Professor Henry Fischel (1913 - 2008)| 26 March 2008 | Indiana Daily Student
Professor remembered as ‘real treasure’ by co-workers, friends
Faculty member started Jewish Studies Program
Sarah Brubeck | IDS | Date: 3/26/2008
During his time at IU, professor Henry Fischel was responsible for helping
start the Jewish Studies Program and the Department of Religious Studies. He
also taught students about his experience in WWII Germany.
Fischel, 94, died March 18 at Meadowood Retirement Community in Bloomington.
“He was a magnificent teacher,” said Stephen Katz, associate professor of
Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. “He loved his students. He marveled in
the sake of learning. He knew something through and through.”
In 1913, Fischel was born into a Jewish family in Bonn, Germany, and was
eventually taken to a concentration camp. When Fischel began teaching at IU
in 1961, he taught a variety of subjects, but used his experiences from the
Holocaust in his teachings. He stressed the idea that there is no such thing
as a pure race.
“He talked about his experiences, but they were only experiences,” Katz
said. “Many Jews were killed in the streets of Germany. He knew Nazis were
looking for him. He was in a club for Jewish students at his school. He was
afraid of getting his fellow students in trouble, so he marched to the
police station to turn himself in.”
He was eventually imprisoned in Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp in
Germany. He got out of the concentration camp because of the intervention of
the International Student Services which gave scholarships to students,
including Fischel, to study abroad. The camp released Fischel to Scotland
and he eventually became an ordained rabbi, Beth Shalom Rabbi Mira Wasserman
said in Fischel’s eulogy.
Because of Nazi threat, he escaped to Canada where he continued his studies,
and eventually arrived at IU.
“He was a great scholar of Jewish studies,” Wasserman said. “He was a real
treasure. It was unusual to have someone with his history and depth of
In 1970, Fischel worked alongside Andrew Mallor, an undergraduate at the
time who is now a local attorney, to help form the Jewish Studies Program.
They took surveys of students and faculty to see if there was a need for
this program. The first meeting for the formation of this program took place
in Fischel’s home library.
“He was very passionate about everything he did,” Mallor said. “He was a
great scholar. He had an interesting variety of things he was interested in
and was the best at it. He was a renaissance man. I’m not sure we’ll have
anyone else like him ever again.”
Fischel also wrote many books, including the “First Book of the Maccabees.”
“He was one of the ones who categorized the formation of Jewish studies,”
Katz said. “He was the one who was the nucleus in which many Jewish studies
classes were formed before there was a program.”
During his life, Fischel was very interested in music. He was trained as a
classical pianist and grew up in the same city as Beethoven and used him as
an influence, Katz said. He was a boxer, and loved IU basketball even though
he never attended a game. He was interested in current events throughout his
life. He was an avid reader and read the Indiana Daily Student and other
papers constantly. As he began to lose his sight, he relied on the radio to
provide news, Katz said.
“He was always a gentleman,” Mallor said. “He always made people feel
comfortable around him. He remembered everything. I never left Henry not
asking about my wife and children and my parents. His mind was amazing.”
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