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Joseph Hahn Papers

Identifier: mss-322

Scope and Content Note

This collection documents the life and work of Jewish Austrian-born artist and poet, Joseph Hahn. It consists of original drawings and paintings, poetry manuscripts, audio and video recordings, correspondence, personal diaries and narratives, publicity material, and personal records (including notes, biographical records, personal articles, and photographs).

Files retained their original titles, commonly including German. Descriptions of contents were added occasionally, in English, and are presented in square brackets. The content of original folders was not altered.

The Artwork series contains pieces in various stages, formats, and sizes including original works, photographs, copies, negatives, studies for larger works, and rough sketches. Items are listed by format which includes multiple oversize works as well as small prints, framed pieces, and bound reproductions. Stage and format are noted when such information could be determined. Additional notes are included detailing final disposition of the original or exhibition information, when available. Artworks are mainly brush, pen, and ink with a handful of paintings. All works are organized by the subject depicted as the title differed for various exhibitions and some titles were used for more than one subject. Some pieces were not titled or dated; these were also organized by the subject depicted. Documents relating to Hahn's art shows and pieces in museums are collected here as files alongside publicity, reviews, artist's statements, and opening night speeches.

The Correspondence series is personal in nature; professional correspondence regarding displaying or donating artworks is collected in the Artwork series while correspondence about publishing his writing is in the Writing series. Note correspondence with wives Olga Kleinmunz Hahn (including letters written during World War II) and Henriette Lerner-Hahn. There is a sizable amount of correspondence with faculty from the Department of German and Russian at the University of Vermont, namely Wolfgang Mieder, David Scrase, and Dennis Mahoney. Their letters often include research articles which have remained with the correspondence, as received. Books written by UVM faculty are located in the Personal series as their connection to the collection is that of personal friendship with Hahn.

The media series was created based on format and includes video and audio recordings of Joseph, focusing on his artistic output.

Biographical information comprises the majority of the Personal series. Joseph's items include identity documents; education records; information about his parents; reading material on topics of interest (including Jewish issues, Holocaust experiences, Czechoslovakia, art and literature); and funeral records.

The Writing series is divided into two categories by style: Poems and Prose. This series includes works in various stages from ideas to published works. Note especially in the Poems section that fragments and annotations are present, showing various stages in the course of a poem's creation.

Due to the predominance of German, all series have been arranged chronologically, with the exception of the Correspondence, which has been arranged alphabetically by last name.


  • 1917-2008


Language Note

The material in this collection is predominantly written in German with some material in English (the first examples of which appear in approximately 1940). A small number of official documents and forms from Hahn's early life are written in Czech, but German is often present as well. Fewer than five items are written using the Hebrew alphabet. The presence of a language other than German is noted in file title.


Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Curator of Manuscripts.

Biographical Note

An artist and poet, Joseph Hahn was one of the last voices of the German-speaking Jewish community in what came to be the Czech Republic. He was born Josef Hahn on July 20, 1917, in the small town of Bergreichenstein, Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where both his father, Siegfried Hahn, and his mother, Frieda Überall Hahn, were teachers. He studied art and literature at the universities of Brno, Prague, and later at Oxford.

On the eve of war in 1939 he eluded the Nazi invasion, finding refuge in England; his parents, handicapped by age and illness, stayed behind and later died in concentration camps. As a refugee in England, he initially worked as a farmhand and then in a factory producing parts for the Royal Air Force.

A scholarship later enabled him to resume art studies, which he completed at the Slade School of Art. He came to the United States in April 1945, joining his fiancée Olga Kleinmunz who had left Czechoslovakia in 1938. The two had known each other since childhood and were married in New York in June 1945. Hahn continued to study art in New York. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1947 whereupon his name was formally changed from Josef Hahn to Joseph Fredric Hahn. Professionally, he worked as a photo retoucher in a top studio. He continued to create art and write poetry in his minimal free time while caring for Olga through a long period of illness from a progressive disease. She died in 1978. In 1987 he married Henriette Lerner, also an artist. The two moved to Middlebury in 1989, inspired by the rural beauty of Vermont.

Once asked where he felt at home, Joseph Hahn said, “I am a citizen of the world ... The earth, nature is one’s home.” Feeling himself both in exile and yet welcomed in Vermont, he continued to create in several media, often depicting suffering in various forms. His pen, brush and ink drawings illustrate the cruelty of war and the threat of atomic annihilation, but also represent his view that art is a form of resistance against evil and death. His artwork is represented in private collections and museums, including the renowned Albertina in Vienna, which acquired 45 drawings in the cycle of “The Agony of the Atom Age.” His art has been exhibited at the University of Vermont, the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Artists’ Gallery in New York, and in Germany. To the end of his life he thought and wrote in German, and published several volumes of poetry, including Eklipse und Strahl (Eclipse and Light) in 1997 and Die Doppelgebärde der Welt (The Double Gesture of the World) in 2004.

He died on October 31, 2007 in Middlebury, Vermont after a short illness. Henriette Lerner-Hahn died in April of 2008. [compiled from his obituary and biographical material in the collection]


17 Linear Feet (4 cartons, 2 box albums, 1 document box, 1 shoe box, 28 oversize folders, 3 oversize boxes, 7 framed pieces of art)


Collection consists of original drawings and paintings, poetry manuscripts, related printed material, correspondence, biographical accounts, identity documents, diaries, and photographs of Jewish Austrian-born artist and poet Joseph Hahn, who emigrated from Austria in 1939. The German language predominates.


Library Research Annex; contact for access.

Existence and Location of Originals

A significant number of original drawings are owned by The Albertina [Museum] in Vienna, Austria (specifically part of the Graphic Collection); by the Jewish Museum in Vienna, Austria; by the Academy of Arts in Honolulu, Hawaii (named Honolulu Museum of Art subsequent to Hahn's association with the organization); and by private individuals. Ownership is noted when known. Exhibition information is also included, when known.

Guide to the Joseph Hahn Papers
2016 September
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University of Vermont Libraries, Special Collections Repository

Silver Special Collections Library
48 University Place, Room B201
Burlington Vermont 05405 U.S.A. US
(802) 656-2138
(802) 656-4038 (Fax)