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Arthur H. Jaffe: The Jewish “Professor”

When, in his novel The Crusaders (1948), the German writer Stefan Heym depicted the moral complexities of the soldiers who served in World War II, one figure stood out as a positive role model to the men around him: Lieutenant Yates, a young college professor and idealist highly respected among those with whom he served. Heym had been assigned to the 2nd Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company, a psychological warfare unit trained at Camp Ritchie’s sub-camp in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Heym’s fellow soldiers quickly identified the models for several of the individuals who appeared in his novel; Lieutenant Yates, they said, was based on Arthur Jaffe, the lieutenant in charge of Heym’s company. If, indeed, Heym’s fellow soldiers were right, then one must point out that, unlike Lt. Yates, Jaffe was not yet married, nor was he a college professor. Nevertheless, his men referred to him as “the professor,” because he always seemed to have a book in his hand. And his life was shaped both by his love of books and by his devotion to Judaism.

Art was born in 1921 to Fannie (Posner) and Israel Max Jaffe in Butler, Pennsylvania, a comfortable, middle-sized town located about 35 miles north of Pittsburgh. It was there, at the town library, that he developed a passion for reading when he was still a young child. He had gone there and asked the librarian to recommend a book for him. “She gave me a children’s abridged edition of Robinson Crusoe,” he said, “and I couldn’t put it down. That was the book that got me on reading as a passion.”

The family was deeply religious; Art had a good singing voice, and he sang throughout his school years with a local jazz band, and in high school musicals. In addition, the rabbi in Butler trained him as a cantor.

The Phi Epsilon Pi Succah at Penn State University, showing Arthur Jaffe (left) and Ralph Madway (right).

Art took his strong Jewish faith with him when he went off to study at Penn State University. In addition to being active in Hillel, he became a member of Phi Epsilon Pi, a national Jewish fraternity, and, with fellow chapter member Ralph Madway, designed and constructed a succah, or Feast of Tabernacles ritual booth. It was billed as “The first Succah ever built in an American Jewish fraternity house”; it was twenty feet long, eight feet high and eight feet wide, and decorated with ivy, evergreen branches, apples, carrots, turnips and other fruits and vegetables. A solid blue Star of David, trimmed in white, hung on one wall. This succah reportedly “became a place of pilgrimage not only for Jewish fraternity members, but also for students, faculty, and townspeople for miles around.”

While a student at Penn State Art was active on the university golf team; he was also a member of ROTC. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in classical languages in the spring of 1942, then joined the US Army in May. He trained as an infantry officer in Fort Benning, Georgia, then served in the 26th Infantry Division. This division was originally an All-Massachusetts National Guard, but, by the time Art joined it, the percentage of Massachusetts National Guardsmen had been cut to 50%, in order to have some of these guardsmen at home. Jaffe was assigned to this division as a 2nd lieutenant in a rifle platoon, and had maneuvers in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Arthur Jaffe, 1941.

He was promoted to 1st lieutenant in March, 1943, then made Executive Officer of the 104th Infantry Division. In October of that year he was transferred to Camp Ritchie, “probably,” he said, “because of my language skills.” Upon his arrival he was sent on to the Camp Ritchie sub-camp, Camp Sharpe, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the 2nd Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company (MRBC) was being developed. The camp was housed in the abandoned quarters of an all-Black unit of the Civilian Conservation Corps, formerly identified only as CCC Gettysburg camp NP-2; it had been abandoned in March 1942. Now it was being reactivated as a camp designed to train army men for work in psychological warfare and propaganda services, and had been named Camp George H. Sharpe, in honor of General George Meade’s chief intelligence officer at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Art and his men arrived in Gettysburg in mid-winter 1943-1944, and settled into buildings that had been intended for service only during the summer. The barracks were drafty and dirty from months of disuse and neglect, but, in spite of freezing temperatures, the spirits of the men — whom the Sharpe instructors would call a “unit of geniuses” — remained relatively high. The men were trained in all branches of psychological warfare services; Art himself focused on learning the art of writing effective propaganda. There were many other areas the men trained for there. Art described the tasks his men went on to perform in Europe: “Some took photographs in battle zones, for use in propaganda leaflets. Some broadcast in different languages. Some became experts in printing, and some in interrogation. And some became expert in producing leaflets in record time for the changing war conditions.”

