Publication Date

January 1, 2005

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam

Beate Ruhm von Oppen, who had taught at St. John's College since 1960, died on August 10, 2004, in her home in the Annapolis, Maryland, historic district. She was 86 years old.

Born in Zurich, Switzerland, and raised in Germany, she finished her secondary school education in Holland, and later moved to England, where she studied at the University of Birmingham. During World War II she worked for the British Foreign Office, analyzing German propaganda. She then joined the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

In the late 1950s Oppen came to the United States. She took a job with the American Historical Association, combing through captured German documents at a facility in Alexandria, Virginia, known as Torpedo Factory. She also worked at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard. Subsequently she was a visiting lecturer at Smith College, spent a year in the history department of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and later joined the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, where she researched the role of religion in the German Resistance to Nazism.

Oppen's interest in the German Resistance led her to edit and translate the letters of Helmuth James von Moltke to his wife Freya (Letters to Freya). Moltke, a legal adviser in the High Command of theWehrmacht, worked within the regime to undermine the Nazis, and was captured and executed. The German edition of the volume won the Scholl Prize, one of Germany’s most prestigious awards, in 1989.

Oppen's translation into German of A Life in Germany, an edition of the letters of Moltke’s South African-born mother, was published in Germany in 2000. Her other publications include a monograph Religion and Resistance to Nazism (1971), a collection of lectures she delivered at Princeton.

In keeping with the emphasis at St. John's on the liberal arts, Beate Ruhm von Oppen taught courses in a variety of fields—on history, political thought, and also on Bach's Rhetoric and Passions. She was an impressively learned, dedicated, and humane teacher and scholar.

Smith College

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