Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

Martin Ostwald

Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

Martin Ostwald

Article excerpt

15 JANUARY 1922 · 10 APRIL 2010

"INVENTED MARTIN OSTWALD." With this modest claim I opened the meeting in the Lang Music Building at Swarthmore College convened to honor Martin on his retirement in 1992 after serving on the faculty since 1958. Then, realizing that some in the audience did not recognize the use of the Latin verb invenire in the sense in which it is applied to St. Helena, when she is referred to as the Inventor (i.e., Finder) of the True Cross, I explained that I had first "found" Martin in the papyrus room of the Columbia University Library early in the fall of 1954. I was visiting professor at Barnard and Columbia that year, and I often reflect upon the divine providence that sent me to Barnard that year and enabled me to meet Martin, talk with him occasionally about the courses in ancient history that we were both teaching, and absorb the belief common to all my students that the best teacher in the Columbia Classics department was Martin Ostwald. Long before that year was over I had resolved to recruit him to fill the opening that I knew would occur at Swarthmore in a few years. I can see him now, looking up from his papyrus, bowing politely to his new temporary colleague, and then returning to his research. In my memory this picture will never fade.

When Martin, then aged thirty-two, was thus settled into a peaceful academic life of teaching and research, he had already survived the horror of the Nazi persecution of the Jews, escape from Germany to England, imprisonment in a concentration camp in Canada, and the long process of securing an education that would lead to a brilliant career as a classical scholar. He rarely spoke to his colleagues of his early life, but an interview conducted by Nora Monroe of the American Philosophical Society on 7 July 2009 has supplied many details that I am grateful to be permitted to record.

Martin was born on 15 January 1922 in Dortmund, Westphalia, Germany. He came of a family long established in Westphalia, the only Jewish family in a small village, Sichtigvor, which he visited frequently during the lifetime of his grandmother, who lived in a house bought by his great-grandfather in 1839. His father, Max, a prominent lawyer, was a lover of the Classics, and Martin was enrolled in the local Gymnasium, where he studied from 1932 to 1938, beginning Latin at ten and Greek at thirteen. His experience reading the Iliad when he was fourteen determined his future vocation, but his immediate expectations were abruptly destroyed on Kristallnacht, in November 1938, when Nazis raided the Ostwald apartment in Dortmund, destroyed furniture and anything else of value, and on the next day arrested Max Ostwald and his two sons. All three were ultimately sent to a concentration camp, Dachsenhausen at Oranienburg near Berlin, but thanks to the efforts of their mother, Hedwig Strauss Ostwald, who had registered both her sons for the Kindertransport, the boys, aged sixteen and fifteen, were able to escape to the Netherlands and then to England. They never saw their parents again. Their mother died at Auchswitz, their father at Teresin.

In the festschrift Nomodeiktes: Greek Studies in Honor of Martin Ostwald, the editors, Ralph M. Rosen and Joseph Farrell, record the last words of Max Ostwald to his sons in the camp, two lines from the Iliad (6.448-49), which in the translation of Richmond Lattimore read, "There will come a day when sacred Ilion shall perish / And Priam, and the people of Priam of the strong ash spear." As the editors observe, "The impression that his father's words must have made on the young man in that time and in that place lies beyond our power to comment upon adequately" (p. xii). Such must be the reaction of anyone who visualizes that scene.

Once they reached England, Martin and Ernest were taken care of by a refugee committee in London, which placed them in various camps and hostels. When war broke out, they managed, with the help of aunts, who had meanwhile arrived in England, to find jobs as apprentice waiters in hotels in Bournemouth. …

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