As to the men’s personal lives: “Some got married in France and Germany; some did so right after the war. I remained unmarried. I had had a girlfriend before I left for the front, but then I got a ‘dear John’ letter from her.”

The 2nd MRB company left for Europe in early April, 1944. Already at Camp Sharpe there had been fluidity and movement in staffing among the four MRBCs that trained there. Art was commander of the 2nd MRBC throughout the training period in Gettysburg, then relinquished that position to Maxwell Grabove for the period when the unit received further training in England and crossed the Channel shortly after D-Day. Following the St. Lo offensive in July, 1944, Art again became the unit’s commander and remained in this position through the remainder of the European war.

The men in his unit were scattered; as he explained it: “When we got to Europe, we did not function as 165 men together, but rather as teams sent to different divisions.” And even here, there was great fluidity: “In the field, the men were shifted around among companies as needed. There would be a dozen teams of, say, a driver, interrogator, and photographer. But maybe if they needed a photographer and didn’t have one on hand, they could get one from another [MRB] company.” As a result, “everybody [in the four MRB units] knew everybody pretty well.”

Jaffe was an especially popular commander among his men. When asked about the reason for this, he remarked that this was probably because he had gotten involved in defending one of his men and saving him from a court martial and dishonorable discharge. That soldier was one of the unit’s most successful “hog callers,” who had the unenviable task of going out in front of the Allied lines to address the enemy troops by microphone and to urge them to surrender. After one of these successful appeals, as some German troops surrendered, Art’s man gestured to them with his revolver to guide them over the lines. His gun went off — accidentally? deliberately? — when he was startled to see that one of the prisoners bore a strong resemblance to a New York policeman who, several years earlier, had terrorized, robbed, and assaulted him in Central Park, calling him “Jew-boy” and threatening to kill him if he reported the crime. The soldier, a pacifist at heart, was immediately remorseful for his action. Shooting a prisoner of war was a serious offense, punishable by court martial and dishonorable discharge. Art saved him from this by pointing out to investigators that, although the German had been in the act of surrendering, he had not yet crossed the Allied lines when he was shot, and was therefore not yet a prisoner of war. Because of Art’s intervention, the soldier in question went on to save thousands of German lives through his continued appeals to German soldiers, both through “hog calling” and through written pamphlets. Still, this one shooting haunted the soldier throughout his lifetime. “No award or remorse,” he said, “can […] cleanse away what remains forever dishonorable.” Art’s men, however, were elated when they saw that their commander was willing to go so far out on a limb for one of them.

Another one of Art’s actions cemented the Jewish soldiers’ admiration and affection for him. While the men were stationed in Verdun, five Torahs were found that had been safely hidden there. Art made good use of his cantor training by organizing a Yom Kippur service for the Jewish troops. One of Art’s radio men, Phil Pinkofsky, remembered that event as the emotional highlight of his military service. And the chief chaplain of the US army sent Art a letter praising him for conducting a Jewish service for the soldiers.

Art Jaffe conducts Yom Kippur service in Verdun, September 1944

The Second Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company was assigned to the 12th Army Group, 72nd Publicity Service Battalion and moved with the troops through Europe: from Normandy to Paris, Verdun, Aachen, Cologne, and on to Weimar. Art helped write propaganda leaflets, and he personally conducted postwar interrogations of German civilians. Ever on the lookout for fine books, he traded cigarettes and chocolate in order to add to his personal collection.

As the war wound down, Art penned a history of the 2nd Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company for all his men, tracing the company’s training, exploits, achievements, and honors, and including numerous photographs of the men in all aspects of their work and entertainments. With typical modesty, Art did not list himself as author of this work, nor did he mention any of his personal tasks and responsibilities during the European campaign. Instead, he highlighted the personal exploits of his men and mentioned many by name for their individual achievements.

