Publication Date

May 1, 2008

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam

Tom MarzikSpecialist in Czech, Slovak, and diplomatic history

Thomas D. Marzik (1941–2007), professor of history at Saint Joseph's University, died of cancer at his home in Merion Station, Pennsylvania, on October 23, 2007. Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, he attended Fairfield College Preparatory School and then the College of the Holy Cross, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1963. His education at Fairfield Prep and "the Cross" began his almost complete adult association with Jesuit education. It also introduced him to the central and eastern European world he would come to love and to explore, for during his junior year in college he studied at the University of Vienna. Tom Marzik earned his MA in history at Columbia University in 1966 and a certificate from the Institute on East Central Europe. He spent two years in research at the Historical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (1967–69) in Prague studying Czech relations with Slovaks, which became one of the principal lines of research and writing that defined his career. While there, he witnessed the Russian tanks coming in to crush the "Prague spring" in 1968, and he committed himself thereafter to learning every intricacy of Russian and Soviet relations with eastern Europe and the efforts of eastern European peoples to achieve national independence. In Prague he also discovered his second home, and he would return there for study and professional associations many times during his life. In 1976 he received his PhD in history from Columbia University, having completed his dissertation under István Deák.

Tom Marzik came to Saint Joseph's University (then College) in 1970, a Jesuit institution, where he remained until his death. At Saint Joseph's, he taught Western civilization regularly and gained a much-deserved reputation as a witty and careful teacher able to win students to an understanding and even love of history in a demanding "required" course for all students in the university. His lectures and sometimes vaudevillian gags and comments became legendary among students and colleagues—so much so that some of his invented terms such as "double jeopardians" for students who take him for two semesters entered the university lexicon. Tom Marzik also developed and taught several well received upper-division courses on Russian and eastern European history, on European diplomatic history, and on selected topics such as the Holocaust. In all his work for the university he demanded, and got, exacting standards of accuracy and historical integrity. A raconteur par excellence, with a contagious laugh and a deep well of comedic one-liners from such favorites as W. C. Fields and George Burns, he also gathered around him a circle of faculty at the Tuesday and Thursday table at lunchtime. There, faculty from various disciplines argued matters of Latin meanings, religion and politics, and church doings, among several regular topics, and invariably learned something about "his people," the Slovaks and their history.

Marzik was an internationally known and respected scholar. His interests ranged on both sides of the Atlantic, for he published work, and even charted scholarly paths, in such subjects as Slovak emigration to the United States, immigrant religion(s) in the United States, and nation-building in Czechoslovakia. He co-edited Immigrants and Religion in Urban America (1977), which was, and remains for many, the starting point in comparative treatments of the subject. His major work was R.W. Seton-Watson and His Relations with the Czechs and Slovaks: Documents 1906–51 (2 vols., 1995–96), which he completed with Jan Rychlík and Miroslave Bielik. This was an international research and publishing effort, with the three scholars working in three languages over many years not only to compile the documents but also to exegete and present the complex diplomatic maneuverings of R.W. Seton-Watson and his correspondents in the creation of Czechoslovakia, as well as other diplomatic turnings in east-central Europe. Marzik also published many highly regarded articles in publications in the United States and in Europe, principally on T.G. Masaryk, the founding father of Czechoslovakia, and on Masaryk’s son, Jan Masaryk, a foreign minister of that country, looking especially at the Masaryks’ time in the United States and the process of nation-formation. At the time of his death, Tom Marzik was completing a book on the Masaryks. For his work on the Seton-Watson book, he was awarded the Pamätná medaila Matice slovenskej, and for his work on Slovaks and Slovakia, the president of Slovakia presented him with the Zlatá medaila Prezidenta Slovenskej republiky in 1998. He also earned fellowships and merit awards for his research and writing.

Tom Marzik gave of himself generously in serving the profession in the United States, Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, especially. He was a founding member of the Slovak Studies Association and served in various capacities as an officer of it and in helping to edit its journalSlovakia from 1980 through 1986. He was the book review editor for Slovak subjects forEast Central Europe (1981–91) and a member of the advisory board of Central Europe (London) from 2003 until his death. He also served as vice president of the Czechoslovak History Conference. He gained a devoted following among scholars working on central-eastern European topics for editing their work, for sending a regular stream of news clippings and source suggestions related to their work, and for sharing his research materials—all delivered with careful and clever notes written in pen with calligraphic exactness.

Tom Marzik's office door had a sign saying "Do Not Disturb", in six different languages, but in fact, he welcomed all who came. He often did so with a hearty "Enter!" in a voice and manner recalling a famous moment from the play and then movie, The Sunshine Boys, in which one character explains he changed the usual greeting in order to “freshen up his act.” So too with Tom Marzik, who was always freshening up his work even as he continued to rely on the tried-and-true ways of meticulous scholarship that marked his training and habit. He now is buried in the family plot in Stratford, Connecticut. He is survived by his wife, Hana Kraatz Marzik, and brother, Robert K. Marzik. He is much missed by all.

Saint Joseph’s University

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.