By: Commentator Staff  | 

From the Archives: German Clubs Denied Charter

Editor’s Note: There have been some clubs in the history of Yeshiva University that failed to receive a charter. This issue has recently been brought to the fore when the YU College Democrats were only chartered by Student Council after a heated controversy. The Commentator has chosen to focus on two incidents in the 1950s in which German-themed clubs failed to receive a charter. 

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Title: From the Archives (December 30, 1952; Volume 18 Issue 5) — Honorary German Fraternity Refused Request for Charter 

Author: Commentator Staff 

A chapter of Delta Phi Alpha, national honorary German fraternity, which was to have been organized this semester at Yeshiva, has been denied the approval of the administration. The rejection came from Dr. Moses L. Isaacs, Dean of the College, in a letter to Dr. Herbert H. J. Peisel, of Syracuse University, national president of the fraternity. Dr. Belkin supported the action of Dr. Isaacs. 

In his letter, written earlier this month, Dr. Isaacs informed Dr. Peisel that it is “with regret that the approval of the administration for a chapter of Delta Phi Alpha has not been forthcoming.”

Dr. Peisel, in a letter to Dr. Ralph P. Rosenberg, Professor of German, said that “the members of the National Council had unanimously granted” Yeshiva a charter, and that the denial of permission for a chapter of the fraternity puts him and the National Council “in a very unpleasant and embarrassing position.” He wrote Dr. Rosenberg that “the members of the Council will want from me an explanation of the situation — unprecedented as it is.” “Can you throw a light upon these incongruous developments?” he concluded. 

No Chapter at City 

Dean Isaacs said that the action was taken, “to use a frayed phrase, because the society has as its goal the propagandizing of German culture. And in the light of six million [Jews], it seems improper to have the fraternity at the College.” 

Dr. Isaacs pointed out that there is no chapter of the fraternity at City College and hence felt that none should be established at Yeshiva. When queried by Student Council representatives about chapters of the fraternity at Hunter College and New York University, he said that he believed that “very few Jews are members.” No statistics on racial or religious affiliations are available. 

The action to found a chapter of Delta Phi Alpha was taken early in October, when several students approached Student Council and the German Department, Professor Rosenberg revealed. Yeshiva has a chapter of Pi Delta Phi, national French fraternity, and Eta Sigma Phi, national Classical Languages fraternity. 

Letter to Peisel

Dr. Rosenberg then wrote to Dr. Adolf D. Klarmann, secretary-treasurer, at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Klarmann, who is at present in Vienna, Austria, on a Fulbright Scholarship, forwarded Dr. Rosenberg’s request to Dr. Peisel at Syracuse. 

The national president complied by sending Professor Rosenberg a statement of the background of the fraternity, and a copy of the fraternity constitution, which was adopted in 1950. An application was submitted, and approved by the National Council of the Delta Phi Alpha on November 18, Dr. Rosenberg disclosed.

The national president’s letter, informing Professor Rosenberg of the unanimous approval of the Council, also included a request to “contact your administration with respect to the establishment of a charter.” He asked that Dr. Rosenberg inform him of the administration’s approval. 

The correspondence was directed to the office of the president, Dr. Belkin, for University approval on November 24. The denial of administration approval was made in a letter to Dr. Peisel. A copy of the letter was submitted to Professor Rosenberg. 

Founded in 1929

Delta Phi Alpha was founded in 1929 by Professor James Auburn Chiles of Wofford College, who died last year. The fraternity has 71 chapters at present. 

The constitution of the fraternity calls for the study of the German language and literature, and “endeavors to emphasize those aspects of German life and culture which are of universal value and which contribute to man’s eternal search for peace and truth.” 

The initiation ritual of the honor society calls for the upholding of “the humanitarian ideals of German thought and German writing which contribute to man’s eternal search for truth and peace. The tolerance of Lessing, the folk-sympathy of Perder, the idealism of Schiller, and the humanity of Goethe we treasure among the constructive forces in the history of mankind. 

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Editor’s Note: The following two pieces pertain to a separate incident than the previous article. In 1959, the Yeshiva College Student Council, by a 9-3 vote, refused to charter a German Club. Presented below are the reactions of two individuals to this decision.

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Title: From the Archives (December 17, 1959; Volume 25 Issue 5) — Letter to the Editor 

Author: Abe Gafni 

To forget the attempted annihilation of World Jewry by the Nazi terror is, in my opinion, one of the greatest sins any Jew can commit. We must forever remember the atrocity and be constantly on guard against any similar recurrence. Bearing all this in heart and mind, I must nevertheless speak out against Student Council’s denial of a charter to the proposed German club. 

To identify Nazism with the whole of German culture would be a gross misconception. The writings of Goethe, Heine, and Schiller, the music of Bach and Beethoven, comprise a most important segment of world civilization and deserve the interest of every intelligent individual. Their thoughts and creations exist quite independently of the later Nazi crimes. The fact that these people lived in the country or wrote in the language of future murderers does not detract from the intrinsic value of their works. 

We, in fact, enhance the twisted Nazi philosophy by equating it in our damnation with German culture in general. By not drawing distinctions between the works of Kant and Goebbel we seemingly put the two on the same level. We lose sight of the object of hate by appending to it that which is not worthy of condemnation. As in medicine, we must isolate the disease and stamp it out. The healthy part, however, must be permitted to live. 

This, then, would be the purpose of a German club at Yeshiva University — to understand and steady the good; to condemn and destroy the evil

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Title: From the Archives (December 17, 1959; Volume 25 Issue 5) — Letter to the Editor 

Author: Gerald Blidstein 

Student Council has once again refused a charter to a German Club, and once again will be attacked as narrow-minded and even anti-intellectual. The familiar argument that Germany was responsible for six million deaths is notoriously weak — Jews have been driven from every country and martyred in every land; no one objects to the study of Spanish, or English, or Greek. 

This weakness would be fatal if one argued thus: Germans killed six million Jews, therefore, we must have an ambiguous attitude towards German culture. The therefore, and that which follows it, could damn most culture. The simple statement “killed six million Jews” triggers an emotional response which needs not be justified by therefore which makes deduction childish. We are dealing, then, with a fact. This emotional response exists —it is not produced, as we would have to produce rationally an intellectual opposition to, say, Spanish culture. Should we, however, subdue this emotional response? I believe we should not; I believe that it is a sign of health that we can still hate and feel disgust.

This feeling must color one’s attitude towards German culture and this coloration found a symbol in the opposition to a German Club on Yeshiva Campus. In our personal lives we may express this attitude by not buying German goods. A university must symbolize its emotional response in a different sphere, and it seems to me that the refusal of a charter to the German Club is a valid and authentic manifestation of the feeling. 

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