Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

A Tribute to Louis Sohn: Some New Facts and Some Lingering Mysteries in a Remarkable Life

Academic journal article The George Washington International Law Review

A Tribute to Louis Sohn: Some New Facts and Some Lingering Mysteries in a Remarkable Life

Article excerpt

Louis Sohn came to the United States in August 1939 at the age of 25, an accomplished legal scholar in the conflict of laws. For his friends and students, he provided some facts about those early days and left a few mysteries with some clues for solving them. Please consider this to be a work in progress based, in part, on recent research in the Sohn papers at the Harvard Law Library.

Did Joseph Beale sometime before 1939 receive a paper in Polish written by Louis? On the basis of that paper, did Beale send for Louis to come to Harvard and then the shortly after Louis's arrival at Harvard, as Louis told so many of us? Did Louis then survive in Cambridge, living hand to mouth from the fall of 1939, thanks to Dean Landis' intervention? Well, the record is somewhat complicated and there is more work to be done because, alas, Harvard Law does not keep its admissions files. So let me tell you what I can establish so far.

Louis definitely wrote to Beale in 1937. Indeed, while at John Casimir University, Louis worked at Lwow's Institute of Private International Law1 and made sure that prominent conflicts scholars throughout Western Europe and elsewhere heard about his work. Usually these scholars received a reprint of Louis's latest article on their work.

We have Louis's draft of his letter to Beale-not the final version. I saw enough of Louis's drafts to conclude that the final was surely close to that draft. Louis began the letter, 'You will wonder perhaps at my letter and it will be intelligible because I know youyou and your work being for me (and it seems to me-also for you) one." Louis went on to say that he had been reading Beale's "greatest work, your Treatise" for the past three months, and adds, "It was for me a great revelation. I have been enchented [sic] with it." Louis explained that he had "crystallized" his own thoughts on the treatise in a "little essay" titled "The Puzzling Private International Law" or maybe "The Puzzled Privatist." His handwritingtiny and now faded-is not easy to decipher. According to Louis, the piece appeared in a Polish journal and Louis's draft anticipated that he would enclose it. Louis asked Beale to respond with comments if he could find someone to translate the article.

Researchers in Poland have not yet found the article or even a reference to it. There is Polish material in the Sohn papers at Harvard, but I have not been able to work through them with a Polish-speaking assistant. Further, the John Casimir University is now in Ukraine and its library archives were moved somewhat imperfectly to another Polish university.

Beale, who was then seventy-six years old and possibly already in poor health, replied to Louis's letter on May 26, 1937, as follows: "I worked a long time on . . . [the Treatise] and am glad you liked it. Your kind letter is a very encouraging one, for I had not the slightest idea that my work would get as far as Poland." Beale says nothing in this response about Louis's article in Polish.

A year later, in May 1938-one year before Louis came to the United States-Harvard announced Beale's retirement effective September 1, 1938. In his last years, Beale appears to have been ill and unable to follow substantive legal developments, but the pace of his decline is unclear. Harvard has no record of Beale's presence at the Law School after his retirement, and I found nothing to date in Louis's papers referring to further contact with Beale, who died in 1943. My hope is that the missing link will appear in the papers that Louis left with Georgia to turn over to Harvard Law School or perhaps in Beale's papers which I have not begun to explore. There must be in Louis's papers another file on his Harvard admission or his later dealings with Beale.

What evidence do we have of Louis's barely making ends meet from 1939 on the slimmest of budgets? We have Louis's statement at our Passover Seder several years ago: "Dean Landis told me that he had found a place where I could eat if I waited on tables and a place where I could sleep if I did some clean up. …

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