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Professor Emerita Antje Bultmann Lemke remembered by colleagues as heroic, gracious

Courtesy of Syracuse University Archives

Antje Bultmann Lemke, a professor emerita in the School of Information Studies, died last week at the age of 98.

Antje Bultmann Lemke is remembered by her colleagues as much for her gracious personality as she is for her heroic accomplishments during the Nazi Party’s rule in Germany.

Lemke, a professor emerita in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, died last Monday. She was 98 years old.

“You just felt completely calm with her, when you met her,” said Ruth Small, a professor in the iSchool, who was a master’s student when she met Lemke. Small said she admired Lemke immediately even though she didn’t get to know Lemke personally until she herself became an iSchool faculty member.

For David Stam, an SU librarian emeritus, and his wife, Deirdre Stam, a former iSchool faculty member, Lemke was an important reason they came to Syracuse. In 1985, David was interviewing for a position as a librarian and Deirdre was interviewing for Lemke’s job. When they were considering taking the jobs and moving to Syracuse from New York City, the couple spoke to Lemke multiple times.

“She said the thing about Syracuse is there are wonderful people here,” Deirdre said.

Lemke was born in 1918 and raised in Germany. Despite dreaming of being a doctor, she studied to be a librarian because it was one of the few professions that did not require membership in the Nazi Party. During Nazi rule, Lemke used a library to help people who were trying to escape persecution, according to an SU News release.

She also risked her life working with German resistance movement to deliver documents that helped protect and free people, per an iSchool News release. In 1998, her work to save Jews was recognized by the Temple Society of Concord.

“Her way of processing this is always to look for the best in people. She could have been really angry and hurt and fearful, but that’s not the way she processed it,” Deirdre said. “She was always encouraging people and assuming the best.”

Small said even though Lemke performed many heroic deeds, she wasn’t one to brag about anything and kept that part of her life fairly private.

Liz Liddy, dean of the iSchool, took two of Lemke’s classes as a master’s student. Liddy said a student in one of these classes said he thought the Nazi rule and its consequences were not real. Despite the experiences Lemke had in Germany during that time, Liddy said Lemke responded to the student in a manner that was calm and factual.

“She handled it so professionally and gracefully,” Liddy said. “I was impressed as heck.”

Liddy added that Lemke was gracious and an example of “what your mother would tell you to be as a woman.”

After she retired in 1986, Lemke was a regular presence at the iSchool. Although she went about her work and projects quietly, Small said she was well-known across campus.

As she grew older, Lemke found ways to keep herself active. She was fond of art, literature, European history and playing the violin, David said.

Small also said she gained a new perspective of Lemke when she learned her aunt and Lemke knew each other because they were both founding members of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra.

Lemke will be honored through the Antje Lemke Book Award, which was introduced after Lemke’s retirement. At the iSchool’s convocation, an SU student graduating with a master’s degree in library and information science will receive a book that Lemke would have valued, Liddy said. The award will be given to a student who is passionate about learning and dedicated to service, she added.

The professor emerita had a “gracious” aura that was apparent to everyone she interacted with, Liddy said.

“She was very much loved by her students, and I think that’s the biggest compliment you can give a professor,” Small said.

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