Remembering Ursula Ludz (1936-2022)
A Tribute by Friends and Colleagues
Ursula Ludz (1936-2022), eminent scholar, editor, and translator of Hannah Arendt’s writings, has passed away. For decades, her work shaped international Arendt scholarship. We’ve gathered testimonies from friends and colleagues who honor and remember her life and work.
Through her editions and translations, Ursula Ludz built a bridge across the Atlantic. This connection between the U.S. and Europe, in particular Germany, is reflected by the international contributors to this commemoration. Ludz’ pivotal edition of Arendt’s Denktagebuch is mentioned in many of the following entries – maybe not by coincidence as these Thinking Notebooks are not the least this: a plural weave of languages and tones.
Listen to her 2010 Lunchtime Talk at the Arendt Center here.
Jerome Kohn, Ingeborg Nordmann, Wolfgang Heuer, Antonia Grunenberg, Marie-Luise Knott, Waltraud Meints-Stender, Stefanie Rosenmüller, Thomas Meyer, Helene Tieger, Patchen Markell, Thomas Wild, Jana Schmidt, Alexander R. Bazelow, Roger Berkowitz.
Jerome Kohn (Cutchogue, New York)
In 1979, recommended each to each by Lotte Köhler and Mary McCarthy, Ursula Ludz and I first met. The living bond between all four of us was Hannah Arendt, who died in 1975. Lotte and Mary were among Arendt’s oldest and closest friends; Ursula and I were newcomers to what was still called “Hannah’s tribe.” The day Ursula and I met lives in memory as the immediate rapport of two strangers, and even more as the recognition and reticence that distinguish stranger.
For more than forty years, Ursula and I met off and on, a number of times in the beautiful Bavarian mountains, close to where she lived. There was an eventful long weekend in Paris spent tracking down a French filmed interview with Arendt, and also listening to Paul Celan declaimed by an haute bourgeoise with a Swabian accent. Together we attended symposia in Berlin, Bremen, Oldenburg, and more frequently in and near New York, which for years Ursula visited on a regular basis. The time we spent together was always focused on Hannah Arendt. We exchanged our work on Arendt and asked many questions of each other. I am fully aware how much my work owes to our friendship.
Ursula opened a new field of Arendt studies in Germany. As no one had before her, she gathered, edited, and translated Arendt’s English writings, the first of which were, I believe, the Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (which Arendt always specified as Kant’s unwritten political philosophy). Ursula edited and translated texts for two major collections of essays, the titles of which include the three tenses of time -- past, future, and present – indicating the web of temporal relations which absorbed Arendt from first to last. Ursula published two manuscripts for books which Arendt had left unfinished, as well as a stunning volume whose title is made of words Arendt’s addressed to herself, “Ich will verstehen” (“I Will To Understand”). The latter work contains almost 100 pages of bibliographical information, which more than a few scholars of Arendt now refer to as their “Bible.” Ursula’s immense undertaking, with Ingeborg Nordmann, to publish Arendt’s Denktagebuch (“Thinking Journals”), has influenced Arendt scholarship since it appeared in two large volumes twenty years ago. Finally, though I likely have forgotten other works, there are multiple volumes of Ursula’s editions of Arendt’s huge correspondence, which include the letters she wrote to and received from Martin Heidegger, spanning the fifty years of their relationship.
A couple months ago I wrote to Ursula asking for the proper reference to an early letter from Heidegger to Arendt, in which he responds to her citation of a favorite poem, Friedrich Schiller’s Das Mӓdchen aus der Fremde. I knew I had read this letter, but could not put my finger on it! Ursula wrote back attaching a “sample from my files,” as she put it. This extraordinary sample contained Arendt’s references to, and associations with, this poem by Schiller. There was indeed a letter from 1927, not from Heidegger but addressed to Erwin Löwenson, a German Jew who emigrated to Palestine. In sympathy with him, the twenty-year old Hannah likens herself to Schiller’s maiden: “You are right,” she says, “that the world and everything in it which interests me eludes me, and that is precisely because I am a stranger from afar. I have lost my roots, and the world has lost its meaning. My longing for them both is hard and harmful.”
