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Steinherz, Samuel

(1857–1942), historian, medievalist, and editor. Born in Güssing (Burgenland), Austria, to the family of an estate agent, Samuel Steinherz spent his childhood in Vienna and Graz. At the latter city’s university, he studied German literature and history, and his first job was at the Institute for Austrian History in Vienna. He later returned to Graz, where he studied law.

In 1901, Steinherz began teaching history at the Prague German University and became a professor in 1908. Specializing in papal diplomacy, he published a number of important document collections: Die Nuntien Hosius und Delfino, 15601561 (1897); Briefe des Prager Erzbischofs Anton Brus von Müglitz, 1562–1563 (1907); Dokumente zur Geschichte der grossen abendländischen Schismas, 1385–1395 (1932); and Nuntiaturberichte aus Deutschland: Nuntius Delfino, 1560–1565 (3 vols., 1897–1914).

Steinherz was elected rector of the Prague German University in 1922 and, ignoring the usual custom of Jewish professors to decline the honor, he instead accepted it, explaining that he considered himself to be a German. In reaction to this unprecedented act, antisemitic student organizations and societies demanded his resignation. They organized strikes, occupied university buildings, and also called for the imposition of a numerus clausus on Jewish students. In February 1923, Steinherz submitted to pressure from his own faculty and offered his resignation, which the Czechoslovak minister of education, Rudolf Bechyně, refused to accept. Eventually Steinherz found a way to resolve the controversy by going on leave.

The Steinherz Affair, as it became known, added to a growing sense of crisis among Czechoslovak Jews who had long understood themselves to be fully invested in German culture and, hence, nationally German. Steinherz himself appears to have been moved by the course of events to change the focus of his scholarly energies. He began to engage directly in medieval Jewish history, focusing mainly on the Crusades. He accepted an invitation to edit a new collection of articles on the history of Prague’s Jewish community, titled Die Juden in Prag: Bilder aus ihrer tausendjährigen Geschichte (The Jews in Prague: Portraits from Their Thousand-Year History; 1927), and in 1928 he helped found the Society for History of the Jews in the Czechoslovak Republic. That same year, he retired from the university and became head of the society and editor of its yearbook, whose nine volumes were published from 1929 until 1938. In 1942 Steinherz was deported to Terezín, where he perished; in the camp he gave lectures to his fellow inmates on the history of the Jews in Bohemia.

Suggested Reading

Peter Arlt, “Samuel Steinherz, 1857–1942: Historiker; Ein Rektor zwischen den Fronten,” in Prager Professoren, 1938–1948: Zwischen Wissenschaft und Politik, ed. Monika Glettler and Alena Mísková, pp. 71–104 (Essen, Ger., 2001); Hugo Gold, “Samuel Steinherz: Ein Lebensbild,” in Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden in der Tschechoslowakei 5 (1938): 51–56; “Samuel Steinherz,” Hickl’s illustrierter jüdischer Volkskalender (1939): 37–41; Bohumil Stein, “Br. Universitäts-Professor: Zu seinem 80. Geburtstage am. 16. Dezember 1937,” B’nai B’rith: Mitteilungen ČSR 9 (1937): 297–302.