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Iter Kristellerianum: the European journey (1905-1939).

At its Annual Meeting in April 1995, the Rellaissance Society of America will be honoring the career of Paul Oskar Kristeller, whose international reputation as a Renaissance scholar is well known to this audience. We are all in debt to Kristeller for what he would proudly entitle his "contributions." These include, among innumerable others, studies on Marsillo Ficino and the classical and scholastic origins of humanism, a multi-volumed catalogue of the uncatalogued manuscripts in European collections (more than a life work all by itself), and reminders in the form of essays, articles and lectures of the need to adjust our theories and our inclinations to what used to be called, in a simpler age, facts. What follows, in anticipation of the spring's festivity, is Professor Kristeller's narration of his experences until his arrival in the United States and establishment at Columbia University in New York City a little more than a half-century ago. These events were recounted in two conversations in August 1994, to an admirer who has collated her notes with Professor Kristeller's own longhand narration, composed subsequently, and edited the report to fit the space available here. The manuscript narrative, a transcription, and a complete set of notes are on file in the office of the Reinaissance Society. In the text below, Kristeller's own words appear in italics.

1. Childhood in Berlin

Paul Oskar Kristeller was born in Berlin on 22 May 1905, on the same day his father died of a heart attack. He was raised in his early years by his mother, Alice nee Magilus, who cut off relations with his father's family which had behaved badly toward her. She raised her child alone with the ample support of her parents. His mother's father, Jullus Magnus, was a respected and wealthy banker from

Hanover, where his ancestors included the Grand Rabbi of the Kingdom of Hanover. Her mother, Margarete Magnus nee Mossner, belonged to a distinguished and wealthy family that had been living in Berlin for several generations. Kristeller's grandfather was well-respected in Berlin, where he was elected as a representative to the city government: a rare achievement for a Jew. Old Prussia and imperial Germany had some anti-Semitism, but . . . Jews had many rights and duties, including military service, and were admitted to public grammar schools and high schools, and university studies especially of law, medicine and economics. They were excluded only from higher positions as judges, hospital directors, army officers and university professors, but also these positions became accessible to them as soon as they accepted baptism. There are many striking examples in my own family. An uncle of my maternal grandmother Mossner lent a sizable sum of money to Prince Wilhelm of Prussia during the Revolution of 1848 when he had to flee to England. When Wilhelm (the later King and Kaiser Wilhelm I), returned, my ancestor accepted baptism and became a ge legal of the Prussian army. In other words, anti-Semitisin under Prussia and the German Empire was harmless, if compared with th cruel and bloody racial anti-Semitism of the Nazis. . . .

Kristeller's grandparents were Jewish, but they did not keep kosher, did not observe the daily rituals, observed only the high holy days, and belonged to a Reform Synagogue. They also had many Christian and especially Lutheran _friends and connections. They had a large house, in a good neighborhood, with three floors, of which two were rented, whereas the third _floor and the garden weere placed at the disposal of my mother and me. They traveled extensively, especially to Switzerland, and took my mother and me along on their journeys. . . .

My earliest memory goes back to 1909 when I traveled with my grandparents to Switzerland at the age of four. The episode I was told more than once by my grandparents, I was walking around with my grandparents under a bridge, when two strangers stopped to admire me and to talk to me. I turned my back to them and said that I was not talking to people who had not been introduced to me. Later many friens when they heard the story thought that the episode is characteristic of my proud character.

Kristeller's grandparents died 1913. Before that event, 1911, his mother married Heinrich Kristeller, a widower without children from a respected Jewish family that came from Danzig (then German), and we moved to a large apartment in a good Berlin neighborhood. Of this marriage, my half--sister Marie-Anne, called Mia, was born on August 24, 1913. She is still alive and lives in Ohio. Heinrich Kristeller was a very kind and generous man, and always treated me as his own son. I soon assumed his family name, Kristeller, first informally, an after some years the change of name was officially authorized and recorded on my birth certificate, Father Heinrich also recognized my talents, and did everything he could to encouvage and help me my studies and career.