Art earned a bronze star and the French Legion of Honor for his service in Europe. He returned home to Butler, but he was soon restless and sought a new direction. “I had seen German and Polish refugees in Europe, and Jews trying to get to Palestine,” he said, and so he took advantage of the GI bill to register to study languages at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He arrived there in 1946, and, as a deactivated soldier, had to report to the military attaché in Jerusalem. After a few months, the Jews, who needed men with military skills, snapped him up for service in the Haganah, or Jewish Defense Force; he served in the Jewish army for three and a half years. “What was I going to say?” Jaffe remarked, “After a while over there, you get caught up in the fervor of the society. It was like being here when George Washington founded the country.”

As an American recruit, he was required to take lessons in Zionism. His instructor was Golda Meir, a Palestinian immigrant who would later become the new state of Israel’s fourth prime minister. For the first months he went through intensive training in weaponry and in desert survival.

Art was initially put in command of a squad of 12 teenage Sabras, or Palestinian-born Jews, but was soon reassigned to espionage, in a unit that later became Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad. Because of his study in classical languages, he was able to serve as a translator of Arab documents collected from the nightly trash deposited at the Arab nations’ headquarters. Some of the crumpled-up documents contained the questions and answers that the Arabs would be presenting at the United Nations in arguing against Israeli statehood. But, Jaffe’s son recalled, Art’s unit realized “that if they were going through the Arabs’ trash, the Arabs were probably going through their trash as well, so they crumpled up false questions and answers for the Arabs to find; they gave them misinformation.” Another task was to spy on international visitors to the King David Hotel by tapping phones and bugging diplomatic suites. Art sometimes chatted up diplomatic secretaries in order to determine the views of the various countries in the United Nations in regard to the establishment of an Israeli state. With this knowledge the Jews could better influence those nations whose approval was essential to their cause. Art remained in the country long enough to witness the 1948 Israeli-Arab conflict and the founding of Israel. He returned to the United States in 1949 with the Israel Defense medal. He was typically modest about his work. “I was lucky enough to be there in the period of time that existed once in the history of the country,” he remarked. “If I were five years younger or so, I might not have been able to experience it.”

Back in Butler, Art joined the family business, I. M. Jaffe and Sons, as a partner. His father had opened a department store in Butler in 1924; by now the business had expanded and the family was operating retail stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. Art remained with this work for 30 years.

And, soon after his return to the States, he married Lois Silverstein, who was an instructor in social work at the University of Pittsburgh. The family grew to include four children. But, in 1973, Lois Jaffe was diagnosed with acute leukemia, and told that she had only 18 months to live. She then made it her mission to help patients with terminal illnesses, by leading seminars on the care of the terminally ill at Pitt’s Graduate School of Social work and by initiating group counseling sessions with terminally ill patients and their families at Butler Veterans’ Administration Hospital. She outlived her doctors’ prognosis, and lived a full life before dying in March 1978.

Art retired from the family business a year later, and moved to Pittsburgh, where he became the director of endowments for the Carnegie Museum of Art. He also became involved with the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh. And he met Mata Barack Loevner, whom he married in 1980.

Like Lois, Mata was an outstanding woman in her own right. She was 15 years younger than Art, but had already built a distinguished career; she had a PhD in speech language pathology from the University of Pittsburgh, and, as a respected academic and clinician, had been working in speech-language therapy and communications disorders, especially among disabled children. She brought her own two children into the marriage.

Art and Lois Jaffe with their four children, 1961.

Whether they first met through Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art or through the United Jewish Foundation, Art and Mata discovered a shared appreciation of art works. It is possible that it was Mata who opened Art’s eyes to the aesthetics of his books: their special bindings, cover art, illustrations, fonts, and paper material, and he began to collect books that had been released in limited editions or had unique properties, such as the material of the cover, the size of the volume, or the nature of their pages. As Art acquired a sizable collection of books, Mata carefully catalogued each one. “I wasn’t thinking of building a collection,” he said, many years later. “I was buying books for me. I purchased books because I liked the way they looked, the way they felt in my hands.”

