Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Bradford, McKean County
Historian, novelist, and Zionist activist Marvin Lowenthal was born in Bradford.
Marvin Marx Lowenthal was born on October 6, 1890, in Bradford, Pennsylvania. In 1912, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin and became a passionate Zionist under the influence of fellow Zionist, Horace Kallen. In 1916, he graduated from Harvard University with a master’s degree in Philosophy. In 1918, he married Sylvia Mardfin and became a member of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). After quitting his job as a fundraiser for the ZOA, he edited, wrote, and translated many books such as Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln, The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne, and The Jews of Germany: A Story of Sixteen Centuries. Lowenthal passed away on March 15, 1969 in New York City, New York.
Marvin Marx Lowenthal was born on October 6, 1890, in Bradford, Pennsylvania. He was born to Louis Lowenthal and Pauline Marx who were both of German Jewish descent. Despite being the son of two dedicated members of Bradford’s Jewish Reform Temple, Marvin was not a religious man. At the age of fifteen, Lowenthal worked at a local silk mill that was owned by Leon Feuerbach. Eventually, he became an assistant manager at the mill. However, in 1912 Lowenthal enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in Madison to participate in humanistic studies.
While attending the University of Wisconsin, Lowenthal joined an intercollegiate Jewish cultural organization called the Menorah Society after winning a prize in the society’s essay contest. During one of the society’s meetings, Lowenthal met his future mentor Horace Kallen who was also a co-founder of the society. Kallen influenced Lowenthal to become passionate about the creation, development, and support of Israel, also known as Zionism. Lowenthal became so deeply attached to writing about Zionism that he became a frequent contributor to the Menorah Journal with articles on that subject. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1915, Lowenthal enrolled at Harvard University in order to obtain his master’s degree in philosophy.
After receiving his master’s degree from Harvard University in 1916, Lowenthal spent a short time as a fundraiser for the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Eventually, Lowenthal quit the ZOA to become a full time writer and spend time with his wife, Sylvia Mardfin whom he married in 1918. In the 1920s, the couple spent several years in Europe so that Lowenthal could be closer to the subject that he was now passionate in writing about—the fate of Jews in Europe. Adolf Hitler’s power was growing fast in Europe and Lowenthal spent a lot of time writing about the oppression of Jews in Europe.
In the 1930’s, Lowenthal became very busy with his work. In 1932, he published his translation of the Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln, a seven-part book by a 17th century woman who became widowed with 14 children, and his book A World Passed By soon followed. In 1934, Lowenthal moved back to America due to the oppression of Jews in Europe. In 1935, Lowenthal then published his favorite book, The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne. Lowenthal used personal essays written by Michel de Montaigne in order to create his book.
In 1936, he wrote his most popular book among readers, The Jews of Germany: A Story of Sixteen Centuries. With this book, Lowenthal hoped to show all Americans and American Jews in particular that discrimination against Jews in Germany was not something that became prevalent after Hitler took control. Lowenthal was determined to reach out to his readers and convey his message that if something was not done about the treatment of Jews in Europe that Jews would be doomed. Lowenthal stated that the Nuremberg Laws passed in Germany in 1935 were dangerous to their existence. The Nuremberg Laws of Germany were similar our nation’s segregation laws in the mid-1900’s. These laws stripped Jews of their citizenship in Germany and forbade Jews to marry non-Jewish citizens. Jews in Germany were forced to sit in the back of public buses, drink from different water fountains, and not allowed to use public restrooms. This book was particularly difficult for Lowenthal to write because of his love for Zionism and his determination to free Jews from discrimination in Europe.
After completing The Jews of Germany: A Story of Sixteen Centuries, Lowenthal dropped from the radar until 1941 when he published The Life and Letters of Henrietta Szold. Henrietta Szold was a founder of a women’s Zionist organization called Hadassah. During World War II, Lowenthal collaborated with Frank Monaghan on This Was New York: The Nation’s Capital in 1789 which they had hoped would infuse pride in the hearts of Americans. In 1956, he published his last book entitled The Diaries of Theodore Herzl, the 19th century founder of the Zionist Movement.
Marvin Lowenthal spent the remaining years of his life working as an active Zionist and fighting against anti-Semitism in America. Lowenthal died in New York City on March 15, 1969, at the age of 78.
The Jews of Germany: A Story of Sixteen Centuries. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1936.
Henrietta Szold: Life and Letters. New York: Viking, 1942.
This Was New York: The Nation’s Capital in 1789. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co. Inc., 1943.
The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne.New York: Vintage Books, Inc., 1956.
Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln. New York: Schocken Books, 1977.
Kessner, Carole S. The “Other” New York Jewish Intellectuals. New York: New York UP, 1994.