In Memoriam

Solomon Wank (1930–2014)

Maria Höhn, September 2014

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Photo credit: Tyko Kihlstedt

Historian of East Central and Southeastern Europe

Solomon Wank, the Lewis F. Audenreid Professor Emeritus of History at Franklin &amp Marshall College, died at his home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on March 19, 2014, surrounded by his loving family. He was 84 years old.

Born in New York City on March 16, 1930, to an immigrant Jewish family from Russia, Solomon Wank received his PhD in 1961 from Columbia University. Beginning in 1961 and until his retirement in 1991, he was a distinguished professor of European History at Franklin &amp Marshall. A beloved teacher and widely respected scholar, Sol gained international recognition for his research on East Central Europe and the multinational Habsburg Empire. Stressing the integral connection between domestic and foreign affairs and the legacies of late empire, Sol explored the interrupted, delayed, and aggravated process of state and nation building in East Central and Southeastern Europe.

The culmination of his life’s work was a two-volume study of Habsburg statesman and diplomat Count Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal. The first volume, In the Twilight of Empire: Count Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal (1854–1912), Imperial Habsburg Patriot and Statesman, Vol. 1, The Making of an Imperial Habsburg Statesman, was published in 2009. Despite failing health, Sol worked steadily and joyfully on the second volume until the last weeks of his life. The second volume, From Foreign Minister in Waiting to De Facto Chancellor, will be published posthumously.

Solomon Wank’s scholarship, according to fellow Habsburg scholar Günther Kronenbitter, was distinguished “by its proximity to individual actors, a deep knowledge of the intricacies of the diplomatic process, and its embeddedness within larger social and domestic contexts.” Kronenbitter called Sol’s work a “milestone in Austro-Hungarian diplomatic history” that will be consulted by scholars and graduate students for generations to come. Sols’ 1994 two-volume collection of Aehrenthal documents, Aus dem Nachlass Aehrenthal: Briefe und Dokumente zur österreichisch-ungarischen Innen- und Aussenpolitik, 1885–1912, made a lasting contribution to Habsburg scholarship, and his 1978 edited collection Doves and Diplomats: Foreign Offices and Peace Movements in Europe and America in the Twentieth Century will also stand the test of time. In addition, Sol contributed numerous chapters to edited collections and published more than two dozen articles.

Two of Sol’s publications received special recognition. His article “Aristocrats and Politics in Austria 1867–1914: A Case of Historiographical Neglect” was included in a volume of seminal essays titled European Political History, 1870–1913 (Ashgate, 2007). The Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations named the Biographical Dictionary of Modern Peace Leaders 1815–1975 (1985), for which Sol served as the associate editor, the best book in 1986 on the history of internationalism and peace movements.

As editor of the Austrian History Yearbook from 1989 to 1996, Sol nurtured many young scholars with his deep knowledge and wisdom, and reinvigorated the journal by championing new approaches and methodologies. Taking the helm at a most difficult time for the study of Habsburg history and its successor states after the Cold War, Sol made a “Herculean” effort to save the journal from extinction and ensure its continuing reputation as a “top quality journal,” in the words of Charles Ingrao, his successor as editor. Sol was furthermore a member of the Governing Board of the Conference on Peace Research in History (now, the Peace History Society) from 1975 to 1987, and he served on the Executive Committee of the organization’s journal Peace and Change: An International Journal of Peace Research.

Sol’s distinguished scholarly record led to invitations to lecture at Concordia University in Montreal and the University of Osaka, and a stint as a visiting scholar at Columbia University. In 1972 he also participated in a monthlong exchange of scholars with the Soviet Union, in one of the first ventures of “cultural diplomacy” that accompanied détente. Additionally, Sol received many academic awards, including two Fulbright Fellowships, an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, and grants from the Austrian Foundation for the Support of Science and Art, the American Philosophical Society, and Franklin &amp Marshall College. He was a member of numerous professional societies in history and peace studies.

As a teacher, Sol was admired and beloved by his students for his searing intellect and brilliantly conceived and challenging seminars. His seminars on Imperialism, Fascism, and Nationalism introduced generations of students to the darker corners of European history, and the rigors and joy of historiography. Typical of his masterful craftsmanship in course design was his seminar “Freud’s Vienna.” Another of his seminars, “The Idea of the Feminine and the Status of Women in Nineteenth-Century Europe,” was among the first women’s studies courses at Franklin &amp Marshall after the college admitted women in 1969. As a former student of Sol’s I speak for many who valued the breadth and depth of his knowledge, his ease in conveying complex historical processes, and his humane and questioning spirit, which prodded students to examine their own values and beliefs. Sol respected his students as intellectual peers, remaining a mentor and inspiration to many long after they had graduated. In 1985, Franklin &amp Marshall College honored Sol with the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Sol was also a true mensch, tirelessly advocating for peace and social justice. Active in the civil rights and antiwar movements, he participated in many demonstrations and marches on the national and local levels. He was a committed member of the American Civil Liberties Union, serving on the board of directors of the Lancaster County chapter for 19 years. He was also an avid supporter of the arts.

Solomon Wank was loved and cherished by his family, friends, and students for his generosity of spirit, his witty observations, and his impromptu mini-seminars on all things Habsburg and Aehrenthal. He will be missed dearly by all whose lives he touched.

Sol is survived by his wife of 58 years, Barbara Wank; his son, Professor David Wank of Tokyo; his daughter, Sarah de Leon of Lancaster; and his three grandchildren, Daniel de Leon and Alice and Tobias Ashiwa.

Maria Höhn
Vassar College