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Faculty & Staff

Gilya SchmidtGilya Schmidt

Director Emerita, The Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Program in Judaic Studies
Professor Emerita, Department of Religious Studies
501 McClung Tower
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996-0450

Phone: 865-974-2466
Fax: 865-974-0965

See Also: Curriculum Vitae


Gilya Schmidt's research interests are deeply anchored in the world of German Jewry. For the past 20 years, she has explored the life and thought of Martin Buber, the creative outpourings of cultural Zionism at the turn of the nineteenth century, the art and artists of the early Zionist movement, as well as the history of rural Jewish communities in southern Germany. Her book, Süssen Is Now Free of Jews: World War II, the Holocaust, and Rural Judaism, appeared in July 2012 and is available HERE. She regularly translates important Jewish texts from German into English and edits work by authors important to the study of German Jewry, including the Holocaust. Current research also includes a study of Jewish liturgical music in the twentieth century. For a list of books, please see the Judaic Studies website under "Research Projects" then "Schmidt Publications."

  • Comparative Religion, concentration in Judaism. University of Pittsburgh, 1991
    Mellon Pre-Doctoral Fellow 1985-86.
  • M.A., Germanic Languages and Literatures, University of Pittsburgh, 1985
  • B.A., Liberal Arts, summa cum laude, University of Pittsburgh, 1983.
    Chancellor's Scholar and University Scholar.
  • YWCA Tribute to Women 2008
  • Leadership Knoxville Class of 2009

Süssen Is Now Free of JewsSüssen Is Now Free of Jews
World War II, the Holocaust, and Rural Judaism (2012)

Süssen Is Now Free of Jews offers a close look at the legacy of a few Jewish families from Süssen-a village in the District of Göppingen, which is located in the state of Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany. The author, Gilya Gerda Schmidt, looks at this rural region through the lens of two Jewish families—the Langs and the Ottenheimers—who settled there in the early twentieth century. As a child, she shared with the Langs the same living space for just a few months. She remembers her mother's telling her of the Jews who lived in Süssen until the Holocaust.

Echoes from the HolocaustLife beyond the Holocaust (2005)

"Mira Kimmelman, author and survivor, tells of the painful experiences connected with reentering society in the aftermath of the Holocaust. It is at once a testimony to Mira's extended family and friends who perished in the Holocaust, as well as those who survived, and an ethical will to her children and grandchildren. The volume was edited by Gilya Schmidt, who also wrote an extensive historical introduction."

"Die anderen Süssener," in Hohenstaufen/Helfenstein. Historisches Jahrbuch für den Kreis Göppingen. (2003)

First ever history of two Jewish families (Lang and Ottenheimer) and their fate in the south-German village of Süssen, District Göppingen between 1902 and 1941.

The Art and ArtistsThe Art and Artists (2003)

This book illuminates the Jewish art exhibition at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1901, discussing the participating artists and their art, and elaborating on the exhibition's contribution to our understanding of Jewish history and culture.

Letters on the Occasion…Letters on the Occasion… (2001)

Translation of six letters by an anonymous author, identified as the Lutheran theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, in response to the equally anonymous Sendschreiben by David Friedlaender in support of or contradiction to the question of Jewish emancipation.  Includes historical introduction to Jewish life in Berlin.

Ninety-Two Poems and Hymns of Yehuda HaleviNinety-Two Poems and Hymns of Yehuda Halevi (2000)

This is the first publication in English of Franz Rosenzweig's 1927 translation of and commentaries on ninety-two poems and hymns of the greatest medieval "singer of Zion," Yehuda Halevi.  Franz Rosenzweig, one of the greatest Jewish philosophers of the modern period, translated these poems into German with copious commentaries.  Schmidt, in turn, translated the poems into English for this volume.

The First BuberThe First Buber (1999)

As a college student at the University of Leipzig and then Berlin, Martin Buber was a leader in the early Zionist movement.  During this period, between 1898 and 1902, he published a series of Zionist writings that were clearly meant to be confrontational and challenge those who were complacent about Judaism.  For Buber, Zionism meant a reorientation of the entire being, an overcoming of a diaspora mentality, a catharsis, and a readiness to build a new, just, free, and creative individual in the diaspora and community in Eretz Israel.

