Obituaries for Jan. 12, 2017

Nat Hentoff, left, with his son Nick. Photo via Twitter.
Nat Hentoff, left, with his son Nick.
Photo via Twitter.

Nat Hentoff, journalist, author, music critic and social activist, dies at 91

Nat Hentoff, who wrote about civil liberties and jazz for The Village Voice for 50 years and also wrote for The New Yorker, The Washington Post, DownBeat magazine and other publications, has died.

Nathan Irving Hentoff — who grew up in the Roxbury section of what he once called the “pervasively anti-Semitic city” of Boston — died Jan. 7 at the age of 91. His son Nick announced his death in a tweet: “Sad to report the death of my father #NatHentoff tonight at the age of 91. He died surrounded by family listening to Billie Holiday.”

Hentoff was the author of more than 30 books, including novels and young adult and nonfiction books, many dealing with the Constitution and free speech.

He was a jazz critic in New York in the 1950s and went on to write books about musicians and the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s. He also became an activist, marching against the Vietnam War and for civil rights.

Hentoff was born in Boston to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. The New York Times reported that he tried to rebel at the age of 12 by publicly eating a salami sandwich on Yom Kippur as people walked by him on the way to synagogue, which angered his father and his neighbors. He said later that he did it to know how it felt to be an outcast, calling the experience “enjoyable.”

He attended Boston’s Latin School, and graduated with honors from Northeastern University in 1946. In 1950, he was a Fulbright fellow at the Sorbonne in Paris.

In 2013, a biographical film about Hentoff, titled “The Pleasures of Being Out of Step,” spotlighted his career as a jazz critic and as a first amendment advocate.

He once told an interviewer how jazz intersected with his career as a defender of the Bill of Rights. “I’ll leave you with this — every once in a while writing about my day job I get so down I have to stop,” he said. “I literally stop and put on a recording, and then that sound, that feeling, that passion for life gets me up and shouting again and I can go back to grim stuff of what’s happening in the rest of the world.”

Hentoff was liberal when it came to civil liberties but conservative when it came to issues such as abortion, which he opposed.

He was married three times, and considered himself an atheist.

—JTA News and Features

Zygmunt Bauman, Polish-Jewish sociologist

WARSAW — Zygmunt Bauman, a Polish-Jewish sociologist and philosopher who authored more than 50 books, has died.

Bauman, who wrote on subjects ranging from the fluidity of identity in the modern world to consumerism, died Jan. 9 at his home in Leeds, England. He was 91.

His work focused on the outcasts and the marginalized, and dealt with modernity and globalization.
Bauman believed that the genocide of the Holocaust and totalitarian systems were unnatural but the logical consequence of modernity. They were the culmination of the idea of progress and purity which, according to Bauman, were of crucial importance for the dynamics of modernity.

Bauman was born in 1925, in Poznan, to a family of poor Polish Jews. After the outbreak of World War II he fled with his parents to the Soviet Union. In 1944 he joined the Polish army; he fought in the Battle of Berlin the following year.

In the years 1945 to 1953, Bauman served as an officer in a Stalinist-era military organization, the Internal Security Corps, a communist counterespionage organization. He acknowledged in 2006 that he worked for the organization but only in a desk job, though others who worked for the corps reportedly killed resisters to the regime.

He was viewed by many in Poland as an enemy of the country and in 2013 was booed off the stage during a debate in Wroclaw, after which he never returned to the country.

Following World War II, Bauman studied philosophy at the University of Warsaw. As a member of the philosophy faculty at the university, he taught Marxism. After October 1956 he became one of the first sociology scholars in Poland.

As a result of the communist regime’s anti-Semitic campaign, in March 1968 he was fired from the University of Warsaw, where he was head of the Department of General Sociology. He was forced to leave Poland.

From 1969 to 1971 he lectured at universities in Tel Aviv and Haifa. In 1971 he moved to the United Kingdom, where he became involved with the University of Leeds, becoming head of the sociology department until his retirement in 1990.

In recent years he became an outspoken critic of Israel’s government for its treatment of the Palestinians.
In his recent book “Strangers at Our Door” he analyzed the refugee crisis, the panic it caused and the narrative built around it by politicians and the media.

In a 2009 interview, Bauman was optimistic about the Jews’ place in the Diaspora and the possibilities for societies to embrace pluralism.

“Now, however, it looks like that diasporic context of our living will not go away — it will be there forever, so learning how to live with strangers day in, day out without abandoning my own strangeness is high on the agenda,” he said. “You are a stranger, I am a stranger, we all remain strangers, and nevertheless we can like or even love each other.”

—JTA News and Features

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  1. Bauman was trained by the NKVD (KGB) in the Soviet UNion 1939-41 and postwar ran a unit under NKVD supervision, liquidating Polish patriots. This was explictly mentioned in his recommendation for promotion to the rank of Major, which also recommended him for an academic career – the next stage of repression in postwar Poland. He played an active role in killing and silencing opposition to Communist slavery. Rehabilitating him is like rehabilitating a fanatic SS officer.


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