Hans Blumenfeld 1892-1988

By Stephen Salaff | 1988-04-01 12:00:00

Hans Blumenfeld was born near Hamburg in 1892 and died in Toronto on January 30, 1988. His father was a lawyer; his mother belonged to a prominent banking family.

Hans and his brother Franz enlisted in the German army in World War I. In 1914, while stationed at the front, Franz wrote to his mother: "I have always been opposed to war, but now that I have experienced it, I have decided to devote all my life work for peace, if I ever come back." It was his last letter home; he was killed by a shell. In deepened antiwar conviction, Hans became active in the Communist Party of Germany.

By birth he could have entered a soft berth in M.M. Warburg, a leading private bank, but Hans wanted to be an architect. He practiced in New York, Baltimore, and Los Angeles from 1924 to 1926 and worked in Hamburg and Vienna, constructing large scale working class housing projects. In Hamburg, he joined communist street demonstrations and battles against the Nazis. He was recruited by his trade union to aid the Soviet First Five Year Plan of super-rapid industrialization.

Blumenfeld, on the advisory committee of foreign specialists, recommended building the Moscow subway. He helped plan two towns, Vladimir, and Vyatka (now Kirov) and buildings in the city of Makeyevka in the eastern Ukraine.

In 1935, as Blumenfeld explained in his autobiography, Life Begins at 65, (Montréal: Harvest House, 1986) he was caught in an "eddy of the Great Purge." Expelled without cause from the Party, denied employment, attacked in the press, and eventually compelled to leave, he remained a friend of the Soviet Union, which he visited in 1959 and 1969. He defended the overall direction of Soviet society, and worked for improved relations between the capitalist and the socialist worlds. While criticizing the party's inflexible policies and lack of democracy, he considered it more important to counteract anti-Sovietism.

When forced to leave the USSR in 1937, he tried to enlist with the Loyalists battling Franco, but met resistance from both communist and noncommunist organizers of foreign volunteers. The former rejected him because he was expelled from the USSR and the latter because he would not condemn it.

Hans arrived in New York in 1938, and became a citizen in 1944. He worked on designs for the model of a "future city" for the 1939 New York World's Fair, and a public housing project.

Shocked by New York's slum clearance, which only worsened the plight of low-income families, Blumenfeld preferred neighborhood rehabilitation. He argued that slum clearance could only be justified if accompanied by rent control and a major program of subsidized replacement housing.

In 1945 Blumenfeld began a stint in Philadelphia's City Planning Commission. In 1953, the State Department refused to renew his passport because of his membership in organizations on the Attorney General's subversive list.

Two years later Blumenfeld joined the new Metropolitan Toronto Planning Board, and prepared Metro's 1959 Official Plan for land use, housing, and transportation. It encouraged higher suburban densities, a strong central core, and orderly growth. Although he easily obtained landed immigrant status in 1955, Blumenfeld had difficulty in 1960 when he applied for Canadian citizenship. His application was refused because of his work with the Canadian Peace Congress. His friends lobbied in Ottawa, winning citizenship for him at last in 1963.

Blumenfeld was a consultant to the cities of Montréal (where he helped plan the subway, east-west expressway, and Expo '67), Toronto, and Vancouver, and for 14 years with the National Capital Commission in Ottawa. He also consulted for the United Nations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the governments of Israel and Puerto Rico.

Hans Blumenfeld believed that the planning profession had a special gift to contribute to the peace movement: its ability to form a "guiding image" of the future. Chairing the Toronto Association for Peace, he promoted cooperation among all groups struggling to abolish nuclear weapons.

The action which Blumenfeld considered most successful occurred during the late escalation of the Vietnam War. This was a full page ad in the Globe and Mail against the 1972 Christmas bombing of Hanoi. The message of condemnation, signed by hundreds of citizens, prompted a unanimous appeal by the Canadian Parliament urging the U.S. to stop the hostilities.

Blumenfeld wrote frequent letters to the press, including PEACE Magazine. In 1982 fifteen of his letters to the Globe and Mail were published on peace and disarmament. On his ninetieth birthday he initiated the Franz Blumenfeld Peace Foundation with a personal contribution of $20,000. This foundation, now administered by Science for Peace, funds peace education.

During his last months, he stressed to visitors the timeliness of two initiatives: He hoped that the NDP would add realism to its call for withdrawal from NATO by calling, too, for the mutual dissolution of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. He also urged that "Canada could set an example by including in its constitution the obligation to submit any international disagreement to the World Court and to accept its decision." p

Stephen Salaff is a freelance writer on science and public affairs. He consulted Hans Blumenfeld often for advice in the preparation of his articles on Canada-USSR relations.

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1988

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1988, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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