Joseph W. Eaton Collection
Scope and Content Note
Joseph Eaton (born Josef Wechsler) was an American sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh and a German-Jewish immigrant who arrived in the United States as a child in 1934. Approximately 40% of the collection comprises correspondence, writings, clippings, ephemera, and photocopied archival materials related to Eaton's genealogical research (Series III) in the Bavarian localities of Schwabach, Nuremberg, Fürth, and Theilheim (Waigolshausen), including materials pertaining to the history of the Jewish communities in those localities, as well as specifically to Eaton's own immediate family and his ancestors of the Wechsler, Rosenbaum, and Goldschmidt families.
Approximately 30% of the collection comprises correspondence (Series I), a significant portion of which is related to Eaton's travels to those localities in Bavaria in the 1990s to 2000s, in the context of commemorations of the Holocaust and of the German-Jewish communities that were destroyed, and programs hosting former Jewish residents. (See especially correspondence files for municipalities of Nuremberg and Schwabach, as well as the file for Gisela Blume, in Fürth.)
A small portion of the collection pertains to Eaton's scholarly interest in the experiences of Jewish communists in East German society, including transcripts and/or audio files of two interviews he conducted with Hermann Axen, a Jewish concentration camp survivor who, from the 1970s until 1989, was a member of the Politburo of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (Folder 30), and two letters of Eaton to Gregor Gysi (Folder 7).
Also noteworthy are scattered instances of texts by acquaintances of Eaton, including an essay by sociologist and author Irene Runge (Folder 39); speeches related to the dedication of the new synagogue in Aachen (Folder 29); and writings by archivist Wolfgang Dippert about the Schwabach Jewish community (Folders 52-53), and by local historian Ralf Rossmeissl, about Rabbi Abraham Grünbaum (Folder 58). Related to Eaton's family history are texts by two relatives, a speech given by Ruth Bruck (Folder 31), and a photocopy of a memoiristic account by Erich Goldschmidt (Folder 37) of his deportation from Brussels to Saint-Cyprien in May 1940.
With a few exceptions, items in the collection dated before the 1960s are photocopies. There are a few items related to Joseph Eaton's service in the U.S. Army in World War II, among them two original items: a Nazi brochure for Heroes' Memorial Day (Heldengedenktag), 1944 (Folder 72) and one 1945 issue of the U.S. Army newspaper that Eaton edited, the Regensburger Post (Oversize Large, Box 48). Finally, an unusual item in the collection is an original 16th-century parchment document, apparently a land deed, issued by Wilhelm von Inhausen und Knyphausen, in East Frisia (Ostfriesland) (Folder 74), which has no apparent relationship to Eaton's genealogical research.
- 1597, 1704-1894, 1944-2008
- Majority of material found within 1966-2008
- Eaton, Joseph W., 1919-2012 (Person)
Language of Materials
The collection is predominantly in German, with some English.
This collection is open to researchers.
Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.
Joseph W. Eaton was born in Nuremberg (Nürnberg), Germany, 28 September 1919, as Josef Wechsler, the son of Jacob Wechsler and Flora Wechsler (née Goldschmidt). His parents had married in Frankfurt am Main in 1912. In Nuremberg Eaton's father owned a shaving brush factory. When the business failed following the stock market crash, the family moved to Berlin, in 1930. Eaton had three siblings, all brothers: Siegfried (Shlomoh; born 1913), Martin (Moshe; born 1915), and Herbert (Yitzchak; born 1921).
After the ascent of the National Socialists (Nazis) to power in Germany in 1933, Eaton's family began to look for ways to emigrate, but they could not afford to do so as a family. Joseph's two older brothers left for Palestine, and Joseph and his younger brother, Herbert, emigrated to the United States with the help of the German-Jewish Children's Aid program. (Herbert eventually settled in Israel.) Eaton's parents later fled to the Netherlands; they were deported from there, and died in Sobibór in July 1943. Eaton's maternal grandmother, Cilli Goldschmidt (née Hamburger), of Frankfurt am Main, died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943.
