Stanford University News Service
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May 12, 2009
Cynthia Haven, News Service: (650) 724-6184, firstname.lastname@example.org
Not every German sensed disaster in 1938, but one German Jewish teenager, the son of a tailor, made immediate and persistent plans to escape. He returned as a U.S. soldier to liberate Germany and Buchenwald, and eventually he became a Stanford professor.
Leo Weinstein, professor emeritus of French, died from cancer May 4 in Walnut Creek. He was 87.
He was the author of two first biographies—Ernest Chausson: The Composer's Life and Works (1955) and Hippolyte Taine (1972)—and four other books. He was also one of the world's foremost experts on soccer.
Weinstein was born in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, on May 15, 1921. Beginning at age 15, he plotted and connived a way to get out of Germany, as his family hesitated and lingered. Eventually, he discovered a cache of his mother's letters in Hebrew and Yiddish (he spoke neither language) from her American relatives in New York City.
With her death in 1934, he wrote in an unpublished autobiography, they hadn't seemed to matter. "But now these letters took on a new and important significance. On the back there was a return address!" he wrote. Weinstein composed a letter to his uncle in his "best literary English," filled with "howlers." Fortunately, he charmed his relatives.
"We rejoiced and danced all around the house. New York, New York, skyscrapers, jazz, Broadway—and freedom!" he wrote.
With persistence and bribes, Weinstein and his older brother emigrated in 1938 to live with an aunt and uncle in New York City. His last memory of Germany was two young friends who furtively waved goodbye to him at a train station—one was a democrat, the other the son of a Nazi. Weinstein's father was sent to Buchenwald the same year.
Weinstein finished high school night courses, attended City College of New York and got a scholarship to Florida Southern College.
In 1942, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He landed on Omaha Beach and had a communications assignment at Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters Allied Forces in Europe near Paris. He was later transferred to the Psychological Warfare Service, which took him behind enemy lines in his native Germany, where he used mobile microphones to convince German citizens to surrender. He helped liberate Buchenwald, where he discovered the records for his father's 1941 death.
After a few postings, he ended up at Georgetown University, studying German, his native language, as part of the Army training program (the only opening left by the time the authorities reached the end of the alphabet). He later switched to Italian.
In 1949, he was chosen to be part of the first Fulbright group to go to postwar France, where he began research on his biography of Romantic composer Chausson (1855-99), a pupil of Massenet. That book, co-authored with Jean-Pierre Barricelli, along with his subsequent The Metamorphoses of Don Juan (1959), remained in print for half a century.
Weinstein received his PhD from Stanford in 1951 and began his teaching career the same year. At Stanford, he wrote a biography of French intellectual Hippolyte Taine (1828-93) and The Subversive Tradition in French Literature: 1721-1971 (2 volumes, 1989), which focused on literary masterpieces that overtly or covertly attacked political and social conditions.
However, Weinstein became disenchanted with academia after the 1960s, when he felt "that a storm of suicidal insanity had descended even on those whom I had respected as intelligent and rational colleagues." He opposed the "politicization" of the campus, arguing that the place for political action "was the town, not the gown."
To call attention to the condition of the humanities at Stanford and other universities, Weinstein helped organize "A Humanities and Arts Memorial" in 1994, with statements from Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, poet Richard Wilbur and influential intellectuals René Girard of Stanford and George Steiner.
Weinstein decried the decline of the humanities, which he said began in the late 1960s. "History was no longer considered important. Relevance and the 'now' became the important aspect," he recounted to the Stanford Daily.
He had, however, a parallel career as a soccer expert. He began playing at 5 for the well-known German sports club Werder Bremen as a youth, and winning a cup medal with a Paris amateur team in 1958. He served as captain of the Stanford varsity from 1948 to 1950 and coached the team from 1952 to 1954.
He attended eight World Cups, covering four for the San Francisco Examiner, and articles on the subject appeared in Soccer America, Soccer World and other periodicals. He was U.S. correspondent of Miroir du Football in Paris and translator of the biography Pelé by François Thébaud.
Weinstein retired from teaching in 1991.
He is survived by his companion, Natalie Dunn, and by a niece, Anne Loeser of Salt Lake City.
A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday, June 2, at Stanford Memorial Church.
Photo available upon request.
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