us, not because of any deference to his position but because of his connection to Helge Kokeritz at Yale, my teacher who had supported my Fulbright application and had recommended Galinsky as an advisor. My one visit to his office in the first month of my arrival at the university had left me with the uncomfortable feeling that there was something about the man, the way he spoke and held himself – – despite his effort to speak in a pointedly American diction and accent — that conveyed the essence of a Nazi strut. I tried to put this impression aside. Now, all these months later, I arranged to meet with him again.

The meeting was brief, almost perfunctory. Galinsky had looked at my report and without referring to a single entry praised it as proof of the validity of its basic assumption – – English words had “invaded” the German language ( I remember vividly his use of that dramatic verb ) – – and that I now had the evidence for a serious etymological and social classification, etc. He did not offer to provide any guidance. He did not suggest that I continue to pursue the project in Mainz. He wished me well once I returned to the States. He did not ask whether

I had plans for further study. I could have told him that I had been accepted by Harvard’s English Depatment for graduate studies. I did not tell him.

“I take it,” he said, ”your year in Germany is coming to a close?”

I could tell that he was annoyed that I had not contacted him in all the months of my enrollment at the university, but he was careful to maintain decorum. Was it my connection to Kokeritz back at Yale? Or was it my Viennese birth?

He had asked about that in passing at our first interview in November. It must have been obvious that I was the son of Jewish refugees.

Now. more than sixty years later, I return to this moment with mixed feelings on several fronts. I had accepted the Fulbright grant to “study” in Germany, but there was something disingenuous about the way I had turned my grant into a grand tour, an endless string of excursions all over Europe. And I was still at it – – not only about to run off to England for a second visit but once back in Mainz, fortified by yet another monthly check (or two) from the Fulbright Commisssion, ready to run off to Greece, Israel and a last kiss to Paris before coming home to Arkansas. Furthermore, I had to admit to a troubled conscience that I had never really come to Germany to study; I had come to observe, to examine and yes, judge, a society that I believed was deeply flawed. Why had I been moved to do this? Was it a morbid curiosity to look people, who had done mine terrible harm, in the eye? Was I looking for apology, remorse, regret? At the time, I had no easy answer to these questions. Nor have I to this day.

Despite my discomfort at the time, my instinctive need to keep a distance from Professor Galinsky has been vindicated. He died in 1991 honored for his many years as a leader in Anglistikand Amerikanistik studies at Johann Gutenberg University in Mainz and for his sponsorship of an important essay competition which provided rich opportunities for research and advancement to students in a broad range of literary studies. He was, I gathered, just the sort of professor from whom students could learn and to whom they could relate. This was all I knew about the man when I started to write this memoir in 2019, but now, a year later, I happened to stumble on an essay by a distinguished German Amerikanistik scholar that delves into Galinsky’s career before and during World War II.*

*Heike Paul, “Critical Regionalism and Post-Exceptionalist American Studies,” in Towards a Post-Exceptioanlist  American Studies, Winifried Fluck and Don Pease, Tubingen, 2014.

Born in 1909 in Breslau and raised Catholic, Hans Galinsky studied in Heidelberg and from 1927 to 1932, after “converting from Catholicism to National Socialism …enthusiastically put his efforts into the service of German foreign relations-propaganda” at universities in Germany and Britain. In 1935, after finishing his studies in Berlin, Galinsky published a book on “British Fascism” for use in schools and contributed a long essay on English and Anglo-Irish literature to a prominent “anti-Semitic literary history” by Kurt Wais. This essay is based on a theory of “literary production as a function of a people…fighting for their survival and expansion.” The British suffer, argues Galinsky, from being racially diffuse.

Being English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish, the British have no Volksliteratur  (i.e., literature of the people). In addition “the Jewish influence is strong and thus problematic.” Freud (“the Jewish theory”) is criticized. Galinsky’s essay launched his career as an important contributor to the principle task of German Anglistik:

to refute English culture ideology (“englische Kulturideologie”) and to reject the cosmopolitanism of the “British word mission” by “affirming a German exceptionalism for all of Europe.” In one essay, circa 1943, he lamented “the erosion of the Nordic character of the British nation.”

In the early 1940s Galinsky was given a full professorship in Strassbourg at the “so-calledKampfuniversitat” (War College), where he was supposed to aid the relaunching of academic training in the spirit of nationalist socialism.” His expertise in Anglistik and his dedication to Nazi ideas on German racial superiority made him an ideal propagandist at a university in the cultural capital of Alsace-Lorraine, formerly French, and now part of the newly expanded German Reich.

After the war Galinsky was removed from his position in 1945 but reinstated in 1952. Denazification had lost its urgency with the Allies in the light of the rapidly growing Cold War with the Soviet Union. In 1957, the year he and I crossed paths, he had just been appointed Chair of American Studies at the University in Mainz. Ironically, we were both new to the campus, a fact that I did not know until now in 2020. Prof. Kokeritz must have known that he was recommending me to someone new to the university. Did he know anything about Galinsky’s past? Kokeritz was Swedish. He was an expert on Shakespeare’s pronounciation, but he, himself, spoke with a thick Swedish accent. He was an easy going and kind man. The Swedes were neutral in WWII. It would have been in tune with his disposition for him to look the other way when it came to Galinsky’s past.

Not only did Galinsky start his “second career” by “refraining from listing most of his pre-1945 publications in his research bibliography,” but he managed to rebottle what one German scholar calls his “blood and soil ideology” in the frontier thesis of Frederick Jackson Turner (1893). In short he Americanized the Nazi idea of racial destiny and by 1960, through his publications on Turner, had succeeded in establishing a reputation as one of Germany’s foremost professors ofAmerikanistik. Turner’s thesis, with its suggestions of Anglo-Saxon superiority, was popular in American schools and universities until the 1980s and cannot be used to paint Galinsky as a Nazi apologist after the war. Nevertheless, it did allow him to continue to indulge in historical ideas that resonated with the same racialism that had energized his Nazi career.

In retrospect it chills me to think that his background, unknown to me at the time, was in the air with every exchange that occurred between us. In Vienna the conversation with my father’s Nazi boss was different because each of us knew that the other knew the truth of the past. We walked on egg shells, kept up appearances and could not avoid a bitter discomfort. With Professor Galinsky what he knew and I did not know, what we did not choose or were afraid to know, put everything in shadow.