Alice Herz

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Alice Herz
Alice Herz.jpg
Alice Strauss

(1882-05-25)May 25, 1882
DiedMarch 26, 1965(1965-03-26) (aged 82)
Cause of deathBurns from self-immolation

Alice Herz (née Straus; May 25, 1882 – March 26, 1965) was a longtime peace activist who was the first person in the United States known to have immolated herself in protest of the escalating Vietnam War, following the example of Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức who immolated himself in protest of the oppression of Buddhists under the South Vietnamese government.[1][2]


Of German Jewish ancestry, Herz was a widow who left Germany with her daughter, Helga, in 1933, saying that she anticipated the advent of Nazism long before it arrived. Alice and Helga Herz were living in France when Germany invaded in 1940. After spending time in an internment camp, Camp Gurs, near the Spanish border, Alice and Helga eventually came to the United States in 1942.[1]

They settled in Detroit, Michigan, where Helga became a librarian at the Detroit Public Library and Alice worked for some time as an adjunct instructor of German at Wayne State University. The pair petitioned for, but were denied, U.S. citizenship due to their refusal to vow to defend the nation by arms. Helga later reapplied and was granted citizenship in 1954, but it is not clear if Alice ever did so. Alice and Helga joined the Unitarians and both became involved in the activities of several peace groups.[3]

Herz wrote an open letter, which she distributed to several friends and fellow activists before her death. In her letter she accused President Lyndon B. Johnson of using his military power "to wipe out whole countries of his choosing". She appealed to the American people to “awake and take action” against war and explained her self-immolation as an attempt "to make myself heard".[4][5]


Herz set fire to herself on a street in Detroit on March 16, 1965, at the age of 82.[6][7][8][9] A motorist and his two sons were driving by and saw her burning and put out the flames. She died of her injuries ten days later.[10][2] According to Taylor Branch's At Canaan's Edge (2006), it was President Johnson's address to Congress in support of a Voting Rights Act that led her to believe the moment was propitious to protest the Vietnam War. The war continued for another ten years following her death.[1]


Confiding to a friend before her death, Herz remarked that she had used all of the accepted protest methods available to activists—including marching, protesting, and writing countless articles and letters—and she wondered what else she could do. Japanese author and philosopher Shingo Shibata established the Alice Herz Peace Fund shortly after her death. A square in Berlin (Alice Herz Platz) was named in her honor in 2003.[11][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Charles Francis Howlett, "Alice Herz", in: Spencer C. Tucker (20 May 2011). The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. p. 483. ISBN 978-1-85109-961-0. Retrieved 28 November 2014.
  2. ^ a b Human Sacrifice Is Dead of Burns, Detroit Free Press, 27 March 1965
  3. ^ Henk, Heide; Nitsch, Ulla, M. (2005). Helga Herz (geb 1912) und Eva Seligmann (1912-1997), zwei Frauen aus jüdischen Familien. In Karl-Walter Beise (ed), ÜberLebensKünstlerinnen. Münster: LIT Verlag. pp. 75–. ISBN 978-3-8258-8886-2.
  4. ^ Coburn (2018), p.36
  5. ^ Herz, Alice: An die Völker der Welt!, Neue Wege 49 (4), p. 97.
  6. ^ Howlett, Charles Francis, "Alice Herz", in: Spencer C. Tucker (2011). The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. pp. 483–84. ISBN 978-1-85109-961-0. Retrieved 28 November 2014.
  7. ^ Melvin Small (2002). Antiwarriors: The Vietnam War and the Battle for America's Hearts and Minds. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-8420-2896-7.
  8. ^ Sharley, Jean, "Pacifism sparked her fiery sacrifice", Detroit Free Press, 18 March 1965
  9. ^ Jones, David R. "Woman, 82, Sets Herself Afire In Street as Protest on Vietnam", New York Times, 18 March 1965
  10. ^ Detroit Woman Found in Street Sets Herself Afire in Vietnam Protest, Detroit Free Press, 17 March 1965
  11. ^ Kaupert's Street Guide to Berlin (in German), Luisenstädtischer Education Association, retrieved 7 July 2013
  12. ^ Alice-Herz-Platz wird eingeweiht (in German), Berliner Kurier, Montag, 27 January 2003

Further reading[edit]

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