Ursula’s file included a letter from Arendt to Heidegger, written in 1950, five years after World War II ended. In it she expresses her need to reveal to Heidegger who she is. She writes that she is neither a Jewish or a German woman, but das Mӓdchen aus der Fremde! Here she names Schiller’s poem in a double sense, with wit! Yet even before she quit Germany, Arendt discovered who she was in that same poem. Then Heidegger sent her a poem he had written for her, to which he gave the same title as Schiller’s! In fact, Heidegger and Arendt had addressed the question “Who am I?” years before (this is what I had “remembered”). In a letter to her when she was not yet twenty, Heidegger wrote that her love for him thrust her into her “innermost existence.” He adds that his love for her means, “I want you to be who you are.”
In a previous letter to me Ursula had written, with neither lament nor complaint, that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. l answered as quietly as I could, saying that with proper German care she surely will recover. Now, in this same and final letter, so full of answers to my question, she wrote: “Thank you, dear Jerry, thank you so much. I feel beschenkt by your compassionate mail. You made me very happy.”
Ursula’s final words to me include one word, beschenkt, from Schiller’ poem. Toward the end he remembers that the maiden who arrives from far away bestows a gift on everyone who greets her. A month later, on a sunny September morning, I was at work when Roger Berkowitz telephoned to say that Ursula had died. The sun light disappeared, as if swallowed by a black cloud.
She who stands apart endures the pain of being human.
Ingeborg Nordmann (Bensheim)
The publication of Hannah Arendt's Denktagebuch was so closely linked to a broadening of our sensibilities that we did not think it right transform our getting to know one another into the familiar forms of acquaintance. Without explicitly talking about it, this seemed to open onto a much greater possibility for intimacy. In this way, what emerged between us was a range of unusual conversations, allowing for distance and closeness at the same time.
Shortly before her death she wrote me the following card:
Munich, 5 June, 2022
Dear Mrs. Nordmann,
Here comes – at last – Christa Wolf's City of Angels. I look forward to reading it with you and I am sure we will have plenty to talk about.
Yours sincerely, Ursula Ludz
Wolfgang Heuer (Berlin)
We are only visitors in this world, and Ursula Ludz has left without us being able to say goodbye to her. The news of her passing came unexpectedly. Perhaps she did not want to share her private life with any public; at least I only learned of her fatal illness a few days before her death. Perhaps this was because during the pandemic we had reduced contact within the editorial team of “HannahArendt.net” to the most basic conversations via Zoom. Yet her passing strikes me as unexpected precisely because Ursula Ludz was so present over many decades. She shaped Arendt scholarship in Germany like no one else, whether through publications of numerous Arendt writings or through her unfailing advice whenever someone was looking for something in Arendt's estate. She was scrupulous in her work, but humor and commitment also flickered in her alert eyes. Even at her advanced age, Ursula Ludz followed the most recent publications in Arendt scholarship, and occasionally commented, with her usual acumen and critical attitude, “Well, that wasn’t a home run either, was it?” Her consistency and reliability over the decades made her seem timeless and so now her death seems unreal.
Antonia Grunenberg (Berlin)
Ursula Ludz was one of the people who was always there when I needed reliable information about Hannah Arendt's life and work. Even in the phases when we were not in frequent contact, I knew that all it took was a letter or an email and the conversation resumed. Everyone who sought her advice shared this experience.
Ursula Ludz was a passionate philologist. She was as precise as she was relentless. Compromise was alien to her; she usually knew better. The many connoisseurs of Arendt's texts owe her a more subtle way of knowing, a contextual approach to texts. She taught readers what it means to reconstruct the way of thinking from the way of writing and vice versa. She was loathe to form quick opinions from reading a single text. Her métier was the clean, clearly provable statement based on comparative readings of texts.
Her last major editorial work, produced together with Ingeborg Nordmann, was the publication of the notebooks that Arendt had kept from the summer of 1950 until her death, Arendt’s Denktagebuch. This two-volume collection of notes was, along with the bibliography, the greatest gift Ursula (and Ingeborg) could give to Arendt's readers. The volume is a true treasure chest for those who want to understand how Arendt thought.
