Dr. Henry A. Landsberger died peacefully on February 1, 2017 at the age of 90, in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, surrounded by family. Dr. Landsberger retired in 1994 as professor emeritus from the Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). His life was dedicated to the exploration of social problems and to an effort to educate others about the importance of engagement in redressing them.
Dr. Landsberger was born in Dresden, Germany on August 5, 1926. As a young Jewish child, his life was shaped by the terror of the rise of Hitler and Nazi persecution. In November 1938, during a pogrom known as Kristallnacht, he hid at home as soldiers torched the synagogue where his maternal grandfather, Jakob Winter, had presided as chief rabbi for the previous fifty years. The following morning, two Gestapo officers came to his home. Dr. Landsberger watched as his father was taken away at gunpoint. His father returned from Buchenwald a month later, a completely changed man.
Following Kristallnacht, England and Holland agreed to accept Jewish children—but not their parents—as refugees in a program known as the Kindertransport. At the age of 12, Dr. Landsberger fled to England. His parents escaped to Chile in September 1939.
He stayed at a hostel for German Jewish refugee children in London until November 1940, when he moved to the home of a young widower in Lincoln, Robin Huws Jones. In Dr. Landsberger’s words, Mr. Huws Jones was “a wonderful Welshman” who became his mentor and second father. Dr. Landsberger spent his teenage years in Lincoln and later worked in the British coal mines to support the war effort.
After receiving a B. Sc. (Econ.) degree with First Class Honours from the London School of Economics in 1948, Dr. Landsberger spent a year with his parents in Chile. In 1949, he enrolled as a doctoral candidate in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, where he was awarded a PhD in 1954, and joined the faculty. In 1958, he published an article in the field of social psychology describing what has become known as the “Hawthorne Effect,” the impact of observation itself on subjects who are being studied.
Dr. Landsberger met his wife, Betty Hatch Landsberger, in one of his first classes at Cornell. The two were married in 1951 and had three children, Margaret A. Thomas, Samuel E. Landsberger and Ruth E. Landsberger. The family lived in Santiago, Chile from 1961 until 1964, where Dr. Landsberger taught at the University of Chile. He returned to Cornell and taught there until 1968, when he moved to Chapel Hill to join the faculty of UNC, where he remained until his retirement.
During the 1960s, Dr. Landsberger’s academic focus turned to Latin American peasant movements. He became vice president, then president of the Latin American Studies Association from 1971-1973. In the mid-1980s, Dr. Landsberger developed a prescient interest in studying the differences in health care delivery between European countries and the United States. His knowledge of the health care system led to work with the North Carolina legislature to improve access to health care in North Carolina.
Having experienced the devastating consequences of polarization, Dr. Landsberger devoted himself throughout his life to bringing disparate factions together. During the 1980s he became increasingly involved in efforts to promote peace in the Middle East by encouraging dialogue and friendship between Palestinians and Jews. He participated in panel discussions and travelled to Israel to visit friends on both sides of the conflict. He was a loyal supporter of the New Israel Fund, which works to enhance civil rights and social justice in Israel through a variety of grassroots projects.
In 1994, he was approached by a prominent Lutheran minister in Dresden, Rev. Siegfried Reimann, who proposed raising money to rebuild the synagogue that had been destroyed in 1939. Initially skeptical—there were only a handful of Jewish people still living in Dresden—Dr. Landsberger became persuaded that the project was important step toward reconciliation between the Christian and Jewish communities and agreed to join the effort to raise $10 million for the new building. The New Synagogue was completed in 2001. He was also active in fundraising for the reconstruction of Dresden's Frauenkirche, a centuriesold Lutheran church that had been destroyed during WWII.
Dr. Landsberger shared his experiences as a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany with a wide range of audiences, especially young ones. He travelled to Germany numerous times to speak to elementary students about his own childhood, and as a member of the Holocaust Speakers Bureau spoke to students in North Carolina as well.
Dr. Landsberger and his wife Betty moved to Carolina Meadows in 2001, where they enjoyed the warm and vibrant community. It enabled him to continue engaging in volunteer work, play readings, and his beloved sport—swimming-- into his ninetieth year. Throughout his life, he displayed a keen sense of humor, creating puns and limericks. To his great amusement, he was asked to play Santa Claus during a Christmas celebration in Ghana in 1972, where he was spending a year teaching at the University of Cape Coast. As he pointed out, he was probably the only Jewish resident within a hundred mile radius. He accepted with glee.
Henry Landsberger’s wife, Betty, died in 2012. They enjoyed 61 years together. He is survived by his three children and five grandchildren. They are planning a memorial service in the coming months.