Leon Botstein and the Ex-Nazi

Leon Botstein and the Ex-Nazi

Early in his career as a college president, Bard’s Leon Botstein went forth to raise money.

A trustee he admired, an Irish Catholic, introduced him to a wealthy friend of his-a German-American Catholic. When he met the man, he wore in his lapel the pin of a high-ranking officer in the Nazi navy. He had re-emigrated from America to serve the Nazi regime in 1934. Later, he was tried and exonerated by an American de-Nazification committee.

The man was completely unapologetic about wearing an insigne of the Nazi regime.

Botstein told his trustee friend that he wouldn’t take money from the former Nazi.

The trustee, whom Botstein considered mature and wise, said he understood Botstein’s position, but wasn’t sure he was right. The money, he said, could be used for good things.

Botstein went home to visit his parents. His grandfather lived with them. His grandfather had lived in the Warsaw ghetto, and had lost all of his siblings, and his oldest son, in the ghetto and in concentration camps. “The holocaust was the main and predominant subject of my childhood,” Botstein remembers.

His grandfather was in his 90s. Botstein told him this story.

The grandfather had studied philosophy in Germany, and become a lawyer. He was very wise.

“If you’re not taking his money on my account, or in the name of the survivors and the people who suffered,” he told his grandson, “you’re making a mistake.

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see that bastard’s money used to good purpose.”

Botstein accepted the donation.

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