During this period, from age six through nine (1911-1914), Kristeller attended grammar school in Berlin, where he learned to speak correct German and to write in both Gothic and Latin scripts. In 1914, he moved on to the public MommsenGymnasium (of the type called "humanistisches Gymnasium") of Berlin, one of the best and most demanding schools available. This type of school had been founded by Martin Luther's younger colleague Melanchthon to provide future Protestant ministers with the necessary training in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Thus I benefitted from the Protestant Reformation of the sixteetth century and became tolerant of Lutheran Protestantism. In the same year, war broke out in Europe.

During the war years, Germany and especially Berlin suffered from food shortages. In 1917, my parents arranged for me to go to a country school in the south, in Bavaria, where the food situation was better that in Berlin. They were able to supply good meals and also had arrangements for giving me private courses in the subjects most important for me in high school. My mother, who was very charming, went to see the director of my school, who was a Protestant. She went to his Office hour and asked him to authorize for me a leave of absence for several months. . . . She said that she had made arrangrements for tutoring to take the place of the courses I would miss. The director cheetfully gave the permission. This incident is an example of the lack of anti-Semitism in imperial Germany.

After the war, in 1919, he received another such leave. I was sent for several months, with my school's permission, to wealthy jewish friends of my parents in Holland not far from the German border. They thought I had had bad nourishment during the war years, and kept me for months as a houseguest, and fed me well. The consequences of this stay were: first, that I was fed well; second, that I learned to bicycle, and began to take long trips; third, that I acquired a good speaking knowledge of Dutch, which I have not kept up . . . ; and four (as I was very musical, and became later almost a concert pianist), that my Dutch hosts helped improve my piano playing, and introduced me to much music then considered modern. . . . I did not go to school there but was tutored at their home.

Back in Berlin, at the Gymnasium (which he attended 1914-1923, from age nine to eighteen), Kristeller had nine years of instruction in Latin, for eight hours per week; seven years of French, for four hours per week; six years of classical Greek, for six hours per week; and two years of English, for four hours per week. He also studied many hours of mathematics (arithmetic and geometry and some elementary calculus during the last year), some physics, botany, zoology, German history, German grammar and composition, some elementary music, mainly as practice for the school choir, when it sang at public ceremonies, and physical exercise consisting of gymnastics and some ball games. There it was a course it drawing, but no instruction in the fine arts, their theory or history, and there was no course in philosophy.

In addition, he was given religious instruction, in his own Jewish religion, which was offered in school although the prevalent religion was Lutheran. He studied under a rabbi who happened to be a relative of my father, Julius Gallitter, who taught me the elements of the Jewish religion and of Hebrew (which I neglected in later years) and prepared me for my Bar Mitzvah.

In his later school years, after the war, his parents also engaged a French and an English lady who came once a weeck for lessons and talked to me extensively, and thus I became quite proficient in French and English conversation, something that turned out to be very useful in later years. I also took piano lessons, and with the help of a prominent pianist, I was gradually able to play the most difficult pieces, including Chopin and Mozart concertos, with the exception of Liszt whom I did not like anyway. . . .

My favorite reacher during my last years of the Gymnasium was Ernst Hiffmann, a distinguished specialist in Greek philosophy and especially in Plato a id his school. I consulted him privately and he encouraged me to read Aristotle in Greek and Kant i German. Thus, I spent my spare hours during my last high school years reading these authors. . . .

My only weakness in school was physical education. I was deficient in ordinary gymnastics as it was taught in school, but I was good in hiking which I began in school environments and later continued myself, walking alone in beautiful forests, later in the highest mountains of Switzerland and at last on steep and high mountains for which one usually took a guide, and I found myself once in a dangerous situation from which I emerged with great difficulty. I also did a lot Of bicycling, alone and with friends, over long distances, I also learned swimming a d swam in many rivers and lakes, in Germany and later in Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. These exercises involved no danger. I was never threatened or attacked during my long lonely walks, and the waters in which I swam were never polluted. I practiced no other sports such as football or other ball games which are so popular nowadays. Many of my school companions and other contemporaries became lasting friends, with some of whom I am still in contact.

In I923, Kristeller was graduated with honors from the Mommsen-Gymnasium. It was customary for the graduating class to have its final exam supervised by a public official. A superintendent Of the school system, a Protestant, supervised my examination. He was impressed with my grades and my written examination, a freed me from the oral examination . . . [and] made a speech containing a special eulogy of me.

