WALTER H. SOKEL

Obituary
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  • "In the fall of 1959, I arrived as a good student, but not a..."
    - Francis Partel
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SOKEL--Walter H, 96, one of the last of the generation of Jewish intellectual refugees from Europe that so enriched American cultural life, died February 21st at his residence in San Francisco. Cherished father, beloved friend and lifelong scholar, he possessed a charming, vital and generous spirit as well as a driving intellect. Walter Sokel was born in Vienna, Austria in December, 1917. He fled soon after the Nazi Anschluss of Austria in 1938, and arrived in New York at the age of 21. On the basis of a letter of recommendation from the revered German author Thomas Mann, he received a scholarship from Rutgers University, and went on to become a prominent professor and scholar who bridged cultural boundaries, explaining the best of German and German-Jewish culture to an American audience. In a career spanning almost 50 years, Professor Sokel was connected to many top US, German and Austrian universities. He spent the last 20 years of his teaching career at the University of Virginia as Commonwealth Professor in the German and English Departments. Known for his work on 20th century European literature, German intellectual history, Expressionism, and in particular Kafka, two of Professor Sokel's books published in 1964 and 1966 were the first to put Kafka into his proper place as a giant of European literature. Among other honors, Professor Sokel was the recipient in 1998 of the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art. He was preceded in death by his wife of 41 years, Jacqueline P. Sokel, and is survived by his daughter, Shari Sokel, her partner Mark Strek, and granddaughter, Hannah as well as many friends and former colleagues. A celebratory memorial service will be held April 6th in San Francisco (503) 475-4274.

Published in The New York Times on Mar. 2, 2014