By Harrison Smith,
Guido Goldman, a Swiss-born scholar, community builder and art collector who leveraged his wealth and connections to forge closer ties between Europe and the United States, died Nov. 30 at his home in Concord, Mass. He was 83.
The cause was prostate cancer, said his friend Karl Kaiser, a longtime colleague at Harvard University.
Modest and convivial, with a self-deprecating wit, Mr. Goldman was a behind-the-scenes force in European-American relations for more than five decades, with a special focus on fostering connections between Germany and the United States after World War II. He helped build Harvard’s Center for European Studies, founded the German Marshall Fund of the United States and became known as “America’s Mr. Germany” while meeting with German chancellors from Willy Brandt to Angela Merkel.
“There are still lots of opportunities to misunderstand each other,” he told the German news website Spiegel Online in 2012, after four decades as chairman of the German Marshall Fund, a Washington policy organization. While the United States may have turned its attention to Latin America and Asia, he said, “I keep reminding people that Germany, as the leading power in Europe, is still the most important partner for the U.S.”
Mr. Goldman immigrated to the United States as a young child, fleeing Hitler’s Europe with his older brother and parents, both longtime Berliners. His mother, the former Alice Gottschalk, had inherited a fortune from her family’s mail-order business; his father, Nahum Goldmann, was a co-founder of the World Jewish Congress and president of the World Zionist Organization.
Their apartment on Central Park West in Manhattan was decorated with paintings by Monet, Renoir and Picasso; frequented by dignitaries including financier Bernard Baruch, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and pianist Arthur Rubinstein; and tended to by a Barbadian nanny who opened Mr. Goldman’s eyes to anti-Black discrimination.
“I’m privileged, very privileged,” he later told the New York Times. “I never forget that. I grew up with a father who sent out his itinerary every six weeks. My college roommates thought that was bizarre. I thought everybody knew Herbert Lehman, Eleanor Roosevelt and Dag Hammarskjold.”
While his father helped convince the U.S. government to back the creation of Israel and lobbied for West Germany to pay reparations after the Holocaust, Mr. Goldman initially pursued a career in academia, later supporting himself in part as a real estate investor and financial adviser. At Harvard, he received a PhD in government and wrote his dissertation under Henry Kissinger, who became a lifelong friend.
When Kissinger joined the Nixon administration, serving as national security adviser and later secretary of state, Mr. Goldman loaned him two paintings for his new office, including a Rothko. “He seemed to know every person that was significant in German politics or German intellectual life,” Kissinger said in a phone interview, but “never tried to influence or even talk about actual decisions that were in front of me.”
“I don’t think he ever had any ambition to be in politics,” Kissinger added. “Because politics is about the use of power on some level, and that did not interest him. What interested him was the acceptance of some of these basic ideas: toleration, human liberty. He had a certain element of nobility, a concern with art and literature for its own sake.”
Mr. Goldman joined Kissinger in launching Harvard’s German research program, which grew into the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies. Working closely with political scientist Stanley Hoffmann, another Harvard mentor, he became the center’s founding director in 1969.
He also taught at the university as a senior lecturer in government and helped raise more than $75 million for the school, drawing on a host of connections across politics and the arts. To raise $2 million for Harvard’s European studies program in 1971, he went to West Germany’s finance minister, Alex Möller, and proposed a gift as a way to say thank you for U.S. aid.
“After I made my little speech in German — because he spoke no English — he said, ‘I completely agree with you, and we will do it, and you will help us design [the initiative],’ ” Mr. Goldman recalled in a 2019 Harvard interview. The German government ultimately donated about $1 million to the university and $47 million to the newly formed German Marshall Fund, which Brandt announced in a 1972 commencement speech at Harvard.
The fund took its name from the Marshall Plan, a sweeping aid initiative for Western Europe that Secretary of State George C. Marshall introduced exactly 25 years earlier, also in an address at Harvard.
“There was this generosity of spirit that infused Guido,” said Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund. Mr. Goldman also worked with groups including the American Council on Germany and the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, and backed civil rights organizations such as the Children’s Defense Fund, founded by his friend Marian Wright Edelman.
After his brother, Michael, married a dancer in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Mr. Goldman began to support the dance company as well, donating a sprung floor and serving as vice chair of the board. “It wasn’t just about writing checks,” said Judith Jamison, the company’s artistic director emerita. “He really cared about the whole person,” supporting dancers by providing for physical therapy and housing after tours.
In the art world, Mr. Goldman was best known for his collection of Central Asian ikat textiles, brightly colored silk wall hangings and robes primarily made in the 19th century. He bought his first ikat for $700 after seeing it hanging in a gallery window on Madison Avenue in 1975, and went on to acquire hundreds more.
“I saw them as wonderfully bold, colorful, individual works of art that moved me in the same way as did a painting by Kandinsky, Morris Louis or Helen Frankenthaler,” said Mr. Goldman, who was widely credited with sparking new interest in the textiles. His friend Oscar de la Renta incorporated ikat designs into his fashion collections, and in 2005 Mr. Goldman donated most of his collection to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington.
The textiles were fragile and sensitive to light, and Mr. Goldman said he felt a great, even overwhelming responsibility to look after them. “If I reincarnate,” he joked in an interview with the Forward, “I want to do coins and stamps.”
Guido Goldmann was born in Zurich on Nov. 4, 1937. The second n in his last name was “accidentally dropped” when he immigrated to the United States, but Mr. Goldman never bothered to put it back, said his biographer, Martin Klingst.
Mr. Goldman graduated from Harvard summa cum laude in 1959 and received his doctorate in 1969. He wrote his thesis on Weimar industry and foreign policy but later warned against specializing in one field, telling the Times, “I wouldn’t always want to live only in one world.”
His world-hopping was accomplished in part through entertaining, hosting small dinners at which he cooked lamb or spicy meat loaf. He once estimated that he and his friends (he never married, and is survived only by his brother) served 1,000 “people-meals” a summer at his home in Maine.
For one of his most ambitious gatherings, he hosted Kissinger’s 60th birthday party at the Pierre hotel in Manhattan, overseeing a black-tie dinner and dance that included former political officials Lady Bird Johnson, Gerald R. Ford and Helmut Schmidt.
“I like the organizational challenge of entertaining,” he said at the time. “I know this is corny, but people are the best thing in life. If people have a good and stimulating time, I feel I’ve achieved something.”
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