Joseph Wechsler arrived in New York in November 1934. By 1941 he had changed his last name to Eaton. All of his brothers also took the new name of Eaton. (One brother, Herbert, later went back to using Wechsler.) According to Joseph Eaton, they changed their name in connection with their service in the armed forces on the side of the Allies during World War II (three of the four served either under the Americans or the British), out of concern for the safety of their parents, who were living at the time in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands.
Joseph Eaton graduated from Cornell University in 1940 with a major in sociology. Following the entrance of the United States into the Second World War, he attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army but, since he was German-born, he was classified as an enemy alien and rejected. However, in 1943, while pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University he was nevertheless drafted, and, thanks to his language skills, was selected to work as a journalist in the psychological warfare unit of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), in which position his duties included writing leaflets to be disseminated behind enemy lines.
As a soldier, Eaton was in a unit that occupied Aachen, the first German city to be taken by the Allies, in October 1944. In 1945-1946, while stationed in Straubing, near Regensburg, he was the editor of a weekly newspaper, the Regensburger Post, published by the Army for the German civilian population of Bavaria.
After the war Eaton returned to Columbia, and completed his Ph.D. in sociology in 1948. On 8 July 1947 he married Helen Fay Goodman (born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, 1925), at Shearith Israel synagogue, in New York City. Helen Eaton was a speech therapist by profession. The couple had four children: David, Seth, Jonathan and Deborah.
Eaton spent most of his professional career at the University of Pittsburgh. He was appointed professor of Social Work Research there in January 1959, and shortly later held a joint appointment at the Graduate School of Public Health. As of 1974 his appointment was moved to the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, where he remained until his retirement in December 1989.
Early in his career, Eaton was a co-author of an epidemiological study of the mental health of the Hutterite community. His subsequent scholarly interests were often related to social work, comparative social systems, and social economic planning and development. Sometimes working in collaboration with Israeli scholars, he published articles and books on Israeli society concerning topics such as prison reform; youth culture; and educational and social services for disadvantaged groups.
In summer 1980 Eaton spent six weeks as an exchange scholar in East Berlin, in a program sponsored jointly by the American Academy of Sciences and the Akademie der Wissenschaften, of East Germany, with Wulfram Speigner acting as the liaison at the German institute. He researched three topics, on which he wrote reports: Communist social science methodology; Jews in East Germany; and sociology in East Germany. During his stay he became acquainted with the author Stefan Heym.
In 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eaton returned to Germany and pursued conversations with Jews who had participated in the Communist system, visiting Gregor Gysi and Hermann Axen, among others.
Another of Eaton's scholarly interests related to national identity card systems and privacy issues, a topic on which he published a book in 1986, Card-Carrying Americans: privacy, security, and the national ID card debate (republished in 2003 as The Privacy Card: a low cost strategy to combat terrorism).
At the end of his life Eaton lived in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburg, where he died 15 October 2012, at the age of 93. He is buried at Mount Lebanon Cemetery in Adelphi, Prince George's County, Maryland.
Rotstein, Gary (2012 October 19). "Obituary: Joseph Wechsler Eaton, University of Pittsburgh professor, author fled Nazi Germany." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Tabachnick, Toby (2012 October 16). "Joseph Eaton was professor of social work, committed Zionist." The Jewish Chronicle.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Joseph Eaton" [biographical notes accompanying photographs donated by Eaton]. USHMM Photo Archives (http://digitalassets.ushmm.org/photoarchives/).
1.25 Linear Feet (3 manuscript boxes + 1 oversize folder)
Joseph Eaton (born Josef Wechsler) was an American sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh and a German-Jewish immigrant who arrived in the United States as a child in 1934. The collection primarily comprises correspondence, writings, clippings, ephemera, and photocopied archival materials related to Eaton's genealogical research in the Bavarian localities of Schwabach, Nuremberg, Fürth, and Theilheim (Waigolshausen), including materials pertaining to the history of the Jewish communities in those localities, as well as specifically to Eaton's own immediate family and his ancestors of the Wechsler, Rosenbaum, and Goldschmidt families. Included are materials related to Eaton's travels to those localities in the context of programs hosting former Jewish residents and commemorating the Holocaust and the German-Jewish communities that were destroyed. A small portion of the collection pertains to Eaton's scholarly interest in the experiences of Jewish communists in East German society, including transcripts and/or audio files of two interviews he conducted with Hermann Axen, a Jewish concentration camp survivor who from the 1970s until 1989 was a member of the Politburo of the ruling Socialist Unity Party.
