Werner Tom Angress
(1920 - 2010)

Profile:
Werner Tom Angress
Nickname: Toepper

Birth:
Berlin, Germany
June 27, 1920

Passing:
Berlin, Germany
July 5, 2010


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Werner Tom Angress, German-Jewish refugee, WWII veteran, and influential history professor, died July 5, 2010 in Berlin. He was 90.
A fiercely loyal friend who maintained connections across many decades, he was still forming new, close friendships in his last years. He was dear to many.

He is mourned by his four children and five grandchildren, two brothers, and an extended family of students, colleagues, and friends.

EARLY YEARS

Born in Berlin in 1920, son of a banker, Werner was initially a patriotic German child. His nationalism was increasingly challenged as he matured under Nazi rule, although he clung to a stubborn sense that he shouldn’t be forced to abandon his German identity for a Jewish one.

His parents chose not to discuss “politics,” with their children, but it became progressively plain that German Jews were losing rights. Some signs were muted, as when their building’s superintendent, who didn’t have a radio, brought his family to the Angress’ living room to listen to the Fuhrer’s broadcasts. Werner’s parents didn’t dare to object. Other indications were clear: SS guards from a local garrison marched by the Angress house every Sunday singing “But when Jewish blood spurts from his knife, then he’s feeling doubly fine.”

Miserable at high school under the National Socialist regime, Werner quit and joined Gross Breesen, an agricultural training program designed to prepare Jewish youth for emigration. His character was shaped profoundly by this organization and its leader: Curt Bondy. At Breesen he found community and kinship with his fellow farming apprentices that lasted for the rest of his life. He was awarded a nickname, Töpper (klutz), which stuck with him (and which was well-deserved).

Gross Breesen was a temporary refuge from Germany’s rising anti-Semitic climate, but his parents finally decided to smuggle out their savings and escape. At first Werner refused to cooperate, insisting that he would stay with his friends and emigrate later, but Bondy persuaded him to join his family. If Werner stayed in Breesen after his parents left the country, Bondy argued, he could be arrested and used as a hostage; this would also endanger Gross Breesen. Werner capitulated.

In 1937 the family fled Germany, but a last-minute plane cancellation forced them to split up. The police issued an arrest warrant for the entire family and sent telegrams to key border crossings. Awoken on a train at the Dutch border, Werner’s dazed condition helped him lie convincingly when he assured Gestapo agents that his father was still in Berlin. Because the warrant was for a family of five, they let him go.

After a brief stay in London, the family settled in Amsterdam, where Werner and a friend, Werner Warmbrunn, successfully petitioned for the release from Buchenwald into Holland of recently arrested Gross Breeseners, based on financial guarantees from U.S. sponsors.

AMERICA AND THE WAR YEARS

Forced to leave his family behind, he emigrated in 1939 to the Hyde Farmlands community in Virginia, where department store magnate William B. Thalhimer had purchased a farm for the Gross Breesen settlement project. As shareholders in a U.S. farm, Breeseners were eligible to apply for non-quota immigration status; this was Thalhimer’s strategy for getting them safely out of Europe. However, the U.S. government stalled on issuing the necessary documents. Angress later wrote that before Washington would admit these Jews, “First, Germany’s synagogues had to burn.”

Following the German invasion of the Netherlands, Werner’s father was arrested, and later murdered at Auschwitz. (Werner didn’t learn the details of his father’s death-- from Nazi paperwork which called him “the Jew Angress”-- until the 1990s.) Werner lost contact with his mother and two brothers when, aided by the Dutch Resistance, they went underground.

When he filed his U.S. citizenship application, Werner changed his middle name from Karl to Thomas, and took on the name by which most know him: Tom.

In 1941 he joined the US Army and trained as an interrogator at Camp Ritchie (subject of the documentary The Ritchie Boys, in which he was featured). He nearly failed his final exam when, in his mock interrogation, he ignored his training officer’s insistence that he shout at and berate his “prisoner,” an approach Tom disdained.

He was shipped out to England and assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. Despite having never jumped before, he proceeded with special authorization from General Jim Gavin to make his first jump into Normandy on D-Day. He was dropped far off target. Captured, he had to hide both his Jewish and German identities until, twelve days later, his guards surrendered in the face of the Allied advance.

He interrogated German prisoners at the French front lines and later at the Battle of the Bulge. His calm, even friendly interrogations were highly effective, and on occasion he reported his intelligence directly to General Gavin. In recent years he was dismayed at the US military’s use of torture, which he viewed as immoral and ineffective.

In 1945 his division liberated the concentration camp at Wöbbelin and required townspeople and SS officers to attend a funeral for the victims. When a German officer lit a cigarette during the ceremony and refused to stop smoking, Tom pulled a gun and quietly told him to put it out. Tom had a strong temper, which periodically got him into trouble, but he did not regret this choice.

His pronounced German accent was occasionally a problem. He was once challenged by a U.S. soldier on the lookout for German spies, and held at gunpoint until his commanding officer confirmed that he was Master Sergeant Angress, a U.S. citizen.

In May 1945, Tom requested leave from General Gavin to look for his family. He was one of the first two American GIs into newly-liberated Amsterdam where, on Mother’s Day, he found his mother and brothers. His mother, who did not know he was a soldier, fainted when he appeared.