2. UNIVERSITY YEARS (1923-1928)

Kristeller proceeded to the University of Heidelberg, because first, it was one of the best universities; second, it was in a beautiful location; and third, Hoffmann . . . had received an ordinary professorship in philosophy there, and I wanted to study with him.

Kristeller chose philosophy (including its history) as a major and medieval history and mathematics as minors (the latter because of its usefulness in understanding Descartes, Leibniz and Kant). He studied with many eminent scholars. I heard my old friend Ernst Hoffmann give seminars on Aristotle and later on Plotinus . . . . I attended excellent lectures and seminars on medicval history by Karl Hampe and by Friedrich Baethgen from whom I learned much about medieval rhetoric (ars dictandi) and about diplomatics, chronology and other auxiliary disciplines which were to be very important for my later work.

I heard the Neo-kantian Heinrich Rickert whose idealistic interpretation of Kant did not convince me, but whose book on the fundamental differencess between the methods of the historical disciplines and the methods of the natural sciences . . . completely convinced me and had a lasting influence on my later work. I also heard the lectures of Karl Jaspers who combined psychology with philosophy. I found his lectures eloquent and interesting, but conceptually and historically imprecise and superficial. I was introduced by him to Kierkegaard and existentialism. . . . I attended two seminars on mathematics, and my reports were approved, but I had the uncomfortable experience that the article on which I was supposed to report was so concisce that I had to read a large number of other articles to understand it and presented rather long report, I thus understood that my mathematical knowledge would be sufficient to understand the mathematical contributions of Galileo, Descartes, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Leibniz and Newton, but not enable me to make independent contributions to the field.

Not all semesters were spent in Heidelberg. During 1923-1924, I spent two winter semesters in Berlin where I attended courses by Heinrich Maier and others, which living at home. Also there was one term in Freiburg [in 1931]. . . . There I attended the lectures of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology. I found him as a lecturer extremely boring. I also attended a seminar with Richard Kroner, an associate professor at Freiburg, a Hegel spccialist then engaged in reviving Hegeliariism. In his seminar, I became interested in Hegel, read him, and found him worth studying, and learning from.

I spent one semester in Marburg, in the summer of 1926. There I took a seminar in medieval studies under Stengel, who increased my knowledge of medieval rhetoric and documentation. Stengel was known to be anti-Semitic. When he saw my performance, he invited me to his house, and gave me a very good mark.

The semester in Marburg was also very important for other reasons. I had heard from fellow students about a new professor Martin Heidegger, whose reputation as an important and original thinker had been much admired for several years in the German academic world. I attended one of his lecture courses, I believe on Aristotle, and was greatly impressed with his precise command of the original Greek text, and with the precise, profound and convincing method of his interpretation. I also attended a seminar which dealt with the philosophy of history, and had for its text the theoretical treatise Historik by J. G. Droysen. I wrote and submitted to Heidegger a written report, with which he was highly satisfied.

Also while in Marburg I contrived to practice the piano. One of Heidegger's early st dents, Karl Loewith, happened to live in the same building in which I had rented a furnished room and heard me practice the piano. He spoke to me and said that my philosophy were as good as my music, it would be excellent. He spoke to his friend Hans Georg Gadamer, another early student of Heidegger. They had played chamber music together on the violin and cello, and soon they asked me to join them, and we began to play trios together.

They told Heidegqer, who was interested in hearing me play for him. He invited me to his home once a week to have dinner and to play piano for him, his wife Elfriede and two sons. I selected favorites, Bach and Schubert.... We established a warm personal relationship, apart from our professional work.... I seriously proposed and planned to write my doctoral dissertation with Heidegger, but I gave up this plan when I heard from his other students that he could delay his candidates for years, and the financial situation of my family could not have allowed that.

