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David Hahn École Libre papers

Identifier: NA-0031-01


The collection contains administrative documents, letters of support, remarks, photographs, and ephemera gathered by David Hahn, business manager of the École Libre des Hautes Études.


  • 1942
  • 1953



.1 Cubic Feet (1 legal-sized folder consisting of several documents and two photographs.)

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of administrative documents, letters of support, remarks, photographs, and ephemera pertaining to the École Libre des Hautes Études. Documents regarding the administration of the university include a mission statement, list of professors and courses taught in 1942, and a draft of the university budget that estimates preliminary expenses such as rent, staff honorariums, supplies, and travel costs for guest lecturers. Three pages of handwritten notes from Hahn in French directly relate to the École Libre’s board of directors and the university’s course statistics.

Several statements of support in French from members of École Libre’s board of directors describe the mission of the university, which aimed to provide a supportive space for French and Belgian intellectuals fleeing Nazi Europe. Members of the board of directors included Henri Focillon, Jean Perrin, Paul Van Zeeland, Jaques Maritain, and Gustave Cohen, who were distinguished francophone scholars and intellectuals. Statements from the New School for Social Research president Alvin Johnson are in both French and English. President Johnson played an integral role in establishing the École Libre, as he recognized the need to form a university in exile for displaced French and Belgian scholars after France fell to the Nazis in 1940. The statements express the importance of creating an international French university at the time.

Finally, the folder contains a letter to Hahn from Focillon and the remarks of professor Jean-Baptiste Perrin at the luncheon for the International Rescue and Relief Committee at the Hotel Ambassador on March 28, 1942. Perrin, a Nobel Laureate in physics, was the head of the Faculty of Science at the École Libre. Two photographs--a photograph of David Hahn and the other of a banquet at the Hotel Brevoort on March 28, 1942--can also be found. A photocopied version of the banquet photograph includes annotation marks identifying David Hahn and others in the crowd. The author of the annotations to the photograph is unknown. It is unclear if the speech from Perrin was from the same event as the photograph because although they have the same date, the inscriptions indicate two separate locations.

Language of Materials

The majority of this collection is in French. A conferment program, three statements of support, and the remarks of Jean Perrin are the only materials in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Please contact for appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact:

Biographical note

David Rudolf Mahomet Hahn was born to Mortiz Hahn and Rachel Valentine Hecht on August 8, 1888 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. At the age of eighteen, Hahn joined the family diamond and gemstone business, M. Hahn et Compagnie. Although he completed his bachelors exams, his father suffered a heart attack that forced Hahn to abandon plans for university and have a more prominent role in the family business. Hahn first visited the United States in October 1910, after he arrived in New York from Cherbourg, France, on the SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse to establish business contacts. Hahn married Charlotte Walk on July 9, 1914 in Brussels, Belgium. Charlotte’s father, Joseph, was a prominent diamond merchant who introduced the couple. They had four children: Marie Louise (1915-1977), Maurice (1918-2009), Denise Rachel (1922-2010), and Francoise Micheline (1927-1999).

Hahn suffered a heart attack in 1937 that forced him to limit his participation in the gemstone business. He sold his company shares to his brother Jean and retired a year later. Upon the Nazi invasion of France, Hahn and his family sought refuge in Roche-Posay in the unoccupied free zone of France. The Hahns traveled through Bordeaux to Spain with a transit visa issued by the Portuguese Consulate in June 1940. The family was issued an American immigration visa at the American Consulate in Oporto, Portugal, and later arrived in New York in August 1940 aboard the SS Quanza.

It is unclear how or when Hahn became involved with the École Libre des Hautes Études at the New School. However, Hahn was mentioned as a founding member and business manager of the École Libre in a release issued by the New School for Social Research on November 24, 1941. Hahn is listed as an “Administrateur” or “Administrateur Honoraire” and as the “Tresorier” in the course catalogs and promotional materials of the École Libre.

Hahn died of a heart attack at the family’s summer home in Lake Placid on August 22, 1954.

Historical note

In 1941, President Alvin Johnson facilitated the establishment of the École Libre des Hautes Études at the New School, also called The Free French School. As distinguished intellectuals fled Europe out of fear for persecution based on their religion or expression of free ideas, the new institute was founded to continue French culture and scholarship by bringing together a disparate group of French and Belgian refugee scholars. Legally a part of the New School, the École Libre retained an autonomous administration and educational structure, with largely independent finances.

Between 1942 and 1946, the École Libre offered a wide range of courses, primarily in French, in the social sciences and humanities. The university had three divisions, or faculties: law and political science, letters, and natural science. The faculty included more than sixty renowned scholars, among them Jean-Baptiste Perrin, Jacques Maritain, Gustave Cohen, Henri Focillon, Henri Grégoire, and the former prime minister of Belgium Paul van Zeeland. Instruction was primarily in French, with some courses taught in English or other romance languages. The Ecole Libre was recognized by the De Gaulle and Belgian governments as equivalent to an education completed at a French university.

While certain École Libre faculty worked adamantly to maintain a non-political and purely scholarly stance for the school, others, passionate supporters of the Free France movement led by Charles de Gaulle, held that the school bore an intrinsic relationship to the movement. This widening rift eventually contributed to the severance of the institute from the New School in June 1947. Between 1943 and 1945 the École Libre produced a journal in French, Renaissance, available online through the Hathi Trust.


"A formal agreement between the French Government and the New School for Social Research (not signed)," 1940s, The New School Publicity Office records, NS.03.01.05, box 16, folder 17, The New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.

"Description of the Ecole Libre," 1940s, The New School Publicity Office records, NS.03.01.05, box 17, folder 8, The New School Archives and Special Collections, The New School, New York, New York.

Friedlander, Judith. A Light in Dark Times: The New School for Social Research and its University in Exile. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019.

Zolberg, Aristide R., and Agnes Callamard. “The École Libre at the New School, 1941-1946.” Social Research 65, no. 4 (1998): 921–51.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated to The New School Archives by Marian Hahn, granddaughter of David Hahn, 2018.

Related Materials

The New School Archives holds the records of the New School Publicity Office (NS.03.01.05) which includes several folders containing inaugural documents, correspondence, and promotional materials related to the École Libre des Hautes Études. Course catalogs of the École Libre des Hautes Études dated between 1942 and 1967 can be found in the New School course catalog collection (NS.05.01.01). Course catalogs are available digitally on the New School Archives and Special Collections digital collections database.

Guide to the David Hahn École Libre papers
Victoria Fernandez
April 4, 2024
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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