Thursday, January 04, 2001

HUC acquires collection of activist rabbi's files

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Few remember the German refugee rabbi who spoke immediately before the Rev. Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

        However, a recording of Joachim Prinz's speech is being donated to Hebrew Union College, along with other files belonging to the rabbi who spoke out against Hitler in Germany and racism in this country.

[photo] Hebrew Union College has acquired a collection the files of Dr. Joachim Prinz, shown here delivering the address immediately preceding Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

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        Dr. Gary Zola, executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives. hopes to take possession of the collection next month.

        “Once our archivists have completed cataloging the collection,” Dr. Zola said, “all materials will become available to researchers, scholars and others interested in learning more about Rabbi Prinz and his lifelong refusal to be silenced in the face of bigotry, hatred and injustice.”

        Dr. Zola said that only the King and Prinz speeches are complete in the commemorative recordings of that Aug. 28, 1963, March for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial.

   Dr. Joachim Prinz's son, Jonathan, said Wednesday his family donated his father's files to Hebrew Union College because:
   • Jonathan was ordained by HUC, and father and son belonged to the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the professional association of HUC grads and like-minded rabbis.
   • Dr. Prinz appreciated HUC's efforts to rescue — and employ — Jewish scholars fleeing the Nazis.
   • Once the elder Prinz, born and educated in Germany, reached the United States, “He really considered himself to be American.”
   It was only natural, the younger Prinz said, to give the historic papers to a “purely American institution,” and HUC, the first American Jewish seminary, was the natural choice.
        In addition to that tape there are related recordings and documents donated by Dr. Prinz's family.

        The files will be housed at the archives on Clifton Avenue.

        “The documents and materials ... weave a fascinating tapestry of a life devoted to the pursuit of justice and freedom,” Dr. Zola said.

        Dr. Zola said the center — at HUC — already has Prinz papers from the rabbi's years as president of the American Jewish Congress and his role in the World Jewish Congress.

        Dr. Prinz — a Ph.D. at 21 and rabbi of the Berlin community — spoke out when Hitler came to power in 1933.

        Dr. Prinz urged Jews to leave Germany until the Gestapo expelled him in 1937.

        He became rabbi of a Newark, N.J., synagogue from which he raged against bigotry of all kinds for decades.

        As chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, he urged the Rev. Dr. King in 1967, “The time has come for the responsible Negro leadership, and particularly you, to speak up clearly and unequivocally on the tragic crime of Negro anti-Semitism.”

        Four years earlier, he preceded the Rev. Dr. King to the lectern at the Lincoln Memorial and said, “bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.

        “America must not remain silent. Not merely black America, but all of America. It must speak up and act.”

        Dr. Prinz died in 1988.

        In sheer volume, the new Prinz collection is not a major addition to the archive, Dr. Zola said, but it is “huge” source for insights into the era of close black-Jewish relations during the civil rights struggle.

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