Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:00 - Start of Interview

Play segment

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer resumed from a previous interview for which audio is not available.

00:00:08 - Army Service

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Did you serve in the army?"

Segment Synopsis: Steven Aschheim (SA) explained that he did not serve in the army between 1968 and 1975, but only after returning to Israel in the 1980s.

Keywords: 1980s; Israeli Army

00:00:37 - Teaching and Meeting George Mosse

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Were you affiliated with the Hebrew University in those years?"

Segment Synopsis: SA described himself as “the Goebbels of Israel” at this point, teaching various student and youth groups. He did not intend to become an academic. In 1968, he met George Mosse, who was visiting Jerusalem. He recalled Mosse’s humorous remarks about the student movement. SA decided to sit in on Mosse’s class on anti-Semitism. Mosse began the class by saying the students looked like Aryans. Aschheim appreciated the way he spoke and they eventually became friends over the course of Mosse’s various trips to Israel.

Keywords: Ant-Semitism; George L. Mosse; Israel; Jerusalem; Student Movement

00:04:30 - Studying in Madison

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Oh Steven, when are you going to stop being a boy scout and become serious. Why don't you come and study with me in Madison?"

Segment Synopsis: Aschheim recalled the moment Mosse proposed studying under him at Madison. SA could not pursue a PhD in Israel because he could not write in Hebrew. He knew nothing about Madison, but went in order to follow Mosse, who became the “foremost influence” in his life. SA cited Mosse’s important role in his eventual academic job placements.

Keywords: George L. Mosse; Hebrew; Madison, Wisconsin; PhD

00:07:57 - Mosse's Cultural History Course

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "When I was here, the cultural history course that he gave was stunning."

Segment Synopsis: Aschheim talked about a course on cultural history that Mosse gave at Madison and that he and his wife Hannah attended. Although Mosse was a “model” for SA and his peers, Aschheim reasserted the importance of his experience teaching in Habonim.

Keywords: Cultural History; George L. Mosse; Habonim; UW-Madison

00:09:58 - Mosse's Influence and Reception

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "But I don't know how to exaggerate George's role in my life."

Segment Synopsis: SA returned to the question of Mosse’s influence on his life. He also spoke about Mosse’s outsized influence within Jerusalem more broadly, although he appalled other academics there (for example, by talking about masturbation in class). Although no one knew he was gay at the time, the fact that he was an unmarried man enabled a certain closeness with students. Likewise, back at Madison, Mosse often “held court” at Memorial Union Terrace.

Keywords: George L. Mosse; Jerusalem; Madison, Wisconsin; Memorial Union Terrace

00:13:05 - Relationship with Mosse

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "And then of course, he befriended my whole family."

Segment Synopsis: Aschheim reflected on Mosse’s closeness with his family. He shared various humorous stories about him. For example, although Mosse agreed to be a godfather to SA’s son, Yoni, he was reticent to hold the baby for fear of dropping him. As a PhD advisor, Mosse could be tough. But their relationship deepened nonetheless.

Keywords: George L. Mosse; PhD Advisor

00:15:34 - Mosse's Death

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "So let me just say two things. I'll skip to his death."

Segment Synopsis: The two men spoke at length before Mosse died. Aschheim had arrived in Madison just days before. SA choked up recalling that Mosse told him, “I could never tire of talking to you.”

Keywords: George L. Mosse's Death

00:17:40 - Graduate Work

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "So essentially your graduate work was all done at UW?"

Segment Synopsis: SA described how Mosse secured him funding for his first year at Madison. Later, Aschheim landed a teaching job through Integrated Liberal Studies (ILS) (not a Teaching Assistant position).

Keywords: Funding; Graduate School; UW-Madison

00:19:50 - Prelim Exams

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Okay, so you're in Madison. You're beginning work on your thesis."

Segment Synopsis: Aschheim then faced his Prelim exams. He failed German history and later learned that the advising professor in this subject had failed all of Mosse’s students. SA and the interviewer discussed that professor’s attitudes toward Mosse.

Keywords: George L. Mosse; PhD; Prelim Exams

00:22:04 - Steven's Teachers

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "So you're in Madison and you've spoken a bit about your teachers here and what you did in terms of your early coursework."

