January 14, 2004
Kurt Steiner, political science professor emeritus, dead at 91
By Lisa Trei
Kurt Steiner, a political science professor emeritus known on campus as "Mr. Austria" who also helped draft Japan's postwar constitution, died at his home on campus Oct. 20, 2003. He was 91.
A memorial service will take place at 11 a.m. March 6 at the Faculty Club to commemorate the lives of Steiner and his wife, Josepha "Kitty," who died shortly before him on Sept. 29, 2003.
Clyde Steiner, a cousin, said Steiner, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, was determined to care for his wife of 64 years until she died. "He concealed his illness from his wife," Steiner said. "He was terribly fearful of leaving her alone."
Kurt Steiner was born June 10, 1912, in Vienna, Austria. He earned a law degree from the University of Vienna in 1935 and immigrated to the United States in 1938 after the Nazis seized power in Austria. In 1972, Steiner told the Stanford Daily that he fled his homeland because he knew that being Jewish, a lawyer and an author of anti-Nazi magazine articles would have "assured my place in a concentration camp."
Clyde Steiner said his cousin lived with his family in Brooklyn after he came to the United States. "He was an old-world gentleman," Steiner recalled. "He was very much a dandy; he wore spats." As a newcomer, Kurt Steiner held a variety of jobs. "I came home one day and he was dressed as [an] ice cream man in a pink-and-white striped uniform," Steiner recalled, laughing. "It was an astounding change from this elegant man. He told me he would play a Bach cantata on the ice cream bells."
Steiner's wife-to-be, Kitty, whom he met in Austria in 1930, immigrated in 1939. The couple married and settled in Cleveland, Ohio.
Steiner, an accomplished linguist, headed Berlitz language schools in Cleveland and Pittsburgh until he joined the U.S. Army in 1944. He studied Japanese at the U.S. Military Intelligence School at Fort Snelling, Minn.
Steiner served in the Far Eastern war zone and the military government in Tokyo. "There, his foundation in European continental law and his linguistic skills positioned him uniquely for his work in the war crime trials," his cousin said. In 1948 and 1949, Steiner served as a prosecutor of major war criminals during trials in Japan.
"Prior to his court service, he was chief of documentary evidence collection for the tribunal," his cousin said. "This was a key role because the Japanese wartime leaders had destroyed Japanese records and the court had to rely on captured German documentation." A 400-page history of the trials of 25 major Japanese wartime criminals, based on Steiner's firsthand experiences, is expected to be published posthumously, Clyde Steiner said.
Kurt Steiner remained in Japan until 1951, serving as chief of civil affairs and civil liberties under Gen. Douglas MacArthur and working with Japan's Diet to write its postwar constitution. "Under his direction, sweeping equality provisions were written into the constitution, overriding all previous law based on a 1,000-year-old feudal code, [which] had granted supreme power to individual family patriarchs," Clyde Steiner said.
After leaving Japan, Kurt Steiner came to Stanford to pursue graduate studies and work as a teaching assistant. He earned a doctorate from Stanford in political science in 1955 and that year joined the faculty, teaching comparative politics and the politics of Japan. He retired in 1977.
In 1958, Steiner was a founding faculty member of Stanford's first overseas study center near Stuttgart, Germany, and in 1965 he helped open the university's campus in Semmering, Austria. The program moved in 1968 to Vienna, where it remained until it closed in the mid-1980s. In 1977, the Austrian government endowed Stanford with a visiting professorship in Austrian studies. Steiner chaired the advisory committee for that professorship for more than a decade.
Steiner wrote Local Government in Japan (1965); Politics in Austria (1972); and Political Opposition and Local Politics in Japan (1979). In 1981, he edited Modern Austria, one of the few works of its kind in English.
At the time, then political science Professor Robert Ward told Stanford News Service that Steiner was "one of the few people who writes professionally on Austria [in English]. He is one of the better known ex-Austrians in the U.S." A biography of Steiner, titled Between the Worlds, was published in Austria in 2002 and is being translated into English.
Steiner received numerous medals from the Austrian government and the city of Vienna for his work. In 1990, the University of Vienna awarded him an honorary doctorate in social and economic sciences.
The Steiners had no children. Steiner is survived by relatives Clyde of San Francisco, Grace Davis of Palo Alto, Patrice Garrett of Cotati, Olivia Scheer of Riverside, and others. Funds are being collected for a memorial bench to be placed on campus. Donations may be sent to the Steiner Bench Fund, 420 N. McKinley St. #440, Corona, CA 92879-6504.