History, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Reassessing History from Two Continents: Festschrift Günter Bischof, ed. Martin Eichtinger, Stefan Karner, Mark Kramer, Peter Ruggenthaler (Innsbruck University Press, 2013), pp. 49–68.


Copyright © 2013 Innsbruck University Press.


As the Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission noted, Johnson "gained national and international recognition as an economist, educator, humanitarian, social activist, writer and editor."79 Moreover, Johnson helped to save numerous Central European scholars - many of whom were Jewish or considered to be Jewish - from Nazi persecution. In addition to his academic writing, Johnson helped to author the nation's first nondiscrimination legislation and wrote two novels, three collections of short stories, and an autobiography. He received honorary doctorates from the New School for Social Research, the University of Nebraska, Brandeis University, Hebrew Union College, Yeshiva University, and the universities of Algiers, Brussels, and Heidelberg. Johnson is best remembered all over the world as the father of the New School. Much less is known about his other activities, and to this day no biography about him exists. The authors of this paper are in the process of filling in this gap. Archival sources relating to Johnson are scattered all over the United States, with an important collection at Yale University. Unfortunately it seems that most of the New School's own records on Johnson have not survived. According to Krohn, "In investigating the University in Exile at the New School ... the researcher finds that most of the documents bearing on its history have been lost over the years."80 In 1991 - encouraged by John Braeman, a history professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln - Johnson's surviving children donated his personal papers to the University's special-collections archive. Despite Alvin Johnson's high-profile career and his heroic efforts to aid refugees fleeing from Nazi persecution, his documents have yet to be thoroughly analyzed. Until they are, many aspects of Johnson's personal and academic life will remain elusive.