In Memoriam: Professor Helmut Haeussler the Most influential Teacher in my Life

I received an e-mail from the History Department of California State University at Northridge this week that a memorial service is to be held for Professor Helmut Haeussler. Dr. Haeussler was my primary professor in the department during my undergraduate years at the school as well as one year of graduate work before I was commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant and reported for active duty in 1983.

I studied under Dr. Haeussler for three years taking courses such as German History, World War II and the Holocaust followed by an extensive number of independent study courses where I concentrated on Germany from the end of the First World War until the fall of the Third Reich. In this my primary focus was the Weimar Republic and the relationship of the German Army to the Government and the various political parties.

Dr. Haeussler was unique. He was born in Germany in 1922 during the turmoil of the early Weimar Republic and his family immigrated to the United States in the early 1930s. He was attending the University of Wisconsin when the Second World War broke out and served as an intelligence analyst and interpreter with the 82nd Airborne Division and as an interrogator at the Nuremburg trials. After leaving the Army he continued his education eventually graduating with a Ph.D. from in History from the University of Wisconsin.  He joined the faculty at Northridge in 1963 and he retired in 2005, having taught many courses in German History, Modern European History, World War II, the Holocaust, Anti-Semitism, and Military History.  He also taught at California Lutheran College on occasion. He was a tremendous teacher and for our class on the Holocaust he had a survivor of Auschwitz named Mel Mermelstein who challenged Holocuast deniers in court and won. Mermelstein’s fight was dramatized in the television movie called Never Forget in which he was played by Leonard Nimoy.  Dr. Haeussler, a Lutheran from Germany and veteran of the United States Army was a man who did not want the crimes of the Nazis to be forgotten and the dangers of a divided society which has lost its sense of identity.

He wrote a book on the life of General Wilhelm Groener who was a key figure in the formation and preservation of the Weimar Republic from forces on the Left and Right in its fragile early years. Along with the Majority Socialist President Friedrich Ebert and Defense Minister Gustav Noske he forged an alliance between the very conservative Army Officer Corps and the Socialist Government which endured until Ebert’s untimely death in 1925.

Dr. Haeussler spent many hours with me recommending research resources and writers, looking over my work and challenging my conclusions at many points. I still have all of the books from his classes as well as books that he recommended. When I went on to a second Masters Degree, this one in Military History and the work that I did under him paid dividends in those studies. I appreciate what Dr. Haeussler taught me and how he pushed me to constantly pursue learning. Readers of this site can find much of his influence in my writings on Weimar and the Nazi era and application for the present day, especially as our society becomes increasingly divided and the government as ineffective and the Weimar Government after the death of Ebert.

Dr. Haeussler’s passing is also a watershed. He was the last faculty member at Northridge who had served in the Second World War. This is yet another reminder to us of the members of that generation who are passing away at an ever increasing rate.

The information on the memorial is below. I am simply pasting it from the e-mail that I received.

The History Department will hold a reception on Sunday, March 27, at 2 P.M. in the Whitsett Room, Sierra Hall 451.  Emeritus Professor Michael Meyer, a long-time friend and colleague, will bring his violin and play German songs that Helmut would have liked. Faculty, friends, and former students of Professor Haeussler are cordially invited to attend and share their memories. Refreshments will be served.  Please call the History Department, 818-677-3566, so that we may plan accordingly. Parking will be available in the lots west of Sierra Hall.  Visitors must stop at the parking kiosk on Prairie Street, just east of Darby, to obtain a permit.

I wish that I could attend the memorial and spend time with those that worked alongside him and fellow students. I was privileged to have a professor who has continued to influence my learning almost 30 years after my last class with him. I wish that every student would have such a teacher at some point in their life.


Padre Steve+



Filed under History, remembering friends, world war two in europe

7 responses to “In Memoriam: Professor Helmut Haeussler the Most influential Teacher in my Life

  1. John Erickson

    Any idea if he died today, or earlier? If he passed today, it was a day of double loss for this country. At 4pm Eastern time, the last US veteran to serve in WW1, Frank Buckles, was laid to rest in Arlington, his grave very fittingly overlooked by that of General John “BlackJack” Pershing. He was our last living touchstone with WW1, as you and I discussed in another post.
    Either way, Professor Haeussler’s passing is a great loss. His knowledge base of interwar Europe (and Germany in particular) is a rare one these days, with so much emphasis on the wars themselves, and so little attention paid to causes and aftermaths. His inspiration to you was also a great gift, the greatest gift that any teacher can ever bestow on a student – the lesson of continuing to learn. I had one such teacher from high school, the only one I clearly remember to this day.
    And while I didn’t know the good professor, and know you only through our limited exchanges here, somehow I have the feeling that he is looking down on you, smiling, perhaps with a pipe in hand, saying “This one has done well, and made me proud.”
    So try not to be too sad. His loss is painful to you, but because of him, we have you, and are richer for that gift. Take care, Padre, and lift one for me in honour of this great man. Godspeed!

    • padresteve


      Dr. Haeussler passed away last month and I just found out about it. Thanks for your kind words. I do appreciate it.

      Peace, Steve+

    • Eugene McLaren

      I just came across and appreciate your item about Helmut Haeussler, and am very sorry I didn’t know his location prior to his death. Helmy, as I knew him then and I , both being WWII vets, were good friends during the years of 1949 and 1950, when we were both students at the Univ. of Basel, Switzerland. He helped me a lot with my poor German, which he found humorous at times, and showed me around some of southern Germany, notably unreconstructed Ulm, where he had acquaintances from his time of service there.
      I write this to thank you for writing your “Memoriam”, and, if you would like it, to offer to e-mail you a photo of Helmut taken in front of the Basel Rathaus (City Hall) in 1949 or 1950. I will need your e-mail address to do that, I expect.

      • padresteve

        Thank you for your kind words and memories about Dr Haeussler. I would love to receive the picture. He meant a lot to me and I had him for more courses than any other professor, and his teaching still inspires much of what I teach and write.

        My e-mail is on the front page of the site, it is

        Thank you so much and blessings



      • padresteve

        He died a couple of years ago. The article is somewhat dated

  2. Larry Bittke

    I remember Professor Hauessler with Great Respect and Admiration. I took his classes on Modern German History in the Spring 1973, Hitler’s Germany in the Spring 1974, and German Militarism in the Fall of 1974. He was great to talk to outside of class. I was always impressed about his lecturing the class without notes. Larry Bittke,

    • padresteve

      He was an amazing professor. Like you said, his ability to lecture without notes was amazing. I wish that he was still alive. I would love just to sit and chat with him again. Thanks for sharing your memories of him. Steve+

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