One of the founders of the CUNY Academy, Feliks Gross was born June 17, 1906, in Krakow. At that time Krakow was part of the autonomous Austrian province of Galicia and a vibrant center of Polish intellectual and cultural life. Gross was raised and educated in this city and studied at the esteemed Jagiellonian University where he earned a Doctorate in Jurisprudence. Later, on a fellowship to the University of London, he came to know the great anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski whose influence led him into the social sciences. As a member of a prominent Jewish Polish family, Gross became a courageous and respected social and political activist as well as a scholar. He was the founder and Director of the Labor Social Science School in Krakow (1934-38), a committed and energetic labor lawyer, and a member of the prewar Polish Socialist Party. Despite all his ample credentials however, he was denied the opportunity for a university appointment as he once put it, “because of my religion, origin, and political views” (Gross, 1986).
There is no need to explain why he and his wife, Priva, hastily left Poland in 1939, fleeing both Nazis, and, later, Soviet Communists, before making his way to the United States. It is also understandable that, without ignoring its all too many lapses, Gross sees America as a model Civic State; a multiethnic state founded upon the principles of democracy. After settling in New York City, he became a member of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America, which was established in 1942 by Malinowski along with other prominent Polish scholars. Gross helped convince Malinowski to become PIASA’s first President. The Institute has served as a democratic and independent beacon for Polish scholars and scholarship until Poland again became “free” in 1989. He and Priva were married for 55 years and he has frequently said that if not for her, he could not have done as much as he did.
Teacher, Author, Awardee, Idealist
From 1946-77, Gross was a faculty member at the Brooklyn College Sociology Department and lectured at the CUNY Graduate Center on political sociology. Over the years his interests expanded to include American issues of civil rights and developing African nations. Over his long career he held positions at the League of Nations, the London School of Economics, Eastern European Planning Board, and lectured at New York University, University of Wyoming, University of Virginia, and the Universities of Florence, Paris, Rome, and the College of Europe. He authored more than 20 books beginning with The Polish Worker (1945) and countless articles, which have been published in many different languages including, Chinese. His Ideologies Goals and Values (1985) is an important synthesis of his work. During the last decade, he published The Civic and the Tribal State (1998), Citizenship and Ethnicity (1999). His many honors come from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, Order of Polonia Restituta, Polish National Archive, and the Phoenix King of Greece. Gross also received awards from the Public Affairs, Sloan, Rockefeller, Fulbright, and Columbia University Foundations.
For Feliks Gross the answer to the question of what makes it possible for people who are different from each other to live in peace has been a perennial quest. He notes that diverse groups can be bound together by coercive means, but that to do so with consensus calls for different techniques and principles. “Such an association of different peoples, ethnic groups with equal rights for all, free of discrimination by public authorities, necessitates the need for a common bond that would embrace all, a broad bond, and in the hierarchy of accepted standards, one that rises above ethnic or racial identification; in a word, a common denominator for all. Citizenship is such a bond; it is also a vital common denominator” (Gross, 1999).
Gross, Feliks. 1986. “Young Malinowski and His Later Years.” American Ethnologist 13:556–70.
Gross, Feliks. 1999. Citizenship and Ethnicity: The Growth and Development of a Democratic Multiethnic Institution. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
(Above written by Jerome Krase, Ph.D., Emeritus and Murray Koppelman Professor, Brooklyn College, CUNY)