Gregory-Rackley Award Benefits Nisbet's Unique Research

Delia Nisbet

Delia Nisbet 92PhD, associate professor of German, joined the Oxford College faculty in 1982, building the current programs in both German and Italian. A scholar of German and Italian literature as well as comparative literature, she presents frequently at international conferences, often lecturing on the German poet Heinrich Heine, who was a subject of her 2000 book, Heinrich Heine and Giacomo Leopardi: The Rhetoric of Midrash.

Nisbet is the recipient of the Gregory-Rackley Faculty Career Development Award, which has helped to fund her current research project on the German Jewish press prior to and during World War II.

How did you arrive at the subject of your research?

In 2007 I was invited to give a presentation at a conference in Krakow, Poland, on the experience of Italian women during the Holocaust. In my research to prepare for the conference, I discovered that many Italian Jewish and non-Jewish women were sent to Ravensbrück, an extermination camp for women about 100 kilometers north of Berlin. I interviewed some of the survivors, and I also became connected to Dr. Monika Herzog, who is a curator and historian of the Ravensbrück experience. Through her I was able to see artifacts of items that victims made while in prison.

As I researched further I remembered a quotation from Heine, and it is one that I have carried with me throughout this research. Heine implies that we must have an historical understanding of where we come from in order to know who we are, and we must know who we are in order to form a realistic vision of our future. With this as my guide, I began to ask how this happened and how the Jewish communities survived.

Where did you go from there in your research?

I received the Gregory-Rackley Faculty Career Development Award in 2012, and this allowed me to visit the Judaica collection at the University of Cologne. I wanted to see how the progressive German constitution of the Weimar Republic could have been circumvented to allow the policies of the Nazi regime.

The passing of the Enabling Act of 1933 by the members of the Reichstag, including members of the Ministry of Justice, allowed Hitler to establish a dictatorship. That was how the genocidal policies became “legal.” Telford Taylor, the chief prosecutor of the Nürnberg war trials, said of it, “The dagger of the assassin was concealed beneath the robe of the jurist.”

Back in the US, I began research on the life of the German Jewish communities from 1933 to 1944. I kept coming across references to German Jewish newspapers, but I could not find the newspapers themselves—they were not at the National Archives in Washington or even at the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem. I knew that reading these “exile presses,” as they were called, would give a sense of the life of the communities. I found out that a large collection is contained in the German National Library in Frankfurt. Researchers must apply to see these materials, which also include letters, and they are available only by visiting in person. This past summer I spent a month in Frankfurt, working all day each day, poring over these sources.

What is your next step?

I am going over the reams of material I now have. My ultimate goal is a book manuscript, which I hope to have ready by 2015.

I am grateful for the Gregory-Rackley award and a grant from the Oxford Faculty Development Committee for making my research travel possible.

John W. Gregory Sr., 1915–2013

The Gregory-Rackley Faculty Career Development Award is named in honor of John W. Gregory Sr., professor of humanities emeritus, who served Oxford College from 1949 to 1979. The John and Sara Gregory Scholarship Endowment is named for him and his wife, Sara, who served for many years as Oxford librarian.

The Gregory-Rackley Faculty Career Development Award

Eugene Rackley III 55OX 58B says that he was moved to establish the Gregory-Rackley Faculty Career Development Award in 2002 in part because, “Oxford is more than its buildings. It is its teachers. Oxford teachers teach.”

Thanks to the generosity of the Gregory-Rackley award, a dozen Oxford faculty members have been able to take their scholarly interests in directions that would be difficult without the assistance of the grant.

Rackley named the grant to honor John Gregory Sr., whom he credits with helping him succeed at Oxford.

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