Emeritus Associate Professor of French Mathis Szykowski, 1926-2016
The following, which appeared in the Oberlin News-Tribune, was provided by Carol Graham, wife of Mathis Szykowski. It was edited for this publication by Lisa Gulasy.
Emeritus Associate Professor of French Mathis Szykowski died July 1, 2016, at the age of 90 at Fairview Hospital following a short illness.
Mathis was born February 6, 1926, in Paris to immigrant Jewish parents from Romania and what is now Poland. He was removed from school at the age of 14 as the Germans entered Paris. Two years later, he escaped into the south of France and worked on a farm, in a bakery, and as an apprentice mason until the end of World War II. Twenty-five members of his family were murdered by the Nazis throughout the war.
Mathis returned to Paris in October 1945, living with relatives until he was brought to the United States through an uncle’s sponsorship in 1946. Soon after his arrival, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served in Louisiana and on Kyushu Island during the occupation of Japan in Beppu (a city on the island).
Following his service, Mathis spent 15 years working as an offset pressman in New York City. He was also often engaged in political activities. He began his education at Brooklyn College in 1958 at the age of 32. After earning his master’s and PhD from Stanford University, he spent 30 years at Oberlin College teaching French languages and literature, including many classes of his own invention.
Mathis spent his life engrossed by literature and the study of the Holocaust. He traveled widely throughout Europe and outh central and southeast Asia and became a passionate collector of French 18th century faience, a form of earthenware. In 2009, he published his autobiography, Betrayal and Survival and Beyond.
Mathis is survived by his children, Monique Mojica and Raphael Szykowski; their mother, Gloria Miguel; his grandson, Ehren Bear Thomas; his wife, Carol Graham; and his adoptive children, Sebastian Collett and Catherine Collett.
A celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 30, in the garden of the Oberlin Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 355 East Lorain Street. Memorial contributions may be made to Doctors without Borders.