Hence I returned to Heidelberg, and asked first Karl Jasper to accept me as a doctoral candidate. This turned also out to be impossible. Jaspers asked or authorized his wife Gertrud, who happened to be Jewish, but also was a most disagreeable person, to subject me to a long interview in which she asked me many tactless questions about my family background, starting from her own prejudices which were both false and hostile. She did not ask a single question about the scholarly content of my proposed dissertation of which she was completely ignorant. I reluctantly answered her questions, but also contradicted most of her premises, and this was the end of my attempt to work with Jaspers. I was strongly tempted to make a malicious remark about her attitude, but decided that this was not advisable under the circumstances

I then asked Ernst Hoffmann to accept me as his doctoral candidate, and I proposed a thesis on Plotinus who had greatly impressed me when I attended an excellent seminar about him by Hoffmann for which I had written a long report which was approved by Hoffmann. I worked on this dissertation from 1927 to 1928.... Kristeller submitted one chapter of a projected systematic monograph on Plotinus in fulfillment of the dissertation requirement for the university degree. By that time, he had studied at the university level for 5 years (the normal course was 4), and had taken to seminars. Hoffmann accepted the thesis and Kristeller received his university degree in 1928. Now he wished to be sponsored for the "Habilitation," so that he might obtain in due course a university professorship.

In the summer of 1928, after I had obtained my doctorate under Hoffmann, I asked him to support my candidacy for a Habilitation in Heidelberg. He bluntly rejected my request, stating that he had a prior commitment to Raymond Klibansky and could not possibly support two Jewish candidates at the same time. This is the origin of the lifelong hostility between Klibansky and me, which has continued until recently. . . . This reply left me helplessly stranded. Unable to continue work in Heidelberg, Kristeller returned to Berlin to prepare for the Prussian state board examination which would enable him to obtain a teaching position in a Gymnasium: the only alternative I seemed to have at that time.

3. BERLIN (1928-1931)

Kristeller moved to Berlin, where he lived at home while preparing for the Prussian state board examination. He registered for courses in philosophy, Greek and Latin, which would also be useful for his future work. The directors of these studies in Berlin were Werner Jaeger, Edvard Norden, Paul Maas, Wilhelm Schulze, Friedrich Solmsen, Richard Walzer and others. Kristeller had hoped that his doctorate in philosophy from Heidelberg would permit him to be admitted to this program with advanced standing. Instead, they said he would have to go through the whole curriculum, which normally took at least four years. Without enthusiasm, he accepted this judgment and proceeded.

I read many important books on ancient history, literature, philology, rhetoric, music, mathematics, physics, astronomy and medicine, wrote several papers, especially on Cicero's Orator, which I published much later ..., and a thesis, never published, on the first speech of Pericles in Thucydides.... I received my diploma with honors, and I also further strengthened my command of Greek and Latin, and of history of philosophy, rhetoric and other disciplines. On the recommendation of my teachers, I wrote two very long reviews for the Deutsche Literaturzeitung, the leading German review journal. In my spare time, I wrote a different chapter on Plotinus which I found more interesting than the one first submitted as a thesis in Heidelberg.... Hoffmann published this revised version of my thesis in 1929 in a monograph series edited by him, Heidelberger Abhandlungen zur Philosophie und ihrer Geschichte under the title Der Begriff der Seele in der Ethik des Plotin. I was subsequently teased by colleagues in Heidelberg that my degree [awarded for the earlier draft] should be considered as invalid, but the published work was favorably received and reviewed, not only in Germany, but also in France and Belgium in spite of it clumsy and old fashioned German style.


In 1931, having completed my work for the State Board examination, I went to see Martin Heidegger, who then taught at Freiburg. I was cordially received, and he immediately agreed to sponsor my work for the Habilitation, and he was joined by Edvard Fraenkel, Gerhard Ritter, and Wolfgang Schadewald. I proposed as my topic the philosophy of the Florentine Platonist Marsilio Ficino and he agreed. He had no special knowledge of Ficino (or for that matter of Plotinus), but I felt, and he agreed, that he could greatly help me with his advice on specific problems of method and interpretation. Thus we had frequent fruitful conversations in his office and at home when he could spare some time for me. I also resumed my piano performances in his home, preceded by a dinner with him and his family.

At this time, I carefully read all of Ficino's printed works, acquired a thorough knowledge of the Italian language, made several research trips to Italy where I located many manuscripts and early editions Of his works and of those of his friends and correspondents, and to my own surprise discovered numerous writings not included in his Opera, and many manuscripts and early editions of his known works that offered different and often better variant readings. I also began to write the first chapters of my projected monograph on Ficino.

Also in Frelburg at this time, Kristeller met his future wife Edith, whose sister had married one of his cousins in Hamburg. She was a student of medicine at the university. They lost contact during the years when Kristeller was in Italy, but met again in the U.S., where they were inarried.

