German-born Scheck has a sweet tooth
Professor Rafael Scheck is a fan of Germany and sweets, especially honey.
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“I’m the only German I know who vividly detests beer,” Raffael Scheck, professor of history at the College, said. “But my mother has a theory that people, men specifically, who are not into alcohol have a sweet tooth, and I totally fit that theory. I have not only one sweet tooth, but I have a whole row.”
Scheck teaches Modern European History on the Hill, focusing specifically on German and French history during World War II. He is known to reward his students by preparing Linzertorte, an Austrian dessert and a tradition in his family, at the end of the semester.
Scheck was born in Germany and learned to speak French, German, Italian, Latin, Swiss German and English growing up. As the child of a physicist, he lived in various European countries before his family settled in Switzerland when he was seven years old.
After completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Zurich, Scheck pursued graduate work at Brandeis University with a professor who had done research on Adolf Hitler. “I was very surprised to see in America that the name of the university or college carries so much weight. For me, it was the person, the advisor [that was important].”
Despite his international background, Scheck experienced culture shock when he came to the United States. “[In Europe], the whole college experience is just not there—people go out to cafes and smoke. So it took me some adjusting to the different environment.” Scheck lived on campus at Brandeis, which helped the transition.
Having completed his studies at Brandeis, Scheck made his way to Mayflower Hill after a one-year stint teaching at “an unnamed college between [Colby] and Boston where students wear ‘Friends don’t let friends go to Colby’ T-shirts.
“My specialty is French prisoners of war overseas; basically, colonial POWs in German hands in the Second World War,” Scheck said. Scheck’s most recent publication, Hitler’s African Victims, is his fourth research book and investigates the massacres of black French Prisoners of War (POWs). “I’m now working on the experience of prisoners of color because Germans generally treated, for example, black French prisoners with French passports the same as people from Africa. They only looked at skin color,” Scheck said.
Scheck’s interest in the subject matter started when he was a graduate student. “My original interest was in German right-wing movements, and I wrote several books on right-wing figures and parties,” he said. “But then I read that there was a massacre of black French soldiers by some German tank units in the campaign of 1940. There was a big exhibit [on the event] in 1995 but now, nobody ever talks about it. In 2002, I decided I would make that the focus of my research.”
Scheck is currently working on a book manuscript about the captivity experience of black prisoners from West and North Africa. “I came across an interesting discovery the summer before last when I copied a statement of a released prisoner of war from 1942,” Scheck said. “It was anonymous but was extremely well-written and very carefully argued. I found out the document was by the most famous prisoner, Léopold Sédar Senghor, who was the president of Senegal in the 1960s and ’70s.”
After investigating the authenticity of the document, Scheck published it in Jeune Afrique. The weekly magazine cited and interviewed Scheck and published the issue both in France and in Francophone Africa. “I’m going to keep working on that because he is a very interesting man,” Scheck said.
In addition to his work at the College, Scheck regularly travels back and forth from Europe, as most of the documents he studies are located in European archives. Scheck recently returned from Burgundy, France, where he was honored at a dinner and conference organized by Mireille Hannon, the director of the documentary Les 43 Tirailleurs, for which Scheck was interviewed. The documentary deals with one of the massacres that Scheck wrote about in his book.
In addition to his busy academic schedule writing, teaching and traveling, Scheck enjoys playing the cello, chess and pick-up soccer in his free time. But mainly, his three kids, who range in age between five and 16, keep him very busy. “The five-year old, in particular,” Scheck said with a laugh. Luckily, the top drawer of his desk is stocked with treats whenever he needs an energy boost.