Marie Luise Knott (Berlin)
Ursula Ludz was something like our grail keeper. We, the community of Arendt scholars and friends, are enormously indebted to her. She translated and edited Hannah Arendt’s essays, and whenever we had questions, she was there opening her enormous archive of knowledge ready to help. I personally am most grateful for her edition of Arendt’s Denktagebuch, which she deciphered and annotated – in collaboration with Ingeborg Nordmann – with her characteristic attention to detail. This edition opened marvelous insights into the subterranean layers of Hannah Arendt’s ways of thinking!
Sometimes, writing to her "freenet"-email address, I wondered if she chose the provider because of its connotation with “freedom.” It would have suited her. Our temperaments were quite different, and yet we shared the same best friend: Hannah Arendt. As we both set out to publish Arendt’s writings in Germany in the mid 1980s – she with Piper and I with Rotbuch –, we felt like strangers. Later, through our common best friend, we became intensely connected. We made plans. In 2004, we put together a volume of Arendt’s essays on the “Jewish Question,” which Piper Verlag published as Wir Juden in 2019. Once, during the most intensive period of our editorial work, "Ulu", as I privately called her to myself sometimes, wrote to me: “Is it possible that I haven’t yet received an email from you today?” Now, there won’t be any more emails from her. She is missed. Already. Deeply.
Waltraud Meints-Stender (Hannover)
Ursula Ludz will be missed. Her passionate commitment to the work of Hannah Arendt, her insistence on the precision of editing work, her insistence on adherence to the "Arendtian spirit," which for her was a liberal one in the best sense of the word, her resistant willingness to enter into controversial discourse in order to preserve Arendt's legacy, her cheerful disputability that showed itself as devotion to others.
Stefanie Rosenmüller (Dortmund)
Meticulous and persistent, Ursula Ludz’ collaboration with Ingeborg Nordmann on Hannah Arendt’s Denktagebuch, and the conscientious, detailed background information and committed editorial decisions they provided in it, shaped my own reading of Arendt and that of my generation.
She was equally impressive as a personality, appearing quite incorruptible by status, vanity, or fame. Her outright old-fashioned sense of duty, which I experienced during our time as co-editors at “HannahArendt.net,” was entirely oriented toward completeness and accuracy: all editorial 'homework’ would be completed on time. In so doing she was prepared both to drily issue editorial corrections to others as well as to accept and promptly incorporate feedback on her own.
Petite in stature, her sense of discipline made her seem very proper and even stiff in her discreteness, yet never cold or capricious. I would have welcomed the chance to encounter her again.
Thomas Meyer (Berlin)
“Hannah Arend and Martin Heidegger – a Friendship?” This is how Ursula Ludz and I were announced, in the Süddeutsche Zeitung of May 28, 1998, as panelists at a public event in Munich. It said "Arend," likely an uncorrected transmission error. But on re-reading the almost 25-year-old note, I was struck again by the sense that we performed something unfinished, something in which the essential was missing, and yet everyone knew what it was about. Unfinished because what was concealed by the title wasn’t the problem of the relationship between Arendt and Heidegger but an edition of their correspondence that Ursula Ludz would publish soon after that event. Many more people than expected arrived for the panel discussion. It had to be moved to a bigger space. At the time, I was a graduate student and Frau Ludz already one of the leading editors and translators of Arendt’s works in Germany. I have a feeling that I remember how calm and focused she was while I imagined myself in the role of the troublemaker. The Nazi Heidegger against the Jewess Arendt, that was the constellation I had in mind – if necessary, against Arendt and thereby banking on the fact, so I thought, that Frau Ludz had to do justice to both sides. Things were going to get heated. And it did end up being a heated debate.
It would be wrong to connect this first encounter with Ursula Ludz in any way with my later interest in Hannah Arendt's life and work. We also continued, almost to the end, to have arguments, more or less heated. I didn't always understand why she did something one way and not another. This I told and wrote to her, sometimes publicly, sometimes privately. She always responded, sometimes publicly, sometimes privately. And she let me know that I would be amiss to believe I had reinvented the wheel on Arendt.
