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  • Hans-Joachim Torke, 1938–2000
  • Robert O. Crummey

The untimely death of Hans-Joachim Torke on 15 January 2000 took from our midst an outstanding scholar, a distinguished academic leader, and a wonderful colleague. It would be difficult to overstate his contributions to the study of Russian history in the German-speaking world. For more than 20 years, he was Professor and Director of the History Section of the Osteuropa-Institut of the Freie Universität in Berlin, the guiding hand behind the Forschungen zur osteuropäischen Geschichte, and a co-editor of the Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas. A member of the editorial board of Kritika, Torke was the author of scholarly monographs, reference works for students, and books for a general readership.

My first encounter with Torke took place in Berlin in 1971 at a conference on early Russian history. Oddly enough, I remember very little of our first meeting. Over the years, however, we saw more and more of one another, and colleagues became friends. At conferences, I grew accustomed to his thoughtful, challenging papers and his polite but penetrating questions, especially about the use of historical concepts and terminology. In the process, I gradually became aware of the full range of his accomplishments.

Torke's curriculum vitae epitomizes a successful academic career in a German setting. As was true of so many of his colleagues, his family roots lay in the German East. He was a Silesian, born in Breslau on 9 June 1938 and, after World War II, raised in Braunschweig, where he completed secondary school. He took pride in his heritage and as an adult was delighted to visit his native city, now Wroc∏aw, but he showed none of the bitterness of many of the older German refugees from the East. A few years ago, I spent a delightful evening listening to Torke, a gentile, and a Jewish friend share their memories of childhood in Breslau and their emotions on returning to the city of their birth.

Torke's "Eastern" origins may account in part for his decision to study Russian and East European history and Slavistics as an undergraduate at Göttingen and Berlin. The Free University became his academic home, and Werner Philipp his mentor. Under Philipp's guidance, his career flourished. He completed his Ph.D. in 1965, defended his Habilitation in 1973, and became a full professor in 1976. [End Page 697]

Rooted in German academic traditions and institutions, Torke was also in every sense a man and scholar of the world. In the course of his training, he mastered all of the skills of any good historian of Russia and, over the years, won the respect of his colleagues in Russia and Ukraine. What made him unique, however, was the combination of this background and his American experience – a virtually native command of English, lengthy periods of study in the United States, and a deep knowledge of the folkways of American academia. These qualities he honed in 1962–63 at Columbia as an exchange scholar under the tutelage of Marc Raeff, at Indiana University as a visiting Assistant Professor in 1966 and 1970, and as a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton in 1988.

He was, moreover, a major force in international scholarly collaboration. He worked tirelessly to organize and raise funds for the series of international conferences on early Russian history set in motion by Werner Philipp and Gustave Alef. In the last decade of his life, he also took a very active part in the international network of scholars of Ukrainian history.

As I remember Hans Torke as a colleague and friend, I concentrate on the qualities that impressed me most. Everyone who met him experienced his polish, charm, and graciousness. He and his wife, Karin, were consummate host and hostess in official settings and at home. In his professional life, he combined hard work and remarkable efficiency. He handled his wide range of professional commitments, including heavy pedagogical responsibilities, promptly and conscientiously without wasted motion or energy. Torke was both a supportive colleague and a guardian of high academic standards, impatient with pretentiousness, unprofessional conduct, and folly.

For all of his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 697-703
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-26
Open Access
No
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