Biographies of Salo Wittmayer Baron and Jeannette Meisel Baron

Salo Wittmayer Baron (1895-1989) was perhaps the most influential Jewish historian of the 20th Century. Nearly single-handedly, he remade the study of Jewish history in the United States. His central historical insight was his call “to break with the lachrymose theory” which saw Jewish history primarily through the lens of persecution. Instead, he advanced his synthesis of their social, cultural, religious and economic history in order to place the Jewish people, with their unlikely combination of nationality and religion, in a more accurate framework. His broad and deep research, mining original sources in over a dozen languages both living and dead, culminated in his landmark 18-volume A Social and Religious History of the Jews (1952-1983). In 1930, Baron became the first tenured Jewish professor at Columbia Universityand oversaw its emergence as one of the most important centers for the study of Jewish history in the United States. For the next thirty-three years, he was the Nathan L. Miller Professor of Jewish History, Literature and Institutions. In 1950, he was appointed the first director of Columbia’s innovative Center of Israel and Jewish Studies. Through his publications, lectures and teaching, Baron trained many of the succeeding generation’s most important scholars while bringing a fresher and fuller perspective to the study of Jewish history. In 1961, Baron was called as the expert historical witness to provide the evidence of the destruction of European Jewry at the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Three years later, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was awarded dozens of honorary degrees from universities in the United States, Europe and Israel. Baron was also an active participant in the public sphere, working as a member of a UNESCO Commission and of the U.S. Office of Education’s Citizens Federal Commission on Education. As founder and president of the Commission on European Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Baron worked to restore libraries and reclaim stolen Jewish cultural artifacts following World War II. He served as president of the American Academy for Jewish Research, the America Jewish Historical Society, and the Conference on Jewish Social Studies. It was often said during his lifetime that Baron’s prodigious scholarly output required a stable of graduate assistants. In fact, he had but one collaborator: a Ph.D. candidate in the Economics Department at Columbia, whose dissertation topic was on the Jewish bankers of Europe, causing them to meet. American-born Jeannette Meisel Baron (1911-1985) became his wife in 1934 and proved indispensable to his success. Baron’s published work reflects the combined efforts of these two inseparable personalities and sets the highest standard of intellectual integrity and scholarship, while having an enduring influence in the field of Jewish Studies. The Salo W. and Jeannette M. Baron Foundation, Inc. was established in 1987 to further the research and publication of historical materials relating to the social, political and economic history of the Jewish people.