Obituary: Ilsedore B. Jonas was an influential teacher of German language and culture – News

May 26, 2022

Ilsedore (Barkow) Jonas, known as “Doris”, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Modern Languages ​​at Carnegie Mellon University, died on October 5, 2021 in Munich. She was 101 years old.

Jonas taught German Studies at CMU from the early 1960s until 1988. In 2020, the Department of Modern Languages ​​established the Ilsedore B. Jonas Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement in German Studies, awarded annually to the student in German studies with the highest GPA.

“Doris’ extraordinary personal warmth and strong professional support were the main reasons my career as a German teacher at Carnegie Mellon got off to such a good start,” said Christian Hallstein, professor emeritus of German. “The years when we were colleagues in German were truly golden years for me. She invested herself entirely in her teaching, and her students recognized this with eagerness and gratitude.”

jonas-obit-900-min.jpegJonas was born on August 31, 1920 in Stettin, Germany, which is now part of Poland. It was here in 1937 that she met her future husband, Klaus W. Jonas, at a ball. After completing her school leaving exams, she went to the University of Heidelberg where she studied German and Romance languages ​​and culture, as well as art history, earning a degree in linguistic translation in 1942. During the war, Jonas continued his studies in Berlin, Munich and Würzburg. Jonas and her husband married in 1945 and soon emigrated to Switzerland. They arrived in the United States in 1948.

The Jonases focused much of their professional attention on the literature of Thomas Mann, winner of the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature. They were invited to tea with Thomas and Katia Mann in New York in 1952, where they established a long professional and friendly relationship with the Mann family.

Klaus took a job teaching German studies and language at the University of Pittsburgh, much like the job Ilsedore got at CMU shortly after. She was one of the few female faculty members at the university at that time. Ilsedore also earned a doctorate in German from Pitt in 1967. The Jonases enjoyed attending the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Opera, and their college schedules allowed them summers in Europe for extensive scholarly research on the main subject of their professional interest. During this time, Ilsedore worked closely with her husband on the definitive five-volume bibliography of the works of Thomas Mann and all secondary works written about him. An English volume was later published under both of their names.

Besides her collaborative work with her husband, Jonas has found her own specific direction. Cultivating an ever-deeper appreciation of literature and art, and sharing it with his students, has been his life’s work. Equally important to her was understanding the cultural background of the writers themselves and how their work related to the music, art and dance of their time. His thesis, “Thomas Mann und Italien” (Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, Heidelberg, 1969), exploring the intersections of the writer’s work and Italian culture, was later published in English as “Thomas Mann and Italy” ( University of Alabama Press, 1979). At CMU, one of its outstanding courses, German Literature of the Romantic Period, weaved the works of contemporary painters and composers with the plays and novels that were the subject of the course to give a more complete picture and more nuanced culture of the time.

Jonas maintained an academic acquaintance with Thomas Mann, as well as with extended members of the Mann family, and with W. Somerset Maugham, until the writers died. Later, she focused her academic interests on the work of Klaus Mann. Her interest in all the arts, in addition to literature, led her to study the relationship between actress Eleonora Duse and poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke, for whom Duse was a muse. His research was published under the title “Rilke und die Duse” in 1993 by the prestigious Insel Taschenbuch.

Jonas and her husband amassed a large library of literature, mostly by and about Thomas Mann, but also including several other early 20th century German and English writers. This extensive library was donated to the University of Augsburg and earned the couple a Medal of Honor from the university. In 2002, the Jonases established an endowment (Die Zauberberg-Stiftung zur Förderung der Thomas-Mann-Forschung) to support further academic research on the author and to subscribe to the “Zauberberg-Gespräche”, a lecture program. This support is intended to encourage young people to continue the work of the foundation and to make possible the publication of this complementary work. In 2012, the endowment financed an exhibition in Lübeck entitled “Personal Memoirs” by Thomas Mann.

When the 1972 Munich Olympics ended, Ilsedore and her husband bought an apartment in the Olympic Village and, upon their mutual retirement in 1988, moved permanently from Pittsburgh to Munich. In Munich, she was able to take full advantage of the many cultural events offered by the city and regularly participated in opera, museum exhibitions and lectures. An active member of the Goethe Society, she attended conferences and meetings, and also traveled with them to visit places important to the writer.

Newspaper articles were published in Munich to commemorate her 100th birthday and one of them points out that she was undoubtedly the oldest living person who knew Thomas Mann and the Mann family personally. Intellectually curious and mentally sharp until her dying day, she enjoyed a wide circle of professional and personal friends, including some CMU students whom she taught from the late 1960s. Jonas is buried in Oldenburg, in Germany, next to her husband.

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