In 1984 Art and Mata relocated to Southern Florida. Mata continued to practice as a clinician and director of speech pathology at several hospitals, while Art became founding director of the Jewish Community Foundation of South Palm Beach County at a time when the county was on the verge of becoming the fastest growing Jewish community in the nation. Art worked with area Jewish leaders to collect money for social, cultural, and educational programs there. He was recognized as being responsible, “in a very big way,” for raising millions of dollars. Art was thrilled with his success. “I couldn’t see the results directly of my work in Israel,” he said, “But here, I could actually see it. I saw the money came in, and I could […] go to a dedication, and say, ‘By golly, I helped buy some of those bricks.’”

In their retirement Art and Mata traveled widely, including study trips to Nepal, Morocco, and Guatemala.

Then, in 1994, Art began working as a library volunteer at Florida Atlantic University; he also began donating books and lithographs to the university. In January 2000, when he and Mata moved to smaller quarters, he donated 2,800 books from his collection to the University; they were housed in a space named the “Jaffe Center” in his honor. Mata died of ovarian cancer the following year, and, to honor her, Art donated $250,000, with a matching grant from the state, to build the Arthur & Mata Jaffe Center for Book Arts in a 4,800 space at the university For many years, Art served there as director. He now had faculty status as “professor,” living up to the name his soldiers had given him so many years before.

The “Professor,” with a copy of Hamlet.

Art continued to broaden the definition of “book.” In 2012, for example, he collaborated with the university’s Department of Visual Arts and Art History in a photo exhibit of tattoos worn by FAU students. Called “Stories on the Skin,” Art explained that, with their tattoos, students carried messages on their bodies. “I see them,” he said, “as walking books.”

Until his death in 2015, Art kept adding books, broadsides, and lithographs to the Center’s collection. Visitors to the center found books there that were made of aluminum, and out of glass. “I tell people,” he said, “if you walk out of here today and think about a book the way you always did, you haven’t failed. I have. […] You think a book is a cover, a spine, a front and a back, but that’s not what you see here.”

At the time of his death, the collection in Arthur & Mata Jaffe Center for Book Arts numbered 12,000 items. The University had recognized Art’s contributions to the library by giving him an honorary doctorate in humane letters in 2011 and by awarding him the university’s Distinguished Service Medallion three years later. He was buried, beside Lois and Mata, in his old home town in Pennsylvania.

Beverley Driver Eddy

June 2022

1.) Author interview with Si Lewen [Lewin], July 23, 2013.

2.) Ron Hayes, “Arthur Jaffe,” Obituary, The Coastal Star, 8:2 (Feb. 2015), 25.

3.) Unless otherwise noted, factual information about Arthur Jaffe’s life comes from NARA records and from three interviews the author conducted with Jaffe on July 11, July 15, and August 1, 2013.

4.) Marianne R. Sanua, Going Greek: Jewish College Fraternities in the United States 1895-1945. Wayne State University Press, 2003, 205.

5.) E-mail from Si Lewen to Christian Bauer, July 11, 2009; shared by Lewen with the author in September, 2013.

6.) “Israel’s 60th Anniversary,” South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 3 May 2008. Last accessed 27 May, 2022. The information on Jaffe’s service in Israel is taken from this article.

7.) Toby Tabachnick, “Heroes of the Haganah: These three soldiers left Pittsburgh to fight for Israel.” Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, 27 Apr. 2018. Last accessed 16 June, 2022.

8.) Marc Freeman, “Boca Man Nurtured Fledgling Jewish Causes,” The Paul Beach Post, 27 Apr., 1998, 87.

9.) Ron Hayes, “Arthur Jaffe,” Obituary, The Coastal Star, 8:2 (Feb. 2015), 25.

10.) Marc Freeman, “Boca Man Nurtured Fledgling Jewish Causes,” The Paul Beach Post, 27 Apr., 1998, 87.

11.) Ron Hayes, “Arthur Jaffe,” Obituary, The Coastal Star, 8:2 (Feb. 2015), 25.

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