Prof crossed Iron Curtain to advance German studies

Hirschbach was born in Berlin in 1921 but left Germany because of Nazi persecution.

Lora Pabst

Even though Frank Hirschbach was kicked out of his German school because of his Jewish heritage, he spent his career encouraging students to travel there.

Hirschbach, 84, died of cancer Dec. 12, after a lifetime of studying German language, literature and culture. He taught in the department of German, Scandinavian and Dutch studies since 1958, served as the department chairman from 1982 to 1987 and retired in the early ’90s.

Ray Wakefield, the interim department chairman, said Hirschbach was a pioneer in the study of literature, language and culture of the former East Germany.

“He was one of our few living connections to German literature,” he said.

Hirschbach was born in Berlin in 1921 but left Germany with his family because of Nazi persecution.

He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and earned a doctorate in German from Yale University in 1952.

Gerhard Weiss, retired German department chairman, worked with Hirschbach throughout his career.

“We were the two young ones in the department,” he said. “We were both interested in having a broader approach to the study of German, not just language and literature but also dealing with the culture of contemporary Germany.”

Weiss said Hirschbach wanted students to study abroad. He initiated an exchange between the University and a university in the former East Berlin.

“At the time, there was very little contact with East Germany,” Weiss said. “He built a bridge. He made it possible for our graduate students to see the other side and look behind the Iron Curtain.”

David Sanford, a longtime friend of Hirschbach’s and retired Macalester College professor of German, said Hirschbach continued traveling to Germany throughout his life.

“Frank never faltered in his admiration for the best parts of Germany: the literature, the arts and the language,” Sanford said. “He was among the first to become interested in the literature of (East Germany). People didn’t take it seriously because it was a communist regime.”

Sanford said Hirschbach enjoyed theater, concerts and reading.

The department established a scholarship for study in German-speaking countries in Hirschbach’s honor in spring 2005.