Segment Synopsis: SA started his PhD at 33 years old and had a wife and children. He was closer in age to his teachers than his fellow students. In addition to Mosse, he became close to Sterling Fishman, Stanley Payne, and Klaus Berghahn. Berghahn was his first non-Jewish, German friend.

Keywords: George L. Mosse; Graduate Work; PhD; Professors

00:24:23 - Mosse's Circle and Israel

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "So in some ways, you became a part of George's circle here in Madison..."

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer commented on how George Mosse’s increased involvement with Israel after the turbulent 1960s coincided with his diminished engagement in Madison, both intellectually and personally. He linked this thought to Aschheim’s entry into Mosse’s circle of friends in the 1980s. SA commented on Mosse’s inclusiveness and briefly mentioned another student from Israel.

Keywords: 1960s; 1980s; George L. Mosse; Israel; Madison, Wisconsin

00:27:22 - Choosing a Dissertation Topic

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Okay, so how did you choose your dissertation topic?

Segment Synopsis: SA’s first choice of topic, Hannah Arendt, fell through because SA could not gain access to her papers. Mosse suggested he study the ghetto; Aschheim eventually focused the project on images of the ghetto. SA mentioned that another mentor had suggested he study Theodor Fritsch, a German anti-Semite, but Mosse rejected the idea as too narrow.

Keywords: Antisemitism; Dissertation; George L. Mosse; Ghetto; Hannah Arendt; PhD; Theodor Fritsch

00:30:30 - Mosse's Career Trajectory

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "So you knew something of George's work in those years."

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer brought up Mosse’s unconventional career trajectory. Aschheim recalled that as a PhD student, he was not aware of Mosse’s work on theology – a blind spot that cost him some embarrassment in one instance. SA identified his mentor with his later work. Here he spoke briefly about variant meanings of the phrase “cultural turn.” While focusing on imagery and symbolism, Mosse did not associate with deconstruction. SA and the interviewer debated Mosse’s relationship with this trend in the discipline.

Keywords: Cultural Turn; Deconstruction; George L. Mosse; Theology

00:36:12 - Studying Jewish History

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Okay, so we have some idea of how you came to your topic. I think you were probably one of the first students that worked specifically on Jewish..."

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer speculated that Aschheim was the first PhD student at Madison to study a topic in Jewish history. SA noted that Hebrew University separated Jewish history and general history, and he studied the latter. Then SA explained why he regarded himself not solely as a Jewish historian, but as a German, Jewish, cultural and intellectual historian.

Keywords: Cultural History; German History; Hebrew University; Intellectual History; Jewish History; UW-Madison

00:38:57 - Mosse's Teaching and Advising Style

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Well you have studied at UW and..." "Oh, what was George like in the classroom?"

Segment Synopsis: Aschheim and the interviewer elected to discuss Mosse’s style as a teacher and dissertation advisor. SA described Mosse’s booming voice, humor, and use of repetition. He contrasted Mosse to Harvey Goldberg, whose classes felt more like political rallies. To illustrate what he called Mosse’s “natural authority,” Aschheim shared an anecdote about George reacting to an objecting student by saying, “You are in the valley, I am on the mountain.” The interviewer commented that Mosse liked to entertain but demanded serious attention. This led to a discussion of some of Mosse’s physical ailments over the years.

Keywords: Dissertation Advisor; George L. Mosse; Harvey Goldberg; Lectures; Teaching

00:46:21 - Mosse's Doctoral Students

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Okay, so in Madison, you were actually one of George's final students that he accepted. There were only a couple more after you."

Segment Synopsis: While Aschheim was one of Mosse’s last doctoral students at Madison, he worked with several others at Hebrew University. SA and the interviewer briefly discussed those students.

Keywords: George L. Mosse; Graduate Work; UW-Madison

00:48:34 - Mosse as a Dissertation Advisor

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Okay, so well maybe we should move on. Do you want to say anything more about George as a dissertation advisor?"

Segment Synopsis: Aschheim explained that Mosse allowed him to work independently. SA handed the completed dissertation to him and “that was it.” Mosse was in Israel and thus not present for Aschheim’s defense, which was brief and uncomplicated.

Keywords: Dissertation Advisor; George L. Mosse; Israel; PhD

00:48:40 - Job at Reid College

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Okay so now you have your degree, you're starting your family. You said George helped you get this position at Reid College."

Segment Synopsis: Although Portland was beautiful and his wife loved living there, SA did not enjoy his time there. He described the department as petty and provincial. He left after two years.

