In Memory of Franklin Littell
- Created: May 27, 2009
- Written by Philip A. Cunningham
By Joelle Farrell, Inquirer Staff Writer
The Rev. Franklin H. Littell, 91, of Merion Station, a Methodist minister widely acknowledged as the father of modern Holocaust studies in America, died Saturday at home after a long illness.
Mr. Littell dedicated his life to Holocaust research after spending nearly 10 years in postwar Germany as chief Protestant religious adviser in the U.S. high command. He was the first American scholar to offer courses on Holocaust and genocide studies, and at Temple University he established the nation's first doctoral program on Holocaust studies in 1976.
His scholarship examined individual responsibility in a free society and sought to encourage interfaith dialogue, especially between Christians and Jews.
Mr. Littell was the author of more than two dozen books and more than 1,000 articles, and was working most recently on his memoirs. He also was an activist who had marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil-rights struggle, said Marcia Sachs Littell, his wife of 30 years.
"He believed you could not hide behind the ivory tower of academia or the sanctity of the church," said Marcia Littell, a professor of Holocaust studies at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. "You must be actively involved in all that you do."
Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Mr. Littell earned his bachelor's degree from Cornell College in Iowa. He completed his master's degree at Union Theological Seminary in New York and his doctorate at Yale University.
After returning from Germany, Mr. Littell began offering a graduate seminar, the German Church Struggle and the Holocaust, in 1959 at Emory University, the first course of its kind in America.
In 1969, after professorships at Emory, the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and the Chicago Theological Seminary, Mr. Littell joined the Temple University faculty. He retired in 1986.
In 1970, Mr. Littell founded the annual Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, which for the last decade has been based at Saint Joseph's University. His 1975 book, The Crucifixion of the Jews (Harper & Row), was the first work to explore Christianity in response to the Holocaust.
In 1976, in addition to beginning the doctoral program on Holocaust studies at Temple, he founded the National Institute on the Holocaust there.
President Jimmy Carter named Mr. Littell a founding member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. In 1979, he was the first Christian appointed to the International Governing Board of Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust, in Jerusalem.
Mr. Littell was emeritus distinguished professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Richard Stockton College and a visiting professor in the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at Hebrew University in Jerusalem for 25 years.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Littell is survived by daughters Jeannie Lawrence and Karen and Miriam Littell; son Stephen; stepsons Jonathan Sachs and Robert Sachs Jr.; stepdaughter Jennifer Sachs Dahnert; and 11 grandchildren.
His first wife, Harriet Davis Lewis, died in 1978.
Burial will be private. A memorial service will be held in the fall. Donations in Mr. Littell's memory may be made to the annual Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, Box 10, Merion Station, Pa. 19066.