In Memoriam: Hans George Hirsch

Hans George Hirsch, longtime member of the Board of the Leo Baeck Institute, died on December 15, 2015. In the words of William H. Weitzer, Hirsch had been “a bedrock supporter and advisor to the LBI.” Hirsch was born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1916. He immigrated to the United States in 1938, where he met his late wife, Helen Strauss.

Beginning in 1985, Hirsch accepted several invitations to Germany to speak about his father, the Jewish community leader Otto Hirsch. Due to his strong interest in genealogy, Hans Hirsch, an engaging speaker, was able to weave his own memories with his family’s extended history. Otto Hirsch, a contemporary and friend of Leo Baeck, worked tirelessly to help German Jews emigrate after 1933.

Manuscript of a speech held by Hans George Hirsch in honor of his father, Otto Hirsch, held in Stuttgart at the father's 100 birthday in 1985

Manuscript of a speech held by Hans George Hirsch in honor of his father, Otto Hirsch, held in Stuttgart at the father’s 100th birthday in 1985.

In his speech for the organization Denk-Zeichen e.V. in Esslingen am Neckar, Germany in 2000, Hans Hirsch recounted a particularly memorable episode of his father’s life. In 1935, shortly after the Nuremberg Laws were enacted, Leo Baeck was arrested for writing a prayer that called for the rejection of lies that were spread about Jews. The prayer was to be read in all synagogues in Germany on the eve of Yom Kippur. When Otto Hirsch learned about the arrest of Leo Baeck, he claimed authorship of the prayer and went to jail instead, and Leo Baeck was released. Hans Hirsch expressed his surprise at the fact that his father, explaining to the jailer the habit of observing Yom Kippur with his family in Stuttgart, was allowed to leave jail for the day. Having given his word that he would return to prison after the holiday, he did go back. Hans Hirsch, remembered, however, that “towards the end of the day, he told us that he did not expect to be held in prison again after they had allowed him the trip to Stuttgart. He was wrong.” Otto Hirsch was held in the concentration camp Columbia in Berlin. Subsequently, he was arrested multiple times.

In 1941, Otto Hirsch was killed in the Mauthausen concentration camp. On the other side of the Atlantic, Hans Hirsch built a life of commitment and service to the communities he was a part of. He earned his BS, MS and PhD at the University of Minnesota and also served in the US Army during WWII. In 1947, the Hirsch family moved to Washington DC, where Hans began his 35-year career as an economist at the US Department of Agriculture. Hans was an active member of Congregation Beth El, where he served as shofar blower for 47 years. He was also an avid gardener.

The Otto Hirsch Collection in DigiBaeck:

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