Keywords: Portland, Oregon; Reid College

00:53:38 - Position in Jerusalem

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Okay and then how did this position in Jerusalem come about?"

Segment Synopsis: Mosse was aware that Aschheim was unhappy at Reid. He found SA an appointment in Israel through connections alone – something possible at that time. SA briefly reflected on past and present ways of hiring, noting that the old way worked for many people. Nevertheless, his colleagues resented him before he even arrived. Acceptance took time. Follow-up: Colleagues at that time? Answer: Aschheim mentioned Yehoshua Arieli as a positive influence, as well as Michael Heyd and Gabriel Motzkin.

Keywords: George L. Mosse; Jerusalem; Reid College

00:59:12 - End of First Interview Session 00:59:14 - Start of Interview/ Introduction 00:59:44 - Steven's Origins and Parents

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "So Steve, where were you born and when?"

Segment Synopsis: Steven Aschheim (SA) was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1942. Follow-up: Family’s background in South Africa? Answer: SA explained what he knew about how his parents, German Jewish refugees, came to South Africa. His father arrived in 1936 and his mother slightly earlier. She had just finished high school, living with a non-Jewish family after her parents left in 1934. German Jews had organized a “self-help community.” In this context, SA’s father had corresponded with his mother’s father, who found him a place to stay. SA related an apocryphal story about his parents’ first meeting and decision to marry. (He was 34 and she 17).

Keywords: 1940s; Holocaust; Jewish Refugees; Johannesburg, South Africa

01:03:04 - Standard of Living During Childhood

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Yet you grew up in a very well off family. How did this happen?"

Segment Synopsis: SA said he grew up “in opulence” despite his father’s humble beginnings in South Africa. His father had established a successful dress and undergarment company. SA noted his (now embarrassing) discomfort with his family’s standard of living.

Keywords: 1940s; Industrialization; Jews; South Africa

01:04:33 - Zionism and Apartheid

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "When did you decide to get involved with Zionism?"

Segment Synopsis: SA stepped back to describe South African society at the time. Ethnicity and religion dictated one’s identity. Growing up, he rarely interacted with people who did not belong to his ethnic and religious community. Only members of the anti-apartheid movement pushed back against this kind of exclusivity. He called the Zionist youth movement a “pseudo revolution” because it respected ethnic boundaries, rather than challenge them.

Keywords: Apartheid; Judaism; South Africa; Zionism

01:07:59 - Apartheid and Family Dynamic

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Were you at all in relation with the black community besides, I assume, as servants?"

Segment Synopsis: Although black domestic servants lived among the family, divisions were evident, even within the house. Aschheim explained how his awareness of servants’ squalid living conditions conflicted with his role as a “good Jewish bourgeois son.” He recalled singing African songs in the kitchen as an “outlet,” albeit one that amounted to nothing. Here, SA reflected on what he called the “self-indulgence” of whites, who assumed their superiority.

Keywords: Apartheid; Judaism; South Africa

01:10:35 - The Holocaust and Apartheid

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "But you never spoke to your parents about this contradiction that they came from persecution, racial persecution, to a place where racialism was embedded so distinctly?"

Segment Synopsis: Aschheim restated that his parents rarely elaborated on their past or cast themselves as victims. They were not indignant about racism as a result of their personal experiences. Instead, they were grateful to South Africa for having received them when other nations refused them. Nevertheless, SA somehow “internalized the Holocaust.”

Keywords: Apartheid; Holocaust; Judaism; Nazi Germany; Refugees; South Africa

01:13:11 - Knowledge of the Holocaust during Childhood

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Where did you learn about the Holocaust? From your parents or was it in the Jewish community?

Segment Synopsis: SA said he learned about the Holocaust on a “subliminal level,” picking up bits and pieces from his parents and the media. But his knowledge was neither systematic nor theoretical. Follow-up: Any connection between the Holocaust and Apartheid? Answer: SA did not establish an immediate connection at the time.

Keywords: Germany; Holocaust; Judaism; South Africa

01:16:24 - Early Schooling

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "So you went to a rather strict boys school from what you were telling me the other night."