To sum up: In the final years of her life we were part of an exchange that I would not want to miss. Now that Ursula Ludz is dead, her work can be surveyed. I am grateful to her for criticism, dispute, and approval. Because this much is true: Without Frau Ludz, Hannah Arendt would have remained of interest to a few specialists in Germany. To say so is the least even those who were not always convinced by her work should now concede to her. Thank God I used to tell her this all the time.
Helene Tieger (Catskill, New York)
As Bard College’s archivist, I remember Ursula Ludz very fondly. Her exceptional courtesy was memorable. Initially, Ursula visited our special collection of Hannah Arendt’s personal library before we had an official reading room. We used to set her up near the reference desk, clearing away the stapler, paper clips and paper cutter for her to sit down with a stack of Arendt books. Students used to clamor around her looking for the stapler, but she remained completely absorbed in her work. And despite this chaotic setting, she always smiled and waved away any apologies at the end of her visits. She was truly happy to be able to work with the collection under any circumstances. I like to think Ursula was really the reason we decided to create the reading room which now welcomes scholars from across the globe on a daily basis.
Patchen Markell (Ithaca, New York)
I did not meet Ursula Ludz in person until 2012, at a workshop on Hannah Arendt’s Denktagebuch at Bard College, but she had already been a presence in my scholarly life for many years, thanks at first to a spiral-bound draft of her annotated bibliography of Arendt’s publications that was passed on to me by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl in the early 1990s. I knew from this document, and then from the annotations to the Denktagebuch, which Ursula edited with Ingeborg Nordmann, that she was a meticulous scholar, with an enviable eye for detail. What I didn’t know until much later was how much pleasure she took in tracking those details down, in sharing them with others to whom they mattered, in saying and showing why they mattered—and in doing all this in a way that somehow seemed complementary to, rather than in tension with, her talent for writing and editing for a wide public audience.
I got a sense of this once I saw her in action, and from talking and corresponding with her about Arendt’s work, but not only in that context: my most treasured memory of Ursula is of a long walk we took together around the campus of the Freie Universität and through the residential streets of Dahlem in Berlin, where we had both come for a conference in 2017. (Perhaps it was the jet lag, but despite being at least a foot taller and decades younger than her, I could barely keep up!) Around every corner, something would prompt a memory, and as we walked she wove these into a story that was at once about her family and her studies and about the city and its history. These were, I suppose, “footnotes” in a different sense from the ones she published, but they had the same generous spirit: not the grey spirit of the antiquarian, but the spirit of the passionate elder who, to adapt a line from Arendt, “points out the details” and says to those who’ve come after her: “this is our world.” That world, and we in it, are poorer without her.
Thomas Wild (Kingston, New York)
Like many, I first encountered Ursula Ludz in the form of her editions and translations of Hannah Arendt's writings. Anyone in Germany in the years after 1989 who sought a conversation with Arendt's works in order to think differently about power and violence, freedom and politics, poetry and historiography at that turning point in our time inevitably worked with books that Ursula Ludz had brought into the public sphere. "Menschen in finsteren Zeiten" (1989) and "Zwischen Vergangenheit und Zukunft" (1994) she first collected and published in German. "What is Politics?" (1993) and Arendt's correspondence with Martin Heidegger (1998), both published from her papers, provided documents for an expanded understanding of Arendt's political and poetic thought. And then, of course, there is the "Denktagebuch" (2002), edited in collaboration with Ingeborg Nordmann, without which no serious work on Hannah Arendt can do today. And last but not least, her annotated Arendt bibliography - irreplaceable to this day. Ursula Ludz has set standards.
We met in 2001 at a conference on the 50th anniversary of Arendt's book on totalitarianism in Oldenburg. I was impressed and encouraged by the way she approached young people who were just beginning to study Arendt with the same attention to detail, politeness and playful irony as she did the well-known names, and without any conceit. Ten years later, we collaborated on the editing of a book on Hannah Arendt and Joachim Fest. Shortly before the book went to press, the chief editor and Fest's heir, himself an influential publisher, wanted to force a book title on us that they hoped would bring them and us highly lucrative sales figures: a supposed Arendt quotation, the wording of which, however, was not quite right and was taken from a text that did not appear in our edition. Frau Ludz and I agreed at a glance: false advertising! The fact that the dainty, friendly lady told the two powerful gentlemen exactly those words without hesitation was probably as little expected by them as her steadfastness in the ensuing discussion. In the end, our favorite title made it onto the book cover. When we laughed about the episode later, it was mainly because of the peculiar power that facts can sometimes have.
