Remembering Klaus W. Jonas

Klaus W. Jonas, Professor Emeritus of German, died on November 2, 2016 at age 96.  Born in Stettin, Pomerania, in 1920, his adolescent and student years were overshadowed by the National Socialist Regime.  On numerous occasions the Nazi party hindered his efforts to study abroad or to complete academic degrees—they considered him “politically immature,” that is unwilling to conform to Nazi party doctrine.  As much as this limited his early academic opportunities, it also most likely saved his life.  The Nazi Party did not trust him politically, and so would not allow him to serve in the military.  Instead, he was pressed into service in a military hospital during the last year of the war. After the war he studied in Heidelberg, Geneva, Zurich, and at Columbia University before ultimately receiving his PhD from the University of Münster with a dissertation on “Somerset Maugham and the Far East.”

Professor Jonas came to the University of Pittsburgh in 1957, after working as both an instructor and a librarian at the University of Connecticut, Yale, Rutgers, and Mount Holyoke College. While at the University of Pittsburgh he served as Chair of the Germanic Section in the then Department of Modern Languages (from 1959-1962), as a member of Senate Council, and as an associate bibliographer for the Germanic Section of the Modern Language Association of America.  While at Pitt he organized multiple exhibits for the library and was also instrumental in establishing a partnership between the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Augsburg in Germany. After his retirement from Pitt in 1988 he returned to Germany where he continued his bibliographical research on Thomas Mann, for which he had become an internationally-recognized expert. 

He published articles and monographs on multiple authors, but his most significant contribution are his five volumes on Thomas Mann scholarship. Shortly after finishing a bibliography of Maugham scholarship, he approached Thomas Mann and asked the author if he would be interested in something similar.  Thus began a five-decade long research endeavor, to catalog the thousands of writings about Thomas Mann in the widest variety of sources, not only in literary books and journals, but also in sources ranging from fields as diverse as medicine (Medizinische Welt and Epilepsie-Blätter) and music (Opera Quarterly).  His care and thoroughness as a bibliographer earned him the admiration of colleagues and Thomas Mann aficionados, alike. 

In 1997 he was awarded the Thomas Mann Medal of the German Thomas Man Society of Lübeck to honor his contributions.  He donated his collection of early 20th-Century German modernist literature—thousands of volumes of collected works, reviews, unpublished letters, etc.—to the University of Augsburg, that is now named after him and his wife, Ilsedore (Professor Emerita from Carnegie Mellon University).  This collection includes some of the most important names in German literature from the early 20th Century, including Heinrich, Thomas, Klaus, and Golo Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, Hermann Hesse, Gerhart Hauptmann, Ernst Jünger, Hermann Broch, and Carl Zuckmayer. 

Professor Jonas knew many of these writers personally, as well as English-speaking writers, including Somerset Maugham. Professor Jonas has been awarded numerous honors and awards from institutions such as the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Bollingen Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, and the German Academic Exchange Service. In 2004, a former student endowed the Klaus Jonas Chair at Pitt (currently held by Professor Randall Halle) in his honor.  His colleagues remember him for his interest in and enthusiasm for the variety of subjects he researched, which included not only German modernism, but also English and American art and literature, and even horse riding and dressage, and for his warm collegiality.  Professor Jonas is survived by his wife, Ilsedore B. Jonas.