Arranged in the following series, according to types of materials.
- Series I: Correspondence, 1945, 1966-2008
- Individual correspondence files
- Other correspondence
- Series II: Writings/Speeches, Interviews, and Notes, 1982-2008
- Series III: Genealogical Research, 1704-1894, 1930s-2008
- Series IV: Publications, Ephemera, and Miscellaneous, 1597, 1868, 1944-1947, 1980-2000
A book originally found in the collection, Die Augen des ewigen Bruders: eine Legende, by Stefan Zweig, was transferred at a previous point to the LBI Library (call number st 6189); during the present processing the publication Das Weltjudentum: Zitate aus Politik, Kultur und Wirtschaft (1944), first installment, published in index-card format, by Deutscher Verlag, Berlin, was also transferred to the library. Audio tapes containing an interview with Hermann and Sonja Axen were removed at an earlier point to the LBI audiovisual (A/V) collection, and digitized.
Clippings from a variety of publications, primarily from West Germany and the United States, dated from the 1940s to 2008, have been removed to a separate LBI clippings file for the Joseph W. Eaton Collection. (Clippings associated with correspondence, and those that came from East German publications, remain with the collection.)
Since the materials were received by the Leo Baeck Institute in various small installments over the course of time, there was no significant original order; at some point before 2009, a folder listing was created for approximately half of the collection, without any particular arrangement scheme, and the collection was cataloged. During the present processing, the latter portion of the collection was brought together with an addendum of unprocessed materials relating mainly to Eaton's genealogical research and his travels to the German localities significant in his ancestry. The addendum comprised several files in general categories (e.g. Nuremberg; Schwabach; Eaton-Wechsler family; Rabbi Hile Wechsler) and some loose materials. The collection was re-foldered and re-boxed into new acid-free archival folders and manuscript boxes; and oversize materials were unfolded and placed in an oversize folder. An arrangement scheme was devised, based on broad divisions of types of materials. The arrangement of genealogical research in Series III is modeled on the filing scheme reflected in Eaton's original files in the unprocessed addendum, with headings for individual figures, families, and localities. The following materials were discarded: duplicate copies of letters and documents; photocopies of three sociological articles or chapters from the 1970s-1980s; and a Falk city map of Bonn (Gross-Bonn, 22. Auflage).
- Axen, Hermann
- Bahr, Egon, 1922-2015
- Dippert, Wolfgang, 1961-
- Eaton, Joseph W., 1919-2012
- Fürth (Bavaria, Germany)
- Genealogies (histories)
- Germany (East)
- Goldschmidt family
- Grünbaum, Abraham, 1855-1921
- Hamburger family
- Holocaust survivors
- Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
- Jewish communists
- Jews -- Genealogy
- Jews -- Germany
- Knyphausen, Wilhelm von, 1557-1631
- Nuremberg (Germany)
- Ostfriesland (Germany)
- Printed ephemera
- Publications (documents)
- Rosenbaum family
- Rossmeissl, Ralf
- Runge, Irene
- Schwabach (Germany)
- Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands. Zentralkomitee. Politbüro
- Speeches (documents)
- Striedl, Hans
- Wechsler family
- Wechsler family
- Wechsler, Mosche Pinchas Elchanan, 1843-1894
- Guide to the Joseph W. Eaton Collection 1597, 1704-1894, 1944-2008 (bulk 1966-2008) AR 10028
- Processed by LBI staff / Additional processing and finding aid compiled and encoded by Violet Lutz.
- © 2015
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.
- October 2015:: Links to digital objects added in Container List.
- December 2015:: Links to digital objects added in Container List.
Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository
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