Retired professor and Holocaust scholar David S. Wyman passed away

Wyman remembered for contributions to Holocaust research


(Courtesy of UMass Amherst's facebook page)

By Kathrine Esten, Assistant News Editor

David S. Wyman, Distinguished Professor emeritus of history and author of critically-acclaimed “The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945,” passed away March 14 after a lengthy illness. He was 89.

From 1966 until his retirement in 1991, Wyman taught at the University of Massachusetts, holding professorships in history and Judaic studies, as well as being the associate chair of the history department and twice chair of the Judaic studies program.

In 1986, Wyman was named the Josiah E. DuBois Jr. Holocaust Remembrance Professor of History. DuBois was a Treasury Department official who, in 1943, played a key role in exposing the State Department’s sabotage of opportunities to rescue Jews from the Nazis.

Wyman was chairman of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, which was founded by colleagues and named in his honor in 2003. The Institute teaches the history and lessons of America’s response to the Holocaust, through scholarly research, public events, publications and educational programs.

“David was a brilliant scholar, a gifted speaker, an exceptional teacher, and a devoted friend. But above all, he was a person of extraordinarily fine character—a true ‘mensch,’” founding director Dr. Rafael Medoff said, in a statement from the Institute.

Medoff said that Wyman “was much too humble a man to ever consider establishing an institution named after himself. And it took considerable effort to persuade him to let us put his name on the institute.”

In 1984, Wyman published his book “The Abandonment of Jews,” based on 15 years of meticulous research that drew upon private and government records, as well as contemporary media accounts. Wyman argued that, were it not for the worldwide indifference toward the plight of Jews in Europe, a substantial commitment to rescue European Jews on the part of the United States could have saved several thousand Holocaust victims. Wyman faulted religious organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish,  mainstream newspapers and movies and the anti-Semitic sentiment of the general public.

Widely considered to be the definitive book on the subject, “The Abandonment of the Jews” won the National Jewish Book Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Award, the Present Tense Literary Award, the Stuart Bernath Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the Theodore Saloutos Award of the Immigration History Society. It was also nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Leonard Dinnerstein, a professor of history at the University of Arizona, concluded, “We will not see a better book on this subject in our lifetime.”

Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, praised Wyman for his “courageous, lucid, painful book.”

Wyman was deeply proud that his book not only educated Americans about their country’s response to the Holocaust, but also helped ensure that another persecuted Jewish community would not be abandoned. “The Abandonment of the Jews” was credited with helping to inspire the American rescue of hundreds of Ethiopian Jews stranded in Sudan in 1985, according to Wolff Blitzer, as quoted in the statement released by the Institute.

John R. Miller, a congressman and later an ambassador for combating human trafficking, told a Wyman Institute conference that he had given copies of the book to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush and his top aides. According to Miller, Bush called the book a major factor in the U.S. decision to airlift the Jews and eventually bring them to Israel.

Vice President Bush subsequently sent Prof. Wyman a handwritten note of thanks for inspiring the rescue mission, which is proudly displayed in the Wyman family home in Massachusetts.

Wyman was awarded honorary doctorates by Yeshiva University and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of religion. He served as a special advisor to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and was a member of the International Academic Advisory Board of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

He was predeceased by his wife Mildred “Midge” Wyman and is survived by his children, Jim and Teresa.

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @KathrineEsten.