Now there is a be problem about Nazism--Heidegger's Nazism. Heidegger reportedly was a member of the Nazi party, perhaps since 1932, and he reportedly opened his courses with a Hitler greeting, something I can neither confirm nor deny. He also made at least two pro-Nazi speeches which were objectionable from my point of view and of that of many other colleaques.

In January 1933, Hitler's racial decrees put a sudden end to my career in Germany. If I wanted to work or even live I had to emigrate to another country. At the time of the Nazi decree I happened to be in Italy, and my Italian friends urged me to stay there and not to return to Germany. I could not follow this advice, but I had to return to Germany to wind up my affairs. I first went to Freiburg to talk to Heidegger, who received me cordially, deplored my misforturne and even criticized the decree, and promised to write for me letters of recommendation to foreign scholars and universities know ton him, which he did, including a strong letter to the nearby Swiss University of Basel, recommending me warmly for the Habilitation (nothing came of it, but that was not his fault). He also gave me a general very laudatory certificate, as did my other teachers and Ernst Cassirer, of which I sent copies of foreign scholars and institutions, especially in England and America, but alo in France and Italy. . . . When Heidegger visited Italy in 1938, as an official representative of the Nazi regime, I was told by mutual friends that he had inquired about me in a friendly way.

Kristeller informed his landlady (for he had already rented a furnished room through the spring of 1933) that he would not require his room as planned. My landlady to her honor would not accept payment because [my cancellation] was due to force majeure. She was not a Nazi.

I then moved to Berlin and stayed with my parents until 1934 when I moved to Italy. During that period I taught Greek and Latin at a private high school for Jewish students directed by old friend and fellow student Vera Lachmann and another lady. At this time, an American scholar of German Protestant ancestry, Hermann Weigand, Professor of German language and literature at Yale University, spent his sabbatical leave in Germany, accompanied by his wife and his daughter Erika, of high school age. Having himself suffered discrimination in America during the first World War because of his German ancestry, he was so disgusted with the Nazi regime that he refused to be affiliated with any German university and to enroll his daughter in a Nazi school, and decided to do his research privately and to enroll his daughter at the Jewish school of Vera Lachmann where I taught Greek and Latin. Weigand often visited the school, met me, and was so favorably impressed with my person and scholarly record that he promised to support me and so send an affidavit if and when I should ever decided to emigrate to America (which he actually did in 1939).

My appeals to foreign scholars received at first a favorable response from Italy, and especially from Leonardo Olschki, Professor of Romance Literature at Heidel who was then a visiting professor at the University of Rome and was himself threatened by the Nazi decree. Olschki, also Jewish, was the son of the famous publisher Leo S. Olschki, who had emigrated from eastern Germany to Italy before World War I and established in Florence his publishing house and antiquarian bookstore.

Leonardo Olschki responded from Italy that he was eager to help, and invited Kristeller to send him the manuscript of Ficino then in progress. Olschki aroused the interest of Glovanni Gentile, a professor at the University of Rome. The philosopher and scholar Gentile was officially a member of the Fascist party and had personal access to Mussolini. Olschki then informed me that Gentile had read and enthusiastically approved my chapters and had asked me to come to Rome as soon as possible, promising to receive me well and to do all he could to favor my work and career in Italy.


Kristeller left Germany for Italy in February 1934, having first been assured of the safe arrival of his private library, papers, and manuscripts. He stayed in Rome as the guest of Richard Walzer, who had been my teacher and friend at Berlin before 1931 and was also affected by the Nazi decree, and had immediately moved to Rome where he continued his scholarly work and was favored in his projects by Gentile. Walzer, also a Jew, was married to Sofie, the daughter of the publisher Bruilo Cassirer, and a niece or great-niece of Ernst Cassirer.

When I arrived in Rome I immediately got i touch with Gentile, who promised me he would do everything in his power to get me established. He encouraged me to attend his classes, and was immediately very cordial, and invited me to his home, where I met his family. Since my money was soon exhausted, he asked me to translate, or to proofread and correct some articles by his students, for which I received payments that were modest but sufficient to keep me going. I also did some research of my own in Roman libraries, archive, and other institutions.

