Gift of a Lifetime
Franklin H. Littell established the nation’s first doctoral program in Holocaust studies at Temple. His works and library have a new home on Main Campus.
Story by Christine McLaughlin
As a religion scholar in 1939, future Temple Professor Franklin H. Littell’s worldview was permanently changed when he visited Nuremberg, Germany. A friend took him to a stadium crammed with hundreds of thousands of Germans watching a dramatic performance filled with religious and political motifs. What Littell saw that day left him shaken and infuriated.
The crowd was there to see the führer.
“Adolf Hitler understood dramatization,” says Marcia Sachs Littell, EDU ’71,’76, ’90, Franklin’s wife. “As the rally ended, the crowd and stage were plunged into total darkness. Suddenly, the lights went on and Hitler appeared on stage. He was overwhelming and terrifying. Franklin just wanted to dig a hole and disappear. The ways in which propaganda drew people into the spectacle made him feel so unclean.”
The incident in Nuremberg led Littell to his life’s work: A Methodist minister, a university professor and a pioneering intellectual, he was widely known as the “father of Holocaust education” by the time of his death in 2009. He established many of the nation’s first programs in Holocaust studies—including the country’s first doctoral program at Temple. His education, life experiences and passion also resulted in nearly 1,000 articles and dozens of books that focused on the struggle of Christian churches during the Holocaust.
But during World War II, as the Nazi occupation of Europe progressed, Littell became disenchanted with Christian pastors who buckled under the regime’s pressure.
“He saw firsthand what went on and wanted to do something about it,” says Rebecca Alpert, CLA ’73, ’78, associate professor of religion and women’s studies and one of Littell’s doctoral students. She explains that because the lack of response on the part of the German Christian church was in opposition to Littell’s understanding of Christian values, such as compassion and charity, he felt it was his duty to discuss and publicize the church’s responsibility during the Holocaust.
When the war was over, Littell was driven to help Europe heal. He spent nearly a decade serving as the chief Protestant religious adviser in the U.S. High Command, working as a part of the denazification of Germany. That experience solidified his view that Christians in Europe had not done enough to stop the eradication of 6 million Jews.
“He was charged with re-educating education and religion professionals,” Sachs Littell says. “Some of the things he asked in his workshops for adults were, ‘Where were we? How did this happen?’ We just weren’t paying attention. His work in denazification was a very formative part of his thinking.”
When he returned to the U.S., Littell established the first graduate seminar of its kind, The German Church Struggle and the Holocaust, at Emory University in Atlanta in 1959.
Sachs Littell also is a professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona. In 1998, the pair founded an interdisciplinary master’s program in Holocaust and genocide studies there. A prolific author herself, Sachs Littell has written numerous books and articles about the Holocaust and is one of the founders of an education program in Krakow, Poland, that prepares teachers to educate their students about the Holocaust.
Father of Holocaust Education
In 1969, Littell joined Temple as a professor of religious history, where he founded the first doctoral studies program in the Holocaust in 1976. Just one year after joining Temple, he founded the Annual Scholars Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, which marked the first time Christian and Jewish scholars were brought together for a scholarly examination of the Holocaust. Sachs Littell notes that prior to that conference, Christian and Jewish academics had worked in isolation from each other. The conference is still thriving; it convened for the 41st time this year.
“He wanted the Christian population to pay attention to what can happen when societies get out of control, to prevent genocide from happening again,” Alpert explains.
Marcia Sachs Littell, EDU '71, '76,'90—a Holocaust scholar and the wife of Franklin H. Littell—visits Paley Library, where the Littell collections will be housed. Photo courtesy Ryan S. Brandenberg.
Franklin H. Littell, the “father of Holocaust education” in the U.S., confronts a Nazi soldier at the Nuremberg rally that changed his life in 1939. Photo courtesy of Marcia Sachs Littell, EDU '71, '76, '90.
In the midst of his passionate, rigorous work, Littell was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978—and reappointed by presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush—to serve on the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust, chaired by Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Out of that commission grew the Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversaw the founding of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
A Prolific Life
Now, there is a new addition to his vast legacy: A lifetime of research, papers, correspondence and personal books—called the Franklin H. Littell Papers and the Franklin H. and Marcia Sachs Littell Library—is a part of the Special Collections Research Center in Paley Library on Main Campus.
Both the archives and his extensive research reflect the history of Littell himself who was a man of boundless energy, compassion, conviction and purpose, according to Sachs Littell.
In the final years before Littell died, the couple decided to donate his scholarly papers and books to Temple. Actively involved in the process from the start, Littell was meticulous with his instructions on the collection. This final gift underscores the mission that began in 1939—to educate others about the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Spanning roughly 70 years via 500 tightly packed bankers’ boxes and six lateral filing cabinets, the Franklin H. Littell Papers collection comprises hundreds of his own articles; several hundred articles written by others; and his speeches, unpublished manuscripts and original correspondence. It contains at least one letter from Martin Luther King Jr., who was his student at Boston University and with whom Littell marched during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Franklin H. and Marcia Sachs Littell Library consists of about 7,000 books from his personal library. “The main appraiser of the collection said that once the boxes are unpacked, they probably will reveal more than 1 million documents, or nearly 700 linear feet of material,” Sachs Littell says.
The first batch of the collection arrived at Paley Library in July 2010 and more is on its way. Because of its size, the entire collection will take approximately two years for Temple’s librarians and archivists to process. Its contents will be cataloged for both online and in-house research.
Once it is ready for the public, researchers will be able to delve into resources about contemporary sects and cults, McCarthyism, Communism, Nazism, fascist regimes, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, Jewish-Christian relations and much, much more.
“Nearly every box has something fascinating in it,” says Margery Sly, director of special collections at Paley. She adds that some of the materials are “quite rare,” including his original correspondence with significant scholars and luminaries of the latter half of the 20th century, and the research material he mined to write his books, papers and articles.
Senior Curator of Rare Books & Literary Manuscripts Thomas Whitehead, who was involved in talks with Littell about donating the collection from the beginning, favors the newspapers and publications from the era of German occupation. “Littell was on the ground during that period, and he was able to collect a lot of material that hasn’t typically survived or isn’t readily accessible,” Whitehead says.
When asked why the Littells selected Temple as the collection’s permanent home, Sachs Littell explains that though other universities approached the couple about obtaining the materials, they were confident that Temple would be committed both to the collection and to keeping it unified—issues that were important to them.
She adds, “I’m a Temple graduate, and all of my work was done there. Because of the time we spent there, we always had a special place in our hearts for Temple.”
Maintaining the Past
A sweeping collection such as the Franklin H. Littell Papers requires a meticulous moving and cataloging process. Now, gifts from the Sachs and Braman families will provide Temple with the resources it needs to prepare the collection for the public. With their gift, Jonathan Sachs and Susan Bakewell-Sachs—Littell’s stepson and his wife— complemented the Franklin H. Littell Papers by establishing the Franklin H. and Marcia Sachs Littell Library—nearly 7,000 books from Littell’s personal collection.
Norman, SBM ’55, and Irma Braman have provided $200,000 for a project archivist, who will organize, catalog and digitize the collection, and create access tools and database records. His gift also will spur an exhibition from the collection and an accompanying catalog and lecture that will celebrate Littell’s invaluable contributions to Holocaust studies.
“I knew Frank Littell and traveled with him to the extermination camps throughout Europe as a part of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust,” Norman says. “I feel honored now to be able to support his legacy and Temple.”
Both gifts ensure that Littell’s compassionate, pioneering work will continue to inspire and enlighten students and scholars for many years to come.
Christine McLaughlin is a Philadelphia-based writer, editor and author.
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