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January 5, 2017

Klaus W. Jonas

Klaus W. Jonas, professor emeritus of German, died Nov. 2, 2016. He was 96.

Jonas was born in Stettin, Pomerania. 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.  Because of this, he was not allowed to serve in the military but instead was pressed into service in a military hospital.

After World War II, he studied in Heidelberg, Geneva, Zurich and at Columbia University before receiving his PhD from the University of Münster.

Jonas worked as both an instructor and a librarian at the University of Connecticut, Yale, Rutgers and Mount Holyoke College before joining the Pitt faculty in 1957. Here he served as chair of the Germanic section in the then Department of Modern Languages (1959-62), 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 also was instrumental in establishing a partnership between Pitt and the University of Augsburg in Germany. After his retirement in 1988, he returned to Germany where he continued his bibliographical research on German novelist and essayist Thomas Mann.

He published articles and monographs on multiple authors, but his most significant contribution are his five volumes on Thomas Mann scholarship. Jonas spent five decades cataloguing the thousands of writings about Mann from a wide variety of sources. His care and thoroughness as a bibliographer earned him the admiration of colleagues and Mann aficionados alike.

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his collection of early 20th-century German modernist literature — thousands of volumes of collected works, reviews, unpublished letters, etc.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, which named the collection after him and his wife, Ilsedore. This collection includes some of the most important names in German literature from the early 20th century.

In recognition of his contributions, the German Thomas Mann Society of Lübeck awarded him the Thomas Mann Medal. He also received awards from 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.

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.

He is survived by his wife, Ilsedore B. Jonas.

—John B. Lyon 

Editor’s note: John Lyon is a faculty member in the Department of German.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 49 Issue 9

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