Segment Synopsis: Aschheim described his education at an authoritarian, all-boys school. Schools were always separated by gender when SA was growing up. He learned next to nothing and bore the brunt of Anti-Semitism. SA related one story in which his chemistry teacher instructed him that World War II was fought “because of you people.” Aschheim politely disagreed and was sent to the headmaster for caning. He and the interviewer briefly discussed how these experiences were formative in his Zionism, but ultimately camaraderie with other youth proved more important. SA reflected on his emotional connection to the movement, distinguishing it from his intellectual engagement with it.

Keywords: Antsemitism; Education; South Africa; World War II; Zionism

01:21:43 - Zionist Youth Organization

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "I'm struck by how close you all are and how you relate still on such an intimate way."

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer commented on the intimacy enjoyed by members of the Zionist youth movement (Habonim) into their adulthood. Aschheim remarked on the trajectories of various friends, many of whom remained in Israel.

Keywords: Habonim; Israel; Judaism; South Africa; Zionism; Zionist Youth Organization

01:23:38 - Meeting George Mosse

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "That's why I was attracted, amongst other things, to George on humor."

Segment Synopsis: SA explained that George Mosse’s “hilarity” drew Aschheim to him – not his accomplishments as a scholar. He recounted first meeting Mosse in 1968. Aschheim and others had asked him how the student revolution had affected his teaching. Mosse quipped that no revolution began before 2 p.m., whereas he taught at 10 a.m. SA and the interviewer reflected on Mosse’s attitudes toward the student movement at that time.

Keywords: 1968; George L. Mosse; Israel; Student Revolution

01:26:24 - Developing a Passion for History

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "So how did your great interest and passion for history emerge?"

Segment Synopsis: SA noted that he earned a BA in sociology and political science and an MA in political sociology. He looked to the youth movement to explain his intellectual awakening, recalling a biography of Theodor Herzl he read at age fourteen. Attending university felt like a “liberation.” But until then, history seemed uninteresting – a matter of memorization, rather than interpretation. SA had planned to pursue a PhD in sociology on the very abstract question of dehumanization. But Mosse challenged him to consider culture. As a result, SA ended up following George “to Siberia” (e.g. Madison). He reflected once more on how Mosse’s personality, rather than his academic persona, had “sparked” him.

Keywords: George L. Mosse; History; Madison, Wisconsin; Political Science; Sociology; Theodor Herzl; Youth Movement

01:30:55 - Mosse's Impact on Students

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "Well we were just talking about a recent event we had in Madison where so many of Mosse's undergraduate students from the '60s came back."

Segment Synopsis: Aschheim and the interviewer discussed why or how George Mosse impacted undergraduate students. Aschheim reflected on his former mentor’s “capacity to personalize” with nearly anyone. He recalled that when Mosse met SA’s mother, he said to her, “Do you know that your son is the Goebbels of Israel?” He connected to people with shock and humor.

Keywords: George L. Mosse; Israel; Undergraduate Students

01:35:11 - Steven's Teaching Style

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "You know, I think your teaching style has some relation, well more than some relation to George's style."

Segment Synopsis: SA said that his style drew largely from the youth movement with its emphasis on drawing and sustaining interest. He also modeled his style on Mosse, though he lacked his “guts.” Aschheim shared a humorous anecdote mentioned earlier about Mosse’s sense of authority.

Keywords: George L. Mosse; Youth Movement

01:37:36 - Career at the Hebrew University

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "That brings up your career here at the Hebrew University. So when did you get hired here?"

Segment Synopsis: Aschheim was hired in 1982, in part because of his connection to Mosse. Follow-up: His position within the field of German Jewish history? Answer: SA first interjected on the camaraderie of his former colleagues in the youth movement. Then he discussed the evolution of German Jewish history. Scholars did not originally form a close knit community. He speculated that the field no longer resonated as much as it once did. SA also remarked that his position in Israel affected his reading of German history.

Keywords: George L. Mosse; German Jewish History; Hebrew University; Israel

01:43:34 - Story about Mosse's Relative

Play segment

Partial Transcript: "You know, George had a relation, Ava Mosse, and her situation was very similar to that of Klemperer."

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer related a story about a relative of George Mosse who advocated for assimilation. He and Aschheim briefly discussed the latter’s work on Victor Klemperer and moved back to the subject of Mosse’s attachment to Israel. The two also discussed Mosse’s insecurity as an asset.

Keywords: Assimilation; Ava Mosse; George L. Mosse; Israel; Victor Klemperer

01:49:50 - End of Interview