George M. Kren (1926-2000)

Paul H. Elovitz, Ramapo College and the Psychohistory Forum

George Michael Kren, historian, psychohistorian, Holocaust researcher, photographer, and Professor of History (Retired) at Kansas State University (KSU) in Manhattan, died July 24, 2000, at the age of 74 of heart failure after many years of suffering from emphysema.  He had a fascinating life, leaving a rich legacy of scholarship, art, and personal friendships in its wake.

Birth and scholarship linked Kren’s life to central Europe.  Linz, Austria, is well known as the town where Hitler was raised and from which some other prominent Nazis came.  It was also where George was born to a professional family on June 3, 1926.  When Hitler’s mother developed breast cancer, it was Kren’s maternal grandfather, Edmund Blcoh, who cared for her, prompting Hitler to declare that he would be ever grateful to the doctor.  Rudolph Binion, in his brilliant and controversial book, Hitler Among the Germans (1976), argued that Hitler’s hatred for Jews stemmed mainly from the blame he unconsciously placed on the doctor for his mother’s failed medical treatment.  Though some of Kren’s relatives were outraged by the association of the family with Hitler’s anti-Semitism in any way, George did not speak publicly to the issue.

The lives of the Krens and the other Jews in Austria were disrupted by Hitler’s annexation of Austria.  Fearful for the lives of their children, the parents of 12-year-old George and his nine-year-old sister sent them to England where they became separated.  After a year, they discovered that their parents were alive and had made it to the United States, where the children joined them in New York City.

In 1944 Kren was drafted into the United States Army and served in Europe.  Though he joked about being a poor soldier, he landed just days after D-Day, fighting until the end of the war.  After his discharge in 1946, he attended Colby College on the GI Bill before moving on to the University of Wisconsin where he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees working under the tutelage of George Mosse.  Prior to joining the faculty at Kansas State University in the “other Manhattan” (as George liked to call it), Kren taught at Oberlin, Elmira, and Lake Forest colleges as well as Roosevelt University.  After 35 years he retired from Kansas State University in June of this year.

Knowledge and scholarship were central to the life of George Kren.  To undergraduate students he taught a variety of courses, including The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany; Holocaust: The Destruction of the European Jews; and European Thought in the Twentieth Century.  All KSU history graduate students took his Historiography class.  He lectured at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, throughout North America, and at Oxford University in England.  Kren’s 12-page résumé contains numerous articles and a variety of books.  He enjoyed collaborating with others.  With Leon Rappoport he edited Varieties of Psychohistory (1976), The Holocaust and the Crisis of Human Behavior (1980 and 1994), and chapters on the Holocaust included in the recently published Encyclopedia of Genocide.  With his former student, George Christakes, he wrote Scholars and Personal Computers (1988).

Death will not cease the dissemination of Professor Kren’s scholarship.  His completed manuscript on a comprehensive history of the Holocaust is under consideration for the European History Series of Harlan, Davidson, Inc., with Professors George Christakes and Don Mrozek committed to seeing the book through to publication.  In retirement, George planned to translate and write an introduction to his grandfather’s diaries, a task now in the hands of his colleague, Helmut Schmeller of KSU.

Photography was a passion with George and his wife, the artist and KSU professor Margo Kren.  In 1994 he published Touching the Sky, containing essays and photography.  When he retired, a collection of his photographs was donated to the Beach Museum of Art at Kansas State University.

The etiology of George’s emphysema was his habit of smoking three packs of Camel unfiltered cigarettes a day.  He started smoking heavily in the Army and continued until about 15 years ago.  At several points in the last six or seven years, he was so close to death that friends and colleagues gathered at his bedside.  The last three weeks of his life were extremely difficult and painful for George and his loved ones.  His wife and about ten friends were present at his death.  Among his survivors are a son from a prior marriage, a granddaughter, and his sister.  On October 1 there will be a memorial service at KSU.