The Institute for German History, inaugurated on 21 October 1971, was the first institute of its kind in Israeli academia entirely devoted to the study of German History. Its establishment was made possible through the support of the Volkswagen Foundation. Shortly thereafter, a core of supporters for the institute was established in Germany, consisting of some renowned German scholars led by Prof. Georg Eckert from Braunschweig, directed at promoting bilateral collaboration between the evolving institute and German universities.
Responsible for the initiation and planning phases, as well as for the establishment of the institute de facto, was Walter Grab (1919-2000), an Austrian-Jewish historian who fled Vienna with his family following the Anschluss in March 1938. Grab headed the Institute from its inception in 1971 until 1985. In 1969, after having received the consent of the head of the Department of History, Zvi Yavetz, and of the serving rector, André de Vries, Grab traveled to Germany to initiate contacts with DFG and the Volkswagen Foundation at its headquarters in Hannover. As reflected in the expose which he prepared for the occasion, Grab was hoping to convince the potential supporters that it would be worthwhile to assemble a group of professors already working on diverse topics of German history in the university; he believed that such an institute would improve research coordination and promote collaboration. His hope was fulfilled: in October 1970 the Foundation announced its decision to provide for the establishment of the institute and to support its operation during the first five years. After this period came to an end, Grab approached the BMFT and the Minerva foundation requesting their financial support. Only in 2004 did the institute receive its current name – the Minerva Institute for German History. The university’s administrators were very pleased with the establishment of the institute since they saw it as yet another opportunity to distinguish their innovative institution from its senior parallel – The Hebrew University of Jerusalem – which had not yet founded the chair for German history; this would be realized only toward the end of the decade.
The directive goals of the institute, as presented by Grab during the inauguration ceremony (most of which remain pertinent nowadays), were the following: promoting research projects of the fellows; hosting guest professors from Germany and integrating them into the teaching curriculum; supporting research travels to Germany of Ph.D. candidates; establishing a library and an annual journal (Tel-Aviver Jahrbuch für deutsche Geschichte). During Grab’s term as director (1971-1985) the institute was mainly devoted to the study of early German democratic traditions, the history of German workers’ movements and unions, German policy in the Middle East and German-Jewish relations. Shulamit Volkov, Grab’s successor, faced a change of generations among the students and turned the academic focus in the direction of the social and cultural history of Wilhelmine Germany. The subsequent directors – Dan Diner, Moshe Zuckermann, Jose Brunner and Galili Shahar – all shifted the academic emphasis in correspondence with historiographical currents as well as with varying tendencies within the Israeli public and among the academic community abroad.
Iris Nachum, “Es muss nicht immer Wiedergutmachung sein – Walter Grab und das Minerva Institut für deutsche Geschichte an der Universität Tel Aviv”, in Tel Aviver Jahrbuch für deutsche Geschichte 40 (2012), 237-275.
Walter Grab, Meine vier Leben: Gedächtniskünstler. Emigrant. Jakobinerforscher. Demokrat (Papyrossa, 1999).
Reden und Ansprachen zur Eröffnung des Instituts für Deutsche Geschichte an der Universität Tel Aviv, 20. Oktober 1971 (Tel Aviv: Tel-Aviv University – Institute for German History, 1972).