Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

Henry Max Hoenigswald

Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

Henry Max Hoenigswald

Article excerpt

17 APRIL 1915 · l6 JUNE 2OO3

HENRY HOENIGSWALD was elected to membership in the Philosophical Society in 1971. Later he became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the British Academy. He was a historical linguist who taught at the University of Pennsylvania and served stints as head of his department, as president of the Linguistic Society of America, and as president of the American Oriental Society. Further honours followed: visiting appointments in Europe and India, a very impressive festschrift on his retirement, the dedication of a volume of the Journal of the American Oriental Society, two honorary degrees, at Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania, et cetera.

He was clearly a successful scholar who made it to the top of his profession. But the starting point was very different. An academic career would not have been surprising because he was the son of Richard Hönigswald, a very distinguished Neo-Kantian professor of philosophy, who taught first at the University of Breslau, where Henry was born, and then at that of Munich. However, his father was sacked from his post in 1933 because, though baptized, he was of Jewish origins. As an undergraduate, Henry between the ages of seventeen and twentyone had to traverse four universities (Munich, Zurich, Padua, Florence), three countries (Germany, Switzerland, Italy), and two languages before he could obtain his first degree. He started to study Indo-European linguistics with Ferdinand Sommer at Munich, but was expelled after a year on racial grounds; he continued with Manu Leumann at Zurich, but had to leave after a year because German refugees were not allowed a long stay in Switzerland. He then moved to Padua in Italy, where he worked with Giacomo Devoto, one of the most gifted Italian linguists of the time, and soon followed his professor to Florence, where he wrote his first publications about Greek word formation. After taking his degree in 1936 he was briefly employed in a research institute for Etruscan studies. This, too, was not to last: in 1938 all foreigners of Jewish origins were thrown out of Italy. After endless vicissitudes he reached the USA in 1939; his father with his new wife and small daughter (Henry's mother had died when he was four) had preceded him there by a few months, having survived a period in a concentration camp. Most relatives were left behind and did not survive; Henry's extended family included five persons murdered by the Nazis. For Henry Hoenigswald himself (no longer Heinrich Hönigswald, his original name), his fourth country, the USA, his third language, English, and his new name proved to be the definitive ones.

After a first post at Yale as research assistant to Edgar Sturtevant (1939-42), from 1942 to 1947 there followed a series of government teaching appointments (he was responsible for the teaching of Hindi to American troops and wrote a two-volume description of the language), lectureships, and instructorships in various colleges and places until he was appointed to an associate professorship at Austin, Texas, soon followed in 1948 by a similar appointment in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Nine years after his arrival in the States his livelihood was at last secure and the earlier horrors were receding into the past. In 1945 he had become a U.S. citizen; the year before he had married Gabrielle (Gabi) Schöpflich, also a classicist, also a refugee from Munich, whom he had met again in Florence, where she, too, was studying to get her first degree. In the States she had worked as a cleaning woman in New York before obtaining a Bryn Mawr scholarship to do an M.A. in Classics. After her marriage in 1944 she followed Henry in his peregrinations. When they settled in Pennsylvania she combined caring for their two daughters, Frances and Ann, with teaching classics, mostly part time, at Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore, Penn, et cetera. Gabi and Henry shared until her death in 2001 an interest in the classical languages, a belief in scholarship, and a passionate commitment to the cause of liberal politics. …

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