Lowenthal, Marvin

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Marvin Marx Lowenthal (1890-1969)

Marvin Marx Lowenthal was born on October 6, 1890, in Bradford, Pennsylvania. He was an author, lecturer, traveler, and historian. He was the son of Louis S. Lowenthal, a jeweler, and Pauline Marx. Lowenthal worked in a local silk mill at the age of 15. After six years of working there, he quit his job to enroll at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1912 to pursue humanistic studies. While there, he became an ardent Zionist under the influence of Horace Kallen. Although he and his parents belonged to Bradford's Jewish Reform Temple, he was not religious.

During his college years, Lowenthal joined the Menorah Society, an intercollegiate Jewish cultural organization, after winning the Society's essay content. He felt for the prize amount of $100 that he should attend a meeting. During one of the meetings, Lowenthal met his future mentor, Horace Kallen, a philosophy professor and co-founder of the Society in November 1912.

After meeting Kallen, his attitude toward Jewish history and culture changed completely. In 1914, Lowenthal began to study Zionism under Kallen and won another Menorah Society essay contest with an article on Zionism. From 1915 on, he became a frequent contributor to the Menorah Journal and became attached to writing about Judaism. At the time, the Menorah Journal served as an important cultural journal for American-Jewish intellectuals prior to the Commentary 's founding in 1945. Upon his graduation from the University of Wisconsin in 1915, Lowenthal enrolled at Harvard University to pursue a master's degree in philosophy which he obtained one year later.

At Harvard University, Lowenthal became a part of a tight-knit group of Zionists that included Louis Brandeis. In 1916, Brandeis asked Lowenthal to head the Zionist Bureau of the Pacific Coast in San Francisco. Lowenthal began working as its fundraiser until the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) moved to its New York office in 1919. In 1920, Lowenthal decided to abandon the ZOA to pursue a career as a full-time writer. He worked as an editor at the Menorah Journal to support himself and his wife, Sylvia Mardfin, and was a longtime contributor to the Journal . Lowenthal produced articles pertaining to Jewish cultural affairs. In February of 1922, the couple moved to Europe and lived in Florence, London and Berlin for a year. This trip was influential in turning him from a journalist into a writer and found his subject: the fate of the Jews of Europe.

Lowenthal provided deep insight into the rise of European fascism and its threat to Jewish life in his writings in the early 1920s. He saw Adolf Hitler and his rise to power as "the most virulent and deadly enemy of the Jews." The atmosphere was so thick with hatred against the Jews that he and his wife left Europe in February 1923. He returned a year later because he felt restless in America and far away from the subject that he cared about. Lowenthal spent a lot of time writing about the oppression of Jews in Europe.

During his travels in the next decade to Palestine, Africa, and all around Europe on journalistic assignments, Lowenthal established the foundations for his major works. He wrote extensively on literature, politics, and Zionism, showing affection early for these secular aspects of Jewish culture.

In the 1930s, Lowenthal became committed to his work. In 1932, Lowenthal published his translation of the Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln, a seven-part book by a 17 th -century woman who became widowed with 14 children. His book, A World Passed By, soon followed in 1933, which was an intellectual guidebook of Jewish Europe and North Africa. In 1934, Lowenthal retreated to America in order to escape the oppression of Jews in Europe. In 1935, he published his favorite book, The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne, edited and translated from the works of the great French philosopher.

In 1936, Lowenthal published his most important and popular book, The Jews of Germany: A Story of Sixteen Centuries . In writing this book, he hoped to demonstrate that discrimination against Jews in Germany was not something that became commonplace once Hitler took control. Lowenthal wanted to reach out to his readers and explain that if something was not done about the treatment of Jews in Europe that Jews would be doomed. Lowenthal followed the events in Germany closely and was disturbed by the passing of the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935, which stripped Jews of their citizenship in Germany and forbade Jews to marry non-Jewish citizens. Lowenthal was appalled by the treatment of Jews in Germany; Jews were forced to sit in the back of public buses, drink from different water fountains, and not allowed to use public restrooms. The book was painstaking for Lowenthal to write because of his love for Zionism and his determination to free Jews from discrimination in Europe. The Jews of Germany left Lowenthal exhausted. His book consisted of literary fragments, essay sketches, and writing plans, but no finished product materialized. It is in this book that his craftsmanship and urbanity of style appear at their best.

In 1941, Lowenthal returned to the subject of Zionism in a world that became darkened for the Jews. He published The Life and Letters of Henrietta Szold, the founder of the women's Zionist organization called Hadassah. During World War II, Lowenthal worked with Frank Monaghan on This Was New York: The Nation's Capital in 1789, which they hoped would instill pride in their country.

From 1946 to 1949, Lowenthal served on the Zionist Advisory Committee, and from 1952 to 1954, he edited the American Zionist. In 1956, he published his last book, a one-volume edition of translations from the work of the 19 th -century founder of the Zionist movement, Theodore Herzl, entitled The Diaries of Theodore Herzl .

Marvin Lowenthal spent the remaining years of his life working as an active Zionist and fighting against anti-Semitism in America. Since 1930, Lowenthal lectured annually in America, speaking on European politics and on aspects of Judaism. Lowenthal died in New York City on March 15, 1969.


Susanne Klingenstein. "Lowenthal, Marvin Marx"; http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-02394.html ; American National Biography Online February 2000. Accessed September 9, 2009.

Nikke Jones. Marvin Lowenthal; http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/bios/Lowenthal__Marvin.html . Accessed September 9, 2009.

Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2 nd ed., vol. 13, page 235.

The Concise Dictionary of American Jewish Biography edited by Jacob Rader Marcus AJHS Call # Ref E184.J5 C653 1994, page 404.

Biographical vita. Marvin Lowenthal Papers, P-140, Box 1, Folder 10, American Jewish Historical Society

Biographical note. Marvin Lowenthal Papers, P-140, Box 16, Folder 3, American Jewish Historical Society

From the guide to the Marvin Lowenthal, papers, undated, 1871-1959, (American Jewish Historical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn The Hadassah Medical Organization Papers in the Hadassah Archives, 1918 - 2009 Hadassah
creatorOf Marvin Lowenthal, papers, undated, 1871-1959 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn Yaddo records, 1870-1980 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn The Hadassah Medical Organization Papers in the Hadassah Archives, 1918 - 2009 Hadassah the Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc.
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith American Jewish Congress corporateBody
associatedWith Billikopf, Jacob, 1882-1950 person
associatedWith Frank, Jerome, 1889-1957 person
associatedWith Hadassah corporateBody
associatedWith Jewish Education Committee (N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Jewish Publication Society of America corporateBody
associatedWith Kallen, Horace Meyer, 1882-1974 person
associatedWith Rice, Elmer L., 1892-1967 person
associatedWith Szold, Henrietta, 1860-1945 person
associatedWith Taylor, Eugene C. person
associatedWith Wise, Stephen Samuel, 1874-1949 person
associatedWith Yaddo (Artist's colony) corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States



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