In the summer of 1934, Gentile introduced me to Dr. Werner Peiser, another German refugee sponsored by Gentile, who, along with other refugee scholars, had opened in Florence in the summer of 1933 a private high school for German Jewish students, preparing them for the Italian classical high school diploma, and employing as teachers a number of distinguished refugee scholars. I visited Dr. Peiser in Florence, and on the recommendation of Gentile, he employed me as a teacher of Greek and Latin, paying me a moderate but sufficient salary. Thus I moved during the summer from Rome to Florence, and rented a furnished room in the beautifully located villa of the Visani family, in walking distance from the Peiser school located in a large villa and in an even more beautiful location.

Living in this beautiful villa, Kristeller would walk each morning along a scenic road to Peiser's school. There he met several other refugee scholars and students (several of whom came to the U.S. after 1938) with whom he retained lifelong friendships. At the same time, Ernesto Codignola, another Italian friend, who was director of the Istituto Superiore di Magistero in Florence, which was then separate from the University of Florence but equal to it in status, appointed as a lecturer in German, paying me modestly but giving me the rank of University Lecturer. . . . I taught at Florence during the academic year 1934-1935, and during the summer of 1935, I paid ... a courtesy visit to Gentile who had a villa in Forte dei Marmi near Pisa where during the summer he held court and received numerous Italian scholars who visited him to obtain his powerful support in their careers, ... many of whom I met and thus obtained their friendship.

While in Florence, Kristeller became friendly with Maja Winteler, the sister of Albert Einstein who with her husband, a Swiss artist (who was not Jewish), lived in the nearby country-side. They frequently invited him to dinner. Kristeller still has a beautiful Winteler watercolor hanging in his bedroom.

6. ITALY (1935-1939)

In April 1935, Gentile invited Kristeller to Pisa and offered him an appointment as a lecturer in German language and literature at the Scuola Normale Superiore (of which he was director) and the university for the academic year 1935-1936. That appointment was subsequently renewed twice, through the spring of 1938.

In Pisa, Kristeller again made many friends among the students and faculty with whom he has since remained in contact --including Vittore Branca, one of the peffezionandi, and Delio Cantimori who later put him in touch with Roland Bainton at Yale University. I received a free room at the building of the Scuola, the Palazzo de' Cavalieri, where the students lived, and also had free meals together with the students and other faculty members and administrators in the large dining hall of the building. I gave my courses in the morning hours, and used the afternoon for my scholarly work. After dinner, I took a walk in the city with Alessandro Perosa and his friends, and concluded the day with them in a coffee house....

As a faculty member, I had the right to travel free on the Italian state railroads, and thus I spent most of the summer months, traveling all over Italy and doing research in almost all Italian libraries, archives and other institutions where my status a faculty member gave me free access. I thus located and described a large number of manufscripts and early printed editions, which offered not only textual variants of the known works of Ficino, his correspondents and friends, but also many additional and previously unknown writings of which I easily obtained photographs. This harvest was so large that it filled two volumes which were published under the title Supplementum Ficinianum in 1937, by the publisher Leo S. Olschki in Florence (the father of Leonardo) under the auspices of the Scuola Normale. There was a public presentation of the volume in Florence to which many distinguished scholars including Eugenio Garin were invited, and where Gentile gave a very laudatory speech, praising both me and my work.

Gentile also announced that he planned to publish with Olschki and under the auspices of the Scuola Normale and to be edited jointly by him and by me, a new series of unpublished or rare texts by Ficino, his correspondents and friends, under the title Nuova Collezione di Testi Umanistici Inediti o Rari. The first volume appeared in 1939 when I had left Italy for America and had been replaced by Augusto Mancini, but the editor, Alessandro Perosa, inserted a printed dedication to me. . . . The series was continued until recently, and after the war I was restored as an editor, along with other Italian friends. In connection with this project, I gave a research seminar at the Scuola for those students who were interested in collaborating in the series.

I lived, taught and worked at the Scuola for three years 1935-1938. In 1937, my mother visited me from Berlin (Kristeller had visited his parents in Berlin in the summer of 1936) . . . and was left with the impression that I had a good lasting position in Italy.

The Scuola was a unique institution, a kind of elite graduate and post-graduate school. Apllicants for admission were the best recent graduates of all Italian secondary schools. They had to pass a tough examination and were graded by a national commission of university professors who ranked them in the order of their performance. . . . In addition, four advanced students were admitted each year as perfezionandi, chose from recent graduates of all Italian graduate schools. They had to write a thesis before the completion of their term at the Scuola.