National Socialism and Gypsies in AustriaNational Socialism and Gypsies in Austria (1998)

This book was originally published in German by Dr. Erika Thurner.  Entitled Nationalsozialismus und Zigeuner in Oesterreich, it was volume 2 in the series Veroeffentlichungen zur Zeitgeschichte, published in Vienna in 1983.  This is a ground-breaking study of Nazi policy toward Gypsies during the Third Reich.  Of the eleven thousand Gypsies living in Austria at the start of the war, only three thousand survived Nazi persecution.

Martin Buber's Formative Years book coverMartin Buber's Formative Years (1995)

Martin Buber (1878-1965) was born into a world of two cultures – his Jewish family and his Austrian fatherland.  During his childhood with his grandparents in Galician Lvov, Jewish values and German aesthetics coexisted.  But not so in fin-de-siecle Viennese society.  Jewish hopes for full social integration were disappointed, Yiddish culture was disparaged, and the Jewish religion was seen as ossified.  In his personal confusion, Buber clearly grasped the essence of the problem: emancipation had failed, German culture was dying, Jews were on their own, and tradition was no longer viable.  What to do?  Buber wholeheartedly immersed himself in the making of a new world, of Zionist culture, of Hasidic spirituality, of Romantic individuality, and of unity from diversity.  By examining the multitude of disparate sources that Buber turned to for inspiration, this book aims to elucidate Buber's creative genius and his contribution to turn-of-the-century Jewish renewal.

Works in Progress

  • Major research project on Landjudentum is underway since 1999.  The research for this project is conducted in collaboration with Werner Runschke, Stadtarchivar, City of Süssen, Germany.  Other archival sources include the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., the City Archive of Göppingen, District Archive of Göppingen, Main State Archive in Stuttgart, and State Archive in Ludwigsburg, GermanyYad Vashem, Jerusalem; and National Archives (NARA), College Park, Maryland.  Three different book publications are envisioned over time.
    • A book-length chronicle of Jewish life in Süssen, Germany, and a close look at the two Jewish families who were living and working there before and during the Holocaust has been published by Fordham University Press in 2012.  While there is a history of the Jews in Baden-Württemberg and in the district of Göppingen to which these families belonged, the history of these two families has never been written nor had they been mentioned in the post-Holocaust writings until I began my work.  This micro-history project is a contribution to the study of Landjudentum in southern Germany.  I received a research grant from the Graduate Office, University of Tennessee, to support January-March 1999 research in the newly relocated Suessen City Archives.  Since the 1999 research, additional sources became available and I returned in May-July 2002 to collect additional material and to expand my area of research.  Additional research was conducted in summer 2006 and spring 2007. 
    • A second book on Landjudentum, tentatively called "Kaddish for Swabian Jews, including family histories, cemeteries and former Jewish buildings from about twenty Swabian villages and towns.  During the 2002 research trip, I visited some of these sites and photographed all of the Jewish cemeteries and surviving buildings that used to be owned by German Jews.  Yet to be collected are pictures and stories of some of the families and people who lived there.  This will require additional inquiries and research trips in the near future.  To date I have taken about 3,000 photographs and collected all of the available writings on these communities.  Additional holdings are in the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, Yad Vashem, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Staatsarchiv in Ludwigsburg. Additional archival research was undertaken at the Ludwigsburg State Archive in summer 2013.
    • A coffee-table book with selected photographs of tombstones, buildings, and people with introduction and short German-English bilingual text on facing page.
  • Monograph of Cantor Mordecai Gustav Heiser, Berlin/Pittsburgh.  In 1995, I completed a memorial recording and short biography of Cantor Heiser.  This will be an extensive study of his life in Jewish Berlin before World War II as well as the continuation of his life and work in Pittsburgh.  This study is significant for Cantor Heiser's contribution to Jewish sacred music (hazzanut).  Some family research carried out in Berlin in 1999, and Pittsburgh 2004.  Preliminary liturgical studies were carried out in Israel February-April, 2002; April 2007, and April 2010.  Archived samples of Cantor Heiser's music will be mounted on a corresponding website.

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