Professor Manfred Jonas recalled as distinguished scholar and exemplary teacher

Publication Date

Manfred Jonas, a well-known scholar and prolific writer who covered U.S. diplomatic and 20th-century political history, constitutional history and American studies, died August 25, 2013. He was 86.

Jonas, the John Bigelow Professor of History Emeritus, joined the College in 1963 and retired in 1996.

“Fred Jonas was one the first historians at Union College to gain recognition for his research and writing as well as his teaching,” said Mark W. Walker, John Bigelow Professor of History and Chair of the Department. “In particular, his book, Isolationism in America, 1935-1941, was very influential and brought distinction to the History Department and the College. Fred served for many years as department chair, and was a wonderful person and colleague, friendly, supportive and warm.”

A book he co-authored, Roosevelt and Churchill: Their Secret Wartime Correspondence was a History Book Club selection and a Book of the Month Club alternate. His other books include The United States and Germany: A Diplomatic History; American Foreign Relations in the Twentieth Century; New Opportunities in the New Nation; The Development of New York After the Revolution; and the nine-volume The Politics and Strategy of World War II, of which he was general editor. He also authored a portion of the Union College Worthy on statesman Robert Porter Patterson, Class of 1912. He published more than 140 reviews of books, articles and conference papers. He was also responsible for writing a number of entries for the Encyclopedia of Union College History.

Born in Manneim, Germany on April 9, 1927 to vintner Walter Jonas and his wife Toni (nee Dannheisser), he came to the United States as a refugee from Nazi Germany.

A graduate of Stuyvesant High School in New York City, he served as a radar technician in the Navy during World War II. He earned a bachelor’s degree from City College of New York, and master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University.

Before joining Union, he was visiting professor of North American history at the Free University in Berlin, Germany. He was the Dr. Otto Salgo Visiting Professor of American Studies at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, and a research fellow at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard. A Fulbright-Hays Fellow, he lectured at the University of Saarland in 1973.

On his retirement from Union, he recalled arriving in the 60s in the midst of a serious effort to upgrade the College academically. Those changes included increasing in the size of the faculty, enhancing support for research and the admission of women. “The upgrading process made it a great place to be,” he said. “It’s definitely a better place than when I came here.”

Among his many service commitments at Union, he chaired both the department and division. He was the first Washington Irving Professor of Modern Literary and Historical Studies (1981-1986) before becoming the fifth John Bigelow Professor of History (1986-1996). He wrote a number of entries for the Encyclopedia of Union College History, including a five-page account of the History Department. He was an extra – a professor in the gym dance scene – for the campus filming of The Way We Were. He was a volunteer for Proctor’s Theater for a number of years.

Jonas, who had a lifelong passion for acting, met his wife, Nancy, during a production at CCNY. He was a regular performer in regional theater, and last year played a role in a production in Laguna Woods, Calif.

The couple was married for 61 years. They split their time between their home in Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood and their retirement home in Laguna Woods, Calif.

Survivors also include four children, Andrew of Boston, Kathryn Kasanoff of Westport, Conn., Emily Siegel of North Salem, N.Y., and Matthew of Encino, Calif.; and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service is set for Saturday, Sept. 28, at 3 p.m. in Memorial Chapel.

Memorial contributions may be made in care of College Relations, Union College, 807 Union St., Schenectady, NY 12308.