Book-In-Focus: Holocaust Survivor to Harvard Dean: Memoirs of a Refugee's Progress by Michael Sh
Michael Shinagel served as the dean of continuing education at Harvard from 1975 to 2013. When he retired, he was the longest serving dean in the university's history. Shinagel's career is paved with many achievements and honors. However, the road leading up to his Harvard career is not one without difficulties. In fact, it was a life so tumultuous, Shinagel had a hard time reconnecting with it for a long time. Shinagel's former last name is Schinagel. His father dropped the "C" to adapt to their new American life after having escaped the clutches of Nazi Germany. When their family first set foot on American soil, Shinagel did not speak a word of English. This fact and many others make his life story and journey to a successful career nothing short of a miracle.
For a long time, Michael Shinagel has suppressed the memories of his childhood. He described his formative years to be of trauma and anxiety. It took many years of therapy for him to reconcile his past with his present and in his book, Holocaust Survivor to Harvard Dean: Memoirs if a Refugee's Progress, he recounts his childhood, family life, the journey to safety, and the challenging road that led to his success.
Michael Shinagel shares to the world a chance for people to know a part of his past that shaped his future through his work Holocaust Survivor to Harvard Dean: Memoirs of a Refugee's Progress. Michael took the dying embers of hope and tucked it away in the corner of his heart where no one could put it out. Our experiences, be it of love or loss, will always be a part of who we are, but it does not encapsulate our entirety. It is merely a chapter, a prequel, or a stanza to one of our most significant works.
Shinagel's story is both unique and resonating with many immigrant stories. It is of an exodus from the cruelties of a previous circumstance, facing the challenges of building a new life and reconciling an often painful past to the present. For Shinagel, it is important to share this story, however painful. In the author's own words, "[As] a Holocaust survivor, I have a kind of moral responsibility to bear witness."
Reviewed by Sophia Wadler
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LMichael Shinagel received his AB degree in English from Oberlin College and his AM and Ph.D. in English literature from Harvard University. He has taught at Cornell University and Union College, where he was professor and chair of the English Department. In 1975, he returned to Harvard as the new director of Continuing Education, and at his retirement in 2013, he was acclaimed as the longest-serving dean in Harvard history and as one of the transformative leaders of the university. At Harvard, he was a senior lecturer on English in the English Department for more than thirty years, a lecturer in Extension for forty years, and master of Quincy House for fifteen years. Among his many administrative roles were his service as president of the Harvard Faculty Club, a member of the board of freshman advisors, associate director of the Office for Graduate and Career Plans, chair of the faculty committee in dramatic arts, member of the faculty council, member of the committee on commencement parts, director of the Harvard Summer School, and dean of Continuing Education. His publications include Daniel Defoe and Middle-Class Gentility (Harvard University Press), A Concordance to the Poems of Jonathan Swift (Cornell University Press), the Norton critical edition of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (W. W. Norton), and The Gates Unbarred: A History of University Extension at Harvard, 1910–2009 (Puritan Press). He remains a distinguished service lecturer in Extension at Harvard, teaching graduate seminars and directing master’s theses in literature in the Extension School as well as teaching professional development workshops on leadership and decision-making in the Division of Continuing Education.