MELVIN J. LASKY (1920 -- )
belongs to that small legendary group of Americans who remained in Europe after World War II, not unlike those Americans of the "Hemingway generation" after World War I...but with a difference. The new generation after 1945 was not a "lost generation" and they didn't become "expatriates" hanging around cafés on the Paris Left Bank. In Lasky's case he remained to live and work as an American editor and writer in Germany, France, and England, among other European countries, living a kind of new Transatlantic life, never losing touch with "one's own, one's native land," crossing back and forth a hundred times and more, and when abroad participating as an American in most of the exciting events in Europe during the last 50 years.
Lasky, a native New Yorker, received a B.S.S. degree from City College in New York (CCNY), and among the '39 classmates: Irving Howe, Irving Kristol, S.M. Lipset. He took his M.A. degree in history at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) with classmates Harvey Swados, novelist; Irving I. Copi, logician; John Malcolm Brinnin, poet. In W.W. II he served as a combat historian in France and Germany. At the end of the War he was one of the first into the Dachau concentration camp, and one of the first into Berlin when the Red Army retreated a few miles to allow room for General Eisenhower's troops with General Clay's military-government contingent. He stayed on in Berlin as a young freelance journalist and was on the verge of expulsion by General Clay (for citicizing "the Soviet ally") when the Berlin Blockade broke out -- and Lasky was hired by General Clay as an advisor. He established a monthly magazine called Der Monat (The Month) and for 15 years Lasky's magazine, an international intellectual review, played an important role in shaping ideas and opinions in post-War Germany and Europe. He was in East Germany when the famous revolt of June 17th (1953) took place, and was in Hungary when the Revolution broke out in Budapest in October 1956. He traveled to Warsaw, Prague, and Leipzig during the years of "Perestroika" and reported on the dramatic breakdown of the old Communist régimes.
When he moved to London to edit EncounterMagazine (1953-1991), Europe's leading literary and intellectual magazine, he continued to travel and be on the spot when great events took place. He was in the Congo during the dramatic days in Leopoldville after the death of Lumumba. He has interviewed many of the world's leading personalities, including Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, Dr. Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, Vaclav Havel; and he was a close friend of such shapers of recent European history as Mayor Ernst Reuter of Berlin and Chancellor Brandt; Hugh Gaitskell in England; President Kennedy's trouble-shooter, General Lucius Clay, among others. As editor of Der Monat and Encounter he was associated with most of the world's leading writers, poets, and intellectuals, including Thomas Mann and T.S. Eliot; Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus; Betrand Russell and George Orwell; Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Boris Pasternak; William Faulkner, Ignazio Silone; Richard Crossman and C.A.R. Crosland; Arthur Koestler, W.H. Auden, Ted Hughes....
Lasky is the author of a number of books: one on The Hungarian Revolution (1957; and in the next year, editions in French, German and Spanish); a travel book entitled Africa for Beginners (1963; also translated for a German paperback); a major scholarly work on the subject of Utopia and Revolution which was published in 1977 by the University of Chicago Press (and Macmillan in London, with subsequent editions in Spanish and German). A collection of his essays, On the Barricades, & Off, appeared in 1989. He received an important award in 1966 from the University of Michigan for "services to intellectual life and discussion" and in 1990 a Ph.D. (h.c.) from York University (Toronto).
In 1977 he was given the "Distinguished Alumnus" award by his alma mater, City College, in its Scholars-in-Residence program. His subsequent book, Voices in a Revolution, which is about the collapse of the East-German régime in 1989-90, was published by Ullstein Verlag (Berlin) in 1991 and by Transaction in 1992.
In 1992 he organized in Berlin the "Last Encounter with the Cold War" conference -- keynote speakers: Elena Bonner-Sakharov, Richard Pipes, Bernard Levin, Irving Kristol, Joachim Gauck, et al. -- which made a critical assessment of a half-century's democratic anti-totalitarianism. In 1995 the city of Berlin, once again reunited as a capital city, awarded him its distinguished service medal.
In 1997 a commission of German historians included Lasky as "one of the most important Berliners" (along with General Clay, Mayor Reuter, Willy Brandt and -- Rosa Luxemburg). He has completed a 3-volume study of Newspaper Culture of which the first volume has recently been published by Transaction Books (Rutgers University, Oxford) in 2000.
He lives in London and Berlin; his wife is the German novelist, Helga Hegewisch.