Randolph L. Braham
December 20, 1922
|Died||November 25, 2018 (aged 95)|
New York City, U.S.
|Education||The City College of New York|
|Alma mater||The New School for Social Research|
|Known for||Specialist in comparative politics and the Holocaust|
|Awards||Jewish National Book Award (two times), Order of Merit Officer's Cross of the Hungarian Republic (returned), Medium Cross of the Hungarian Republic (returned), Order of the Star of Romania (returned), Pro Cultura Hungarica award|
|Fields||History and political science|
Randolph Lewis Braham (December 20, 1922 - November 25, 2018) was an American historian and political scientist, born in Romania, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. A specialist in comparative politics and the Holocaust, he was a founding board member of the academic committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), Washington, D.C., and founded The Rosenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies at the Graduate Center in 1979.
Braham's career was spent teaching comparative politics and Soviet studies at The City College of New York, where he chaired the political science department. He was the author or editor of over 60 books, authored or co-authored chapters in 50 others, and published a large number of scholarly articles. The vast majority of his published work deals with the Holocaust in Hungary. He became best known for his two-volume work The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary, first published in 1981.
Born to a Jewish family in Bucharest (as Adolf Ábrahám, with the Hebrew name Avraham ben Itzhak ben Aryeh), the son of Lajos Ábrahám and Eszter Katz, Braham was raised in extreme poverty in Dej, a historically Hungarian small town in Transylvania. He spent 1943-1945 in the so-called Labor service of the Hungarian army in the Ukraine, slave-labor units of military-age Jews who ordinarily were murdered after major campaigns or before retreats. During the chaotic Hungarian collapse to the Soviets, Braham escaped and traveled homewards secretly through German-occupied Hungary.
During his escape to the West, in the Hungarian village of Nyíri, he and four others were rescued from the Hungarian gendarmerie (working as an arm of the SS) by a Christian farmer, István Novák (d. 1983), who in 1985 was honored by Yad Vashem in Israel as Righteous Among the Nations. Never once in any of his published writings, until his 2014 open letter to the Hungarian community rejecting his honors from the Hungarian government, did Braham reveal that he himself was a survivor. In his magnum opus The Politics of Genocide, he did use as a photo illustration--perhaps the only one without a source reference--a photograph of his own dog tag.
Braham's memoirs, on deposit in his archives in the USHMM, are sealed until 2033, but in his detailed testimony (1997) to the USC Shoah Foundation project, he describes inter alia the ordeals of his unit during the final year and winter on the Russian front attached to the Hungarian Army. These include the frequent hangings and tortures and that some of the men during that winter were reduced to marching barefoot and naked covered by only a blanket, defecating while walking; anyone who stopped was shot. Braham related how, for the amusement of the Hungarian officers and troops, he and his unit were sometimes given their daily rations of soup (often just the cooking water in which the potatoes for the soldiers were boiled): they were lined up on an elevated 2x4 board and given forks, the bowls of soup on the floor. The men could eat only by performing a full squat between each forkful, and anyone who fell was beaten or killed. He also described how, during Army maneuvers, he and the other Jews were placed face down in rows in otherwise impassable swamps, for the troops and horse-drawn carriages and horse-drawn artillery to ride over.
After arriving in the American Zone in Berlin, Braham served as a translator for the U.S. Army. His extended family perished in Auschwitz, with the exception of his older sister, who was a prisoner there but survived. Braham emigrated to America in early 1948. Although forbidden as a Jew by the pre-World War II Hungarian government to attend Gymnasium (high school), he received a B.Sci. in economics and government from The City College of New York later that year, a M.Sci. in education from City College (the education school has since moved) in 1949, and a Ph.D. in political science from The New School for Social Research in 1952. The next year he became an American citizen, changed his first and last names and adopted his father's name Lewis (occasionally cited incorrectly spelled "Louis").
Braham began his teaching career at CUNY in 1962 at The City College of New York, chaired the political science department there, and became a distinguished professor (CUNY's highest rank) in April 1987. He retired from active teaching in September 1992.
Braham was a member of the Academic Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., from the Museum's earliest planning through May 2005 and participated in the Academic Committee's Fellowship Subcommittee from its inception in 1999; he also was a special advisor for the Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York and for Yad Vashem. His works were used as major source books by courts of law in various countries, including Canada, Germany, Israel, and the United States in cases involving restitution and war crimes.
In 1990, as reported in the Washington Post, when appearing before the jury in the war-crimes trial of Imre Finta, a Hungarian gendarmerie commander, Braham testified, My function is to pursue the truth ... I try to comprehend the incomprehensible. And in 2014, in his open letter when returning his Hungarian honors, Braham wrote: As a survivor whose parents and many family members were among the hundreds of thousands of murdered Jews, [I] cannot remain silent ... It was my destiny to work on the preservation of the historical record of the Holocaust.
In the 1998 Oscar-winning Academy Award for Documentary Feature film The Last Days, Braham provided overviews of the Hungarian Holocaust. His life story is the subject of the documentary Rémálmok nyomában (produced by Duna-TV), which received the Camera Hungarica award in 2003. It is available in an English version titled Retracing a Nightmare.
In January 2014, in a widely published open letter on what he saw as increasing attempts by Hungary's rightist Orbán government to falsify history and whitewash the Horthy era, Braham returned his medals and resigned from the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary, and forbade using his name in connection with the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest after excessive government interference. Previously, in 2005, he resigned from the Order of the Star of Romania, after a noted rightist was honored with membership.
Nobelist Elie Wiesel, also a survivor of the Hungarian holocaust and a long-time colleague of Braham, concluded his foreword to Braham's 2013 geographical encyclopedia stating, To recommend this work to teachers, their students, and researchers is more than an act of friendship. It is the duty of remembrance that belongs to the realm of the sacred. In 2017 Braham gave his last lecture in Budapest, and two months before his death published an open letter on the recent Hungarian government decision to construct a "competing" Holocaust museum.
Two nights before his brief final hospitalization in 2018 for heart failure, Braham was actively writing revisions to his recent work, yet reluctantly had to cancel his farewell address --The Struggle between the History and Collective Memory of the Twentieth Century: The Holocaust vs. Communism -- scheduled the next day at the Rosenthal Institute he founded 39 years previously.
His two-volume The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary won the 1981 Jewish National Book Award (USA) (its most recent expanded revision appeared in 2016), and it earned him citations in the New York State Assembly (1981) and the Congressional Record (1981, 1994, 2004). Again in 2014 he received the Jewish National Book Award for his three-volume The Geographical Encyclopedia of the Holocaust in Hungary.
Among his other honors are the Order of Merit Officer's Cross of the Hungarian Republic (1995) (the highest civilian award of Hungary), the Pro Cultura Hungarica award of the Hungarian Ministry of Culture (2002), the Science for Society award of the Hungarian Academy of Science (2004), the Order of the Star of Romania, Commander Rank, of the Romanian Republic (2009), and the Medium Cross of the Republic of Hungary (2011).