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Henry H. H. Remak as “The Mad Dutchman”- a Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity Brother- Processing Blog #5

Before Henry H. H. Remak established himself as a distinguished scholar and professor in the fields of Comparative Literature, Germanic and West European Studies, Remak was but a humble IU student. A young German Jew living in Berlin at the outbreak of World War II, he considered himself lucky to have been granted a university scholarship from the IU Sigma Zeta Chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu (SAM), a fraternity which welcomes members of all faiths but has a strong tradition of attracting Jewish men to its ranks. Remak was pledged in 1937 and initiated as a Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity brother, or “Sammy,” in 1938. In a 1982 eulogy written for Jimmy Hammerstein, who was a major instigator of helping young Jewish men escape Nazi Germany under the sponsorship of SAM, Remak states that “Jimmy’s and SAM’s initiative very likely saved [his life].” It is no wonder then that Remak remained a dedicated and loyal Sammy up until his death in 2009.

Remak showed his dedication in a variety of ways. For one, he was the Faculty Adviser for Sigma Zeta from 1946 until his “retirement” in 1987. (Remak continued to teach at the university and remained very much involved with Sigma Alpha Mu students even after his “retirement.”) As Faculty Adviser and even later on, without that official title, Remak took it upon himself to look out for fellow Sammies both young and old. Many a recommendation letter was written to help a Sammy find a job, apply for graduate school, etc. There are quite a few letters in the collection which Henry Remak received from old fraternity brothers asking for help in various situations. Nevermind that Remak hadn’t seen or talked to many of these men in decades, the bond between fraternity brothers must have been sacred to Remak, for he did not take that bond lightly. On at least one occasion, Remak even vouched for a young Sammy who was on the verge of getting dismissed due to failing grades. Though Remak had never met the young man, he did what he could to ensure that the student would get a second chance. Grateful for that chance, the young man stayed in touch with Professor Remak from that point on.

In 1959, Remak was also selected as the National Scholarship Chairman of SAM. This role entailed keeping a watchful eye on the grade reports of undergraduate men still in the IU chapter and evaluating scholarship award applicants. In the early 1980s, Remak would assist SAM in soliciting funds and support from the university and from SAM alums to build a new chapter house on North Jordan Avenue. I have no doubt that Henry Remak donated some funds himself, as I’ve come across many “thank you” notes addressed to Remak from SAM upon receiving a financial contribution or sometimes a necessary item or two for the fraternity house.

So far, I’ve come across about a dozen files that relate to Sigma Alpha Mu, but as the collection is still being processed I won’t be surprised if there are more waiting in the wings. Items of interest include a signed copy of Henry Remak’s Sigma Alpha Mu Constitution (Blue Book), dated 1935, which he must have received around the time of his initiation into the fraternity. There are also quite a few newspaper articles and copies of the Sigma Zetan and Octagonian newsletters that contain articles mentioning Remak and some that were even written by him. Copies of Henry Remak’s insistent letters to the Budget Administration regarding the new chapter house and to fellow Sammies are also available for perusal.

So, whether you knew Henry H. H. Remak as “The Mad Dutchman”- his nom de plume of choice when corresponding with fraternity kin- or whether you are just interested in finding out more about Professor Remak or about SAM in general, keep this collection in mind for your future visits to the Archives.

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