Page 78 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

Basic HTML Version

Walter Joseph Fischel
1902-1973
S. D. GOITEIN
I t
is
s t i l l
d i f f i c u l t
for me to write about Walter Joseph Fischel
in the past tense. We knew each other since our student days,
rather, since the time Walter was still in high school in his native
city of Frankfurt am Main. For then he had already joined the
“Blau-Weiss” (Blue-White), a youth movement which combined
Zionism and Hebrew with hiking and other youthful activities,
of which I happened to be the local “leader.” When he entered
the University, he was initiated into a Zionist fraternity in which
I had been a member for years. Fischel's main field of interest
was economics, but he also studied Arabic, which again brought
us together. We both took Zionism literally and emigrated to
Palestine immediately after the completion of our studies, I
in 1923, he, who was about three years my junior, in 1926. In
Jerusalem, on Mount Scopus, we met daily, and although later
our ways parted, our common interests kept us uninterruptedly
in contact. His last letter reached me after he had passed away.
Walter Joseph Fischel’s way as a scholar was not of the usual
type. I t was an uphill struggle and a real success story. As stated
previously, he was interested primarily in economics and eco­
nomic history. He had studied also Arabic and Islam, and of
course, Hebrew and Judaic studies, for which Frankfurt of
those days presented plenty of opportunities. Combining these
three fields of interest, he planned to work on an almost entirely
untouched subject: the economic history of the Jews in the lands
of Islam. In the late 1920’s, however, the Hebrew University
still was a tiny institution with a very limited budget, and
there was no room for such a specific branch of research. There­
fore, Fischel worked on a project which the University had
undertaken for reasons which need not be spelled out here, a
concordance of ancient Arabic poetry. As the reader can imagine,
this work had no particular attraction for Fischel, whose scien­
tific interests lay in quite different fields; but it was certainly
70