Tom was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service as well as the Purple Heart. He was characteristically modest about these accomplishments.

ACADEMIC CAREER AND RETIREMENT

After the war, Tom was accepted to Wesleyan University, despite having never finished high school. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in history and went on to earn his PhD at Berkeley. He taught modern European history at Wesleyan and Berkeley, then for twenty-five years at SUNY Stony Brook. He served on the Board of the Leo Baeck Institute for the Study of the History and Culture of German-Speaking Jewry for three decades.

Tom was a deeply committed teacher, and was awarded the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching and the History Department Outstanding Professor Award. Many of his students ultimately became close friends.

Along with many articles, he published three books: Stillborn Revolution: The Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-1923 (Princeton, 1963); Between Fear and Hope: Jewish Youth in the Third Reich (Columbia, 1988); and his autobiography ...immer etwas abseits: Jugenderinnerungen eines judischen Berliners, 1920-1945 (Edition Hentrich, 2005). Tom’s children are arranging for publication of the English translation of his life story.

His desire to understand the background of the Holocaust led him to an interest in the distant roots of historical events. His early research also prompted an enduring admiration for Rosa Luxemburg.

In 1988 he retired to Berlin, where he spoke frequently at schools and memorial sites about his youth under the Nazis. His retirement was as busy and fruitful as his academic career. He continued to mentor students, and to use his skills as a teacher and writer to intervene on behalf of disadvantaged groups, including Turkish immigrants in Germany and East Germans after reunification.

Werner, then Tom, then Grandpa Tom, was a complex person known for his loving heart, his short fuse, his deep intelligence, his tenderness, his sense of humor, and his ability to love many kinds of people with his own brand of skeptical, amused, open-minded tolerance. He knew how to listen. He was beloved.

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The most beautiful memorial a person can receive lies in the hearts of his fellow men.

Albert Schweitzer






Guest Book Wall (What is this?)

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Guest Book (37 entries)
What a man this man is, what an experience, have just read about him and the other Ritchie Boys, but this fella just stood out, I salute and honour your life and memory sir.
Jamie Mackay (None)
January 10th, 2018
Prof. Angress' European History class (mid-19th to mid-20th) at Stony Brook was truly one of the best courses I had as an undergraduate. I was so glad to have been able to learn from such an esteemed historian.
Heide Hlawaty (Student)
September 21st, 2017
I was fortunate enough to take Dr. Angress' Modern German History course at Berkeley. It was one of the best courses I ever took and affects me to this day. When questioned about what courses I was planning to take when I signed my declaration of major, my advisor commented, "Excellent choice! Excellent choice!" when I included Dr. Angress' course on my plan of study. Two years after I took his course (which was taught in the biggest lecture hall on campus) I was amazed that he recognized me when I asked him to write one of the letters of recommendation
I needed for graduate school. Berkeley was an impersonal place where
undergraduates had little contact with full professors. Even so, Dr. Angress' genuineness came through to his students. What I learned so many years ago has been on my mind in the past few months and has made me be politically active as a very senior senior citizen. I have been recommending to my friends that they
read one of the books that was assigned reading in Dr. Angress' course because it
helped me understand how a dictator comes to power. I'm sorry Dr. Angress is no longer with us but his influence is still being felt.
Maureen McGuire (Former Student)
January 31st, 2017
My father and mother, Anton C H Kooy and Mother Alida Kooy Laroo Kooy sheltered/hid Hans Angress in Asterdam for most of late 1944 Until liberation. I was born in 1939, my brother Dr Peter Kooy in 1937. We lived in a fourth floor apartment along with Hans, Toms Brother. I remember Toms first visit after liberation, in uniform and coming in an American jeep, handing out chewing gum to the children. We are all family saw Tom often on the farm where Hans and my family came by immigrating. I had great respect for Tom and we all loved him dearly.
Walter Kooy PhD (Fam )
November 12th, 2016
I'm looking into my family name and wondering how Tom and I have this in common ... My grandfather Hugh Angress originally had the name Hugh Israelewitz ... he was from Poland and was living in Germany. Hugh left Germany in the early 1930's sometime arriving here in the UK.

If anyone has any details about why he changed his name to Angress or anything about the history of my name and how Tom and I might have this in common I would be very grateful if you might point me in the right direction.

Please do contact me ...
on Facebook: Tom Angress
or via email: Tom@SpectrumStudios.Org

Thank you very much.

Tom Angress.
Tom Angress (Namesake)
April 3rd, 2016
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"Wir haben uns nicht lange gekannt: sechs Jahre. Aber Toepper wurde ein wichtiger Freund, den ich nicht vergessen werde."
Wolfgang Hempel
October 11th, 2010
"Tom had a remarkable talent for friendship. Often tough on himself, he was extraordinarily generous and loyal to others. Like so many others, I will miss him and cherish his memory. Jim Sheehan"
James Sheehan
August 9th, 2010
"Tom was a wonderful colleague and friend. We formed an affectionate bond based on a shared refugee experience and on our work in German history. He was a wonderful host in his Berlin retirement. I will miss his warmth and compassionate politics."
Renate Bridenthal
July 27th, 2010

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