Kurt Jonassohn, 1920-2011
March 01, 2012
In 1974, Kurt Jonassohn and I were elected Executive Secretaries of the ISA. Tom Bottomore was President at the time and the Secretariat was moving from Milan to the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) where I was Professor. Kurt was a sociology professor at the University of Concordia. We worked together for approximately five years (1974-1979). He then shared his position as Executive Secretary with Marcel Rafie, also sociology professor at UQAM until the Secretariat moved to Amsterdam in 1983.
Although he was well positioned in the English-speaking academic community in Montreal and throughout Canada, Kurt was also fluent in French. Our daily activities at the Secretariat almost always took place in French and he insisted that it be that way. His great sensitivity to French-speaking culture in Quebec, which I greatly admired, contributed to increasing the role of the French language in the functioning of the ISA at a time when most communication and activities took place in English.
Neither of us was very interested in financial and budgetary matters, yet, with great generosity, Kurt accepted to take on the responsibilities of the Treasurer. This was not an easy task given the poor financial health of the ISA at the time. We were aided by the growth of individual and collective membership, yet dues remained low and the 1974 Congress at Toronto drew a deficit. Kurt tackled this precarious situation together with other members of the Executive Committee. By the end of our first term (1974-1978), we presented a financial report with a series of recommendations for gaining more money from dues and from our publications. Despite the financial highs and lows of the ISA, Kurt was always straightforward, honest, and demonstrated a great sense of responsibility.
Kurt Jonassohn also made a significant contribution to our knowledge of the history of the ISA through the publication of a series of chronicles in the ISA Bulletin during the 1980s. The references he gathered and the transcriptions of the interviews he carried out with former ISA leaders served as the starting point for A Brief History of the ISA: 1948-1997 published by Jennifer Platt in 1998.
After his term as Executive Secretary, Kurt continued to collaborate with the ISA for several years. During this time, he continued teaching and developing his research on genocide studies. He was indeed a leading figure in this field, and his work culminated with the founding of the Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies in 1986 together with his colleague Frank Chalk. Born in Cologne, Germany on August 31, 1920, he died in Montreal on December 1, 2011.
Céline Saint-Pierre, University of Quebec in Montreal, ISA Executive Secretary, 1974-1979, and ISA Executive Committee Member, 1986-1990