The Scuola also had exchange arrangements for its graduates with French and German universities. Some of the German lecturers and exchange students tried to influence the Italian students against me, but without success, since I became very popular with the Normalisti. The Nazi government also protested several times with the Italian government If Mussolini, but without any success. The graduates of the Scuola usually had brilliant careers as university professors, and so I had close friends among the Italian professors for a lifetime, even after I came to America. Through one friend, Kristeller was introduced to Benedetto Croce--like Gentile, a leader of Italian intellectual life. Croce had renounced fascism and was hostile to Gentile, but he did take notice of Kristeller's work.

During the summer of 1938, Mussolini's relations with Nazi Germany intensified. In July, Mussolini issued a decree modeled on Hitler's Racial Decree of january 1933, according to which Jewish scholars should lose all government positions, including school and iniversity positions, even if they had been members of the Fascist party--and all Jewish scholars not born in Italy had to leave the coutry within four months. The situation was almost worse than it had been in Germany in 1933. In Italy, there was not a single person from senator down to doorman who did not openly disapprove of the decree, and told me so. I thus lost my position in Pisa as of August of 1938 and was obliged to emigrate for the second time.

Again I wrote many letters of appeal to persons and institutions, especially in France, England and America, and many of my Italian and other friends wrote in my behalf . . . I was also recommended by members of the Catholic Church, and Cardinal Giovanni Mercati, who had been my teacher in manuscript research and was very cordial to me, recommended me to Edward Kenneth Clark, Professor of History at Navarre and President of the Medieval Academy of America. Abbe Raymond Marcel of Paris, a fellow Ficino scholar, tried to find an academic position but not successfully. This turned out to be a blessing in view of the terrible persecution of Jews, that was to start also in France during the World War after 1940.

Through an official at the British embassy, Kristeller's case was brought to the attention of a British committee set up to aid refugee intellectuals. Several people in England tried to help me; and I received a grant from an English organization, the Academic Assistance Council, which I deposited . . . in a Swiss bank. The English consulate in Rome was also very helpful, and when I finally received the American visa, a lady at the English consulate told me that a little later I would have received an invitation from a College in Oxford

In early August I left Pisa for Rome and needed a furnished room, after Ludwig Bertalot, a German Christian scholar living in Rome who had common scholarly interests with me . . . invited me to move to Rome. . . . There, amid a circle of close friends, Kristeller passed the winter of 1938-1939 while arranging for an American visa. I negotiated from August to january with the American Consulate in Naples. . . . They were unfriendly and dilatory and insisted that I undergo a literacy test, a bureaucratic rule that did not make much sense for a person who held two doctoral degrees (my German degree had been confirmed at the University of Pisa). . . .

I still had only German citizenship and had to renew my German passport before leaving Italy. The German Consul in Turin to whom I had to apply, gave me a new passport in which, according to the regulations of the time, he stamped a thick J (for Jewish), but he felt personally embarrassed and privately apologized for having to do it.

A last episode may be worth mentioning. Without my knowledge, Gentile spoke personally to Mussolini about me, obtained a promise for him to pay me a rather large sum of money as a kind of indemnity for the unjust destruction of my career. Without previous warning, I received a letter from the police headquarters in Rome to present myself in their building during the next few days. I did not know what the purpose was and felt rather worried. I went there at the prescribed hour and was received by a rather rude policeman. Without offering me a seat, he . . . handed me the envelope and asked me to sign a receipt. My first reaction was one of proud indignation. . . . On thinking over the situation with great concentration, I concluded that it would be dangerous to refuse the payment. I thus accepted the money and signed a receipt for it, without any sign of emotion, stood straight up without a smile or friendly gesture, and left the place.

I immediately went to see Gentile, told him the story and how I felt about it and asked him to accept the following proposal. I would hand over the entire money to him as a donation to the Scuola Normale, and would accept in return a much smaller amount as a donation from the Scuola Normale, to enable me to travel from Italy to America.

And so in February 1939, Kristeller crossed from Genoa to New York on the steamship Saturnia. While he succeeded in escaping Italy before the announced deadline, others were not so successful. All were concealed and saved by Italians . . . : in their private houses, in monasteries and other church institutions, including Vatican City, with the full approval of [the] Pope. . . .


