Walter Blass

March 31, 2022

Holocaust survivor, former Peace Corps director Walter Blass to speak at SIU

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Born nearly a century ago, Walter Blass has experienced much in his lifetime, including being displaced from his country, surviving the Holocaust after his father was arrested on the first day of World War II, serving as a Peace Corps director in Afghanistan and much more. He will share some of his life stories and insights during an April 7 appearance on the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus.

Everyone is welcome to attend “A Conversation with Walter Blass: Holocaust Survivor, Refugee, Peace Corps Director, Business Executive” at 4:30 p.m. April 7 in the University Museum Auditorium at Faner Hall (Room 1526.) Admission is free, and no tickets are required. Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-seated basis.

Blass will touch on several topics that have not only impacted his life, but that are also quite relevant in today’s world, including immigration, what it is like to be a refugee, European reparations and survivors’ guilt. SIU faculty members with expertise on these subjects will join Blass for a panel discussion. A question-and-answer session will follow. The presentation will wrap up with a reception in the lobby outside the auditorium.

“SIU is pleased to bring Walter Blass to SIU and present students, faculty, staff and community members with this wonderful opportunity to learn about important parts of history from someone who has lived it,” said Paul Frazier, vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion. “Philosopher George Santayana said, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ With the world in such turmoil today, Mr. Blass has many valuable lessons to teach us. We need to hear about firsthand experiences like his while we can.”

From refugee to business executive

Blass was uprooted at the tender age of 5 in 1935 when his family of Jewish heritage fled his native Germany after the Nazi party took control. His lawyer father had doubts about Adolf Hitler and moved the family to Belgium. That wasn’t far enough, though, as Walter’s father was arrested and sent to a concentration camp, leading Blass and his mother to flee to France where they were arrested and jailed in Agen. Seeing the young boy was apparently destined for a concentration camp, the jailer instead sent Blass to a home for delinquent children, likely saving his life. Eventually, the family reunited in the United States.

Young Walter learned English, became a Quaker and graduated from Choate, Swarthmore, Princeton and Columbia. He was one of the first economists hired in the Bell System but interrupted his career to volunteer with the Peace Corps. He went on to become a director for AT&T, and in his 92 years, has also been a university professor and trustee, taught in France, China and beyond, and spoken around the world. In addition, he founded Strategic Plans Unlimited, a consulting firm.  

To learn more

Sponsors of the presentation include the Office of Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Library Affairs; University Museum and the School of History and Philosophy.

For more information about the presentation by Walter Blass or the numerous diversity initiatives at SIU, visit the website for the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, email or call 618-453-1186.