David Hackett, Historian and Holocaust Expert, Dies at 80Historians in the News
tags: obituaries, Holocaust history, COVID-19, tributes
As a teenager growing up in El Paso in the 1950s, David Hackett always looked forward to Sunday evenings with a German family, the Bornsteins.
Goulash and sauerbraten were served, his parents sipped schnapps with Dr. Bornstein and his wife, and David got to sit next to their daughter, Olga. But what he relished most about these evenings was their atmosphere, reminiscent of an intellectual salon.
David considered these soirees sophisticated. He considered them, in other words, European. And he liked it.
But at these gatherings he also started to grasp that Dr. Bornstein was a Holocaust survivor who had fled Europe in the 1940s. As he learned more, his fascination with world history grew and blossomed into a career.
He studied in Munich as a Fulbright scholar in the 1960s and acquired fluent German. He became a history professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, where he worked for more than 40 years, specializing in Germany and early-20th-century Europe. He taught courses such as “The History of the Weimar Republic” and “The Rise of the Nazi Party.”
In 1995, he published “The Buchenwald Report,” his translation of an exhaustive document made by German-speaking U.S. Army officers at the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after its liberation in 1945. The complete report, which was originally thought to have been lost after the war, contained interviews with prisoners and graphic details about the camp’s conditions and was partly intended for Germans, with the aim of countering Holocaust denial.
“I transcribed, collated and restored the organization of the original German-language text, contained on 400 yellowed, brittle and blurry sheets of carbon copy paper,” Professor Hackett wrote in a preface. The work was, he argued, “one of the most significant documentary discoveries from the World War II period.”
Professor Hackett died on Nov. 15 at a hospital in El Paso. He was 80. The cause was complications of COVID-19, his daughter Mary-Elizabeth Hackett said.
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