Kristeller expected to go to Chicago, where Werner Jaeger was teaching and had received assurance from Dean Richard McKeon that a fellowship was awaiting Kristeller on his arrival. When Kristeller arrived in the U.S., Jaeger had moved to Harvard, and McKeon failed to follow through on his promise. Instead, Kristeller was escorted to Yale immediately after his landing by one of his chief sponsors, Hermann Weigand. As Weigand's guest, he established relations with new and old friends, including Roland Bainton (who had been very active in arranging for his visa), and Hajo Holborn and Theodore S. Mommsen, whom he had known in Germany.

Mommsen also accepted me as a house guest whenever it was inconvenient for me to commute from Weigand's home in the suburbs. I was introduced to the Sterling Library of Yale where I enjoyed faculty privileges. And after a while Bainton arranged for me to have a room in the Yale Divinity School and to eat in the dining room with the resident graduate students of the Divinity School. I came to know many of them rather closely and am still in touch with some of them.

My graduate seminar on Plotinus went quite well in spite of my English which at that time was still a bit halting. ... I was also introduced to many other faculty members and students. ... During my term at Yale and the following summer I was invited to give a number of lectures at different colleges, graduate schools and conferences that were usually well received and led to cordial relations with many of my hosts and listeners. I gave lectures at the Harvard Philosophy Club, at the Princeton Theological Seminary, at the Casa Italiana of Columbia University, at the Yale Philosophy Club, at the summer Graduate Conference at the University of Michigan, and before the American Society of Church History, where I gave a lecture on "Florentine Platonism and Its Relations with Humanism and Scholasticism" which was printed in Church History 8 (1939):201-11, and this was my first publication in America.

Kristeller's appointment at Yale was for the spring of 1939. He sought widely for an academic appointment for 1939-1940, receiving eventually an offer from the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University. His advocates at Columbia included John Hermann Randall in Philosophy, Salo Baron of Judaic Studies, and Giuseppe Prezzolini of the Italian department and director of the Casa Italiana.

Thus I received in the late summer a contract from the secretary of the university, which appointed me for one year with the title of an Associate in Philosophy, with a very small salary that was about half what was then the normal salary of an instructor, half of which was contributed by the Oberlaender Trust of the Carl Schurz Foundation in Philadelphia, a German American organization that had decided to give support in their career to scholars with a German training, regardless of their religion. And Professor Giuseppe Prezzolini offered me a guest room in the Case Italiana. I began my career at Columbia already during the first academic year by teaching graduate lecture courses and seminars, and by giving scholarly advice and information to doctoral candidates. This situation continued for nine years, but my salary was gradually raised, and I received in 1948 the rank of Associate Professor with tenure. My marriage with Edith in 1940, my naturalization in 1945, and my vain attempts to save my parents in Germany occurred when I was already at Columbia. My later career at Columbia, my activity as a lecturer, research worker and publishing scholar, and the numerous honors I received both in this country and abroad belong to my long activity at Columbia and are not a subject of this interview.


Professor Kristeller narrated the foregoing story in his large and quiet sixth-floor apartment at 423 West 120th Street in New York City, just four blocks north of the east entrance to the campus of Columbia University, the center of his scholarly life for more than fifty years. In the apartment one may view a large private library, mostly acquired before the death of his wife Edith on january 26, 1992. There are many reference books, and a large collection of art history books, which are now being gradually donated to the Avery Library at Columbia University which did not own most of them. Reference books, monographs, editions of the works of important authors, both in their original text and in English and other translations, from the Greek classics to contemporary authors are going to the general library at Butler. Rare books, microfilms and photostats, personal correspondence and other papers as well as photos of Kristeller, his relations and his family and friends are going to the Rare Books and Manuscript Library at Columbia. Issues of periodicals also go to the general library, authorizing them to sell them in the sales room to interested students and other persons. Some duplicates and all offprints are sent to the Library of the Scuola Normale Superiore. . . . Each printed volume has Kristeller's name stamped on the title page to indicate that the book was owned by him and later directed to the various libraries involved. The apartment also contains a few original works of art which will go to the Fine Arts and Archaeology Department of Columbia.
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Title Annotation:Paul Oskar Kristeller
Author:King, Margaret L.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 1994
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