In response to:
The Day of the Hunter from the December 8, 2011 issue
To the Editors:
In his otherwise highly interesting review of Tom Segev’s biography Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends [NYR, December 8, 2011], Louis Begley says that Wiesenthal was the first recipient of an honorary degree “granted a Jew by the Jagellonian University in Kraków in its 610 years.” Since this is my alma mater I’ve checked, out of curiosity, whether this is a fact or a legend.
The practice of granting honorary degrees by the Jagellonian University goes back to 1816; on the receivers list I’ve found a group of Jewish personalities much larger than one. It starts with Julian Klaczko, an eminent Polish-Jewish historian (1887), and ends, so far, with Marek Edelman, the famed leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (2009). In between one can find, among others, Steven Spielberg—and of course Simon Wiesenthal.
Louis Begley replies:
The statement to which Mr. Zagajewski objects is not based on Tom Segev’s biography. I relied instead on Hella Pick’s Simon Wiesenthal: A Life in Search of Justice (Northwestern University Press, 1996). Pick was with Wiesenthal when he went to Poland in 1994, received his honorary degree, and visited Auschwitz. I did not myself scroll through the list of recipients of honorary degrees from the Jagellonian University to see whether any of them might be Jews, or seek to ascertain the date on which the university began the practice of granting such degrees.