Ursula Ludz kept coming back to two of Hannah Arendt's principles that excited and inspired her: "I need to understand" and “the gift of making distinctions”. She strove to make her own understanding of Arendt's thought as discriminating as possible. Which readings were right 'in the sense of Hannah Arendt' and which were wrong, she had, with all modesty and politeness, quite clear ideas about. But it would never have occurred to her to dominate the discourse with her personal point of view and to exclude others. Her devotion was never to self-interest and always to 'the cause itself'. With this, she realized another principle formulated by Arendt in "Truth and Politics" which was one of Ursula's favorite essays: There is only one way a reporter can make facts heard, and that is through her personal credibility, in other words her "independence and integrity".
Jana Schmidt (Red Hook, New York)
“What makes us think? Hegel’s answer: Reconciliation. Reconciliation with what? With things as they are. But this we do constantly anyhow by establishing ourselves in the world. Why repeat it in thought?” (Hannah Arendt, Denktagebuch, May 1970)
In 2013-2014 I spent several months at NYU’s Bobst Library and in the vast main reading room of the New York Public Library. Still subsisting in the US on a student visa, I had a part-time job translating patents while trying to finish my dissertation and despite being two years into my prospectus the direction of the manuscript remained very unclear to me. All I knew was that I wanted to write about how postwar exile writers reimaged the world beyond questions of representation but I lacked a way of capturing the sense of “worldness” that emerged from these writings to me. That is, I myself lacked a sense of the world in any other way than as a loss.
Then I discovered Hannah Arendt’s Denktagebuch, carefully edited by Ingeborg Nordmann and Ursula Ludz. Specifically, I discovered the notion of reconciliation that weaves its way through the two volumes from the very first entry in June 1950 to some of the final fragments in 1970. Reconciliation was not a concept I would have been comfortable with; in the context of German postwar debates this felt like a conservative and even revisionist dogma intended to silence the victims. An attitude like Jean Améry’s radical questioning of the possibility of having any kind of a shared world after the Holocaust seemed more authentic (“Without trust in the world I face my surroundings as a Jew who is alien and alone”). But as I carried the heavy volumes of the Denktagebuch with me on the subway to the library and back each week, my thinking began to change. Perhaps “reconciliation with the world” offered a path beyond the binaries of active and passive, rebellion and resignation, “moving on” (Bewältigung) and mourning? Nordmann and Ludz’s often astonishingly suggestive notes to Arendt’s entries seemed to open this possibility. For instance, in a footnote to the first entry of the first volume they link this thought fragment on forgiveness, revenge, and reconciliation to the poem “Mnemosyne” by Friedrich Hölderlin: “Und vieles / Wie auf den Schultern eine / Last von Scheitern ist / zu behalten.” At the time, the image of a burden (Scheite, fire wood) that was also a failure (Scheitern, failure), which to me suggested the idea that we may keep our failures, revolutionized my thinking on reconciliation. If reconciliation opened itself to resignation, rather than warding it off, it might abandon binary logic in favor of a reconciliation with failure. In this way, the Denktagebuch gave home to my thinking – and a world in a footnote. And for that I am grateful to Ursula Ludz.
Alexander R. Bazelow (Wayne, New Jersey)
For those of us who knew, admired, and worked with Ursula Ludz, the news of her death carries a great loss, but most especially for the world of Hannah Arendt scholarship. A deeply private person, the space she inhabited was the space of archival research, a very public space in which all with a genuine interest are welcome, regardless of pedigree, credentials or personal status.
