Gabor Boritt

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Gabor S. Boritt (born 1940 in Budapest, Hungary) is an American historian. He was the Robert Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies and Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. Born and raised in Hungary, he participated as a teenager in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against the Soviet Union before escaping to America, where he received his higher education and became a scholar of Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War. He is the author, co-author, or editor of 16 books about Lincoln or the War. Boritt received the National Humanities Medal in 2008 from President George W. Bush.

Early life[edit]

Boritt was born to a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary at the start of World War II. The Nazis forced his family to live in a single room in a hospital on the ghetto’s edge, where he played on bloodstained floors. As his father helped lead resistance against the Nazis, his grandfather’s family was deported from the countryside and murdered in Auschwitz. By the end of the war, Budapest was in ruins and Hungary in Stalin’s grip. In the years that followed, Boritt’s mother died, his father and brother were imprisoned, and he was sent to an orphanage. In 1956 sixteen-year-old Boritt joined the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. He remembers the initial euphoria: “We thought it was a whole new world. Anything was possible.” Days later, 3,000 Soviet tanks crushed those possibilities, and Boritt and his sister Judith headed for the Austrian border. In darkness, they hiked through wooded hills before coming to a no-man’s-land guarded by watchtowers with machine guns. Freedom lay on the other side. Together, they started running.

Escape to America[edit]

After months at an Austrian refugee camp, Boritt came to the U.S. with just one dollar in his pocket, arriving in the “dirtiest city” he had ever seen: New York City. Told that the real America is “out west,” Boritt headed to South Dakota.[1] Wanting to learn English, he picked up a free booklet of Abraham Lincoln’s writings. Captivated by Lincoln’s mastery of the language and his rise from poverty to the presidency, Boritt began studying American history and earned his bachelor of arts degree from Yankton College in 1962 and a master's degree from the University of South Dakota in 1963, followed by a Ph.D. from Boston University in 1968.

As an immigrant, he felt obliged to go to Vietnam, where he taught soldiers about the American Civil War. In 1978 after deciding to pursue the study of Lincoln from the economic angle, he published his first book Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream, which placed what Boritt called “the right to rise” at the center of Lincoln’s outlook.[1] One of a handful of books on Lincoln published in the 1970s, a 1995 survey of leading experts by Civil War Times lists it as one of the 10 most important books ever written about Lincoln.

Gettysburg College[edit]

After teaching at the University of Michigan, in 1981 Boritt came to Gettysburg College, founding the Civil War Institute, where the school created for him the nation’s first fully funded chair for the study of the Civil War.[2] He helped create the $50,000 Lincoln Prize, widely considered the most coveted award for the study of American history.[3] He also helped create the Gilder Lehrman Institute, which is focused on improving the teaching of history in schools.[4]

Modern accomplishments[edit]

Boritt served on the boards of the Gettysburg National Battlefield Museum Foundation and the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, appointed by Congress. His latest book The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech Nobody Knows (2006) was featured on the cover of U.S. News and World Report and called "fascinating" by the New York Times[1]. In September 2008 Boritt gave a tour of the Gettysburg battlefield to President George W. Bush, Laura Bush and a group including White House Advisor Karl Rove, Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. York Daily Record [2]

On November 17, 2008 President George W. Bush awarded Boritt the National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities "for a distinguished career of scholarship on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era. His life's work and his life's story stand as testaments to our nation's precious legacy of liberty."[5] His life story is the subject of a feature-length documentary film titled Budapest to Gettysburg (2007), directed by his son Jake Borritt.[6] In 2009 he retired.[7]

Boritt and his wife Liz live in an 18th-century farmhouse on the edge of the Gettysburg battlefield which they restored with their own hands. It served as both a stop on the Underground Railroad and as a Confederate hospital. Together they have raised three sons: Beowulf Boritt is a set designer in New York City, Jake Boritt is filmmaker who lives in Harlem, New York City and Daniel Boritt is a biologist specializing in birds who lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Works[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

This article is partly based on the documentary film, Budapest to Gettysburg.

External links[edit]