Without a permanent academic position, over the decades both alone, and in collaboration with others, Ursula transformed Hannah Arendt scholarship in Germany making accessible texts which were previously difficult to obtain or unknown, spending large amounts of her own funds in the process. She once told me it was not just a privilege to do this work but a joy. Her warm disposition, the way her eyes lit up when she was pleased, her love of irony and humor, her lack of rancor or bitterness despite experiencing many tragedies, just made you want to be around her. Her delight in finding a new letter, draft of a manuscript, diary, provenance of a necklace, or any of the innumerable artifacts associated with an historical person’s life was what reminded you of a child's delight in finding a hidden treasure. It never ends, or rather it ends only when life ends.
Ursula loved poetry, and in thinking about her I was reminded of Hart Crane’s beautiful poem in honor of Herman Melville. Melville, the merchant seaman who spent his last years as a customs inspector, believing his life had been a failure, knew a great deal about shipwrecks, both material and personal, and voyages of discovery. Unlike many of his most memorable characters, the sea was not his final resting place; he lies not in a tomb but in a simple grave. The poem is very subtle and utterly unsentimental. Monody, an ode sung by an actor in ancient Greek drama, cannot raise the drowned mariners; nor can Melville, nor anyone else. It can only inform the living. The humanities make their home in that “living space”, but scholars are its guardians. The death of a scholar is a tragedy for the world, but as with Melville’s magnificent creations, it is a tragedy that leaves behind blessings.
At Melville’s Tomb
By Hart Crane
Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.
And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.
Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.
Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides … High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.
Hart Crane, “At Melville’s Tomb” from The Complete Poems of Hart Crane by Hart Crane, edited by Marc Simon. Copyright © 1933, 1958, 1966 by Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1986 by Marc Simon.
Roger Berkowitz (New York City)
I met Ursula Ludz on December 23rd, 2009 for lunch at Edgar's Cafe in Manhattan. I don't recall what had brought her to the city, but she was tickled by the idea of eating in Poe's old house. This was the first of many lunches at historic Cafes, mostly in New York City or Munich. I visited her often, sometimes traveling there just so we could meet for one of our meals. Inevitably, we would discuss some of the latest publications about Hannah Arendt, often something Ursula was scandalized by, and every encounter was followed by a series of emails in which Ursula would comment trenchantly on a key passage of an essay we had discussed.
Early on we connected very much regarding our interest in Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem while she was editing a series of essays on the topic for the Hannaharendt.net web portal she helped to found. We shared our frustration over the many mis-readings of the book. To my great satisfaction, she was taken with my reading of the book's conclusion as an exercise in non-reconciliation; and I was excited that I came to understand Arendt's thinking about reconciliation through my reading of Arendt's Denktagebuch. Ursula's many editions of Arendt's work and her excellent translations have helped bring about an Arendt renaissance in Germany. But it is her herculean task of editing (along with Ingeborg Nordmann) the Denktagebuch for which I will always be most grateful. It has transformed our understanding of Arendt's thinking, and it is a gift that Ursula and Ingeborg have given to posterity.
Many of our emails combined discussions of Arendt with Ursula's battles with technology. I set up a Dropbox account on her computer one visit. Soon after, she wrote me that she was receiving regular messages saying: ""Hallo, U.L. -- your dropbox is lonely ... Please visit us again." I don't know how to react to this." When I explained that she could just ignore these messages, she responded with a colloquial German expression: "Ich habe mich "ausgeklinkt"!" Somehow, I didn't know the German verb "klinken" (to latch) or the verb "ausklinken" (to disengage). I misread the word as auslinken instead of ausklinken and riffed on the word I had invented. This led to a lesson in German from Ursula who wrote:
Our last meeting was again in late December, this time in Bremen in 2019, where she traveled to see me my and meet my wife when I received the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thinking. We had breakfast in Bremen--who knew it would be our last.
"Just to get things straight, a short lecture in lexicology! It is not "ausge-linkt," but "ausge-klinkt." However, the English "link" may well have been a "klink" in former times. The reference verb is "klinken," which means to use a "Klinke," e.g., a "Türklinke," your doorhandle, which one can "einklinken," "zuklinken," and, rarely used, "ausklinken." In the figurative sense "einklinken" can mean "join in," and "ausklinken" "join out," accordingly."
It is not only U.L.'s dropbox that is lonely now.
English versions of contributions originally written in German were collaboratively created by Thomas Bartscherer, Jana Schmidt, and Thomas Wild.