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Kurt Lang

January 25, 1924 ~ May 1, 2019 (age 95)

Kurt Lang, an expert on Nazi Germany and a sociologist who with his wife, Gladys, wrote several books about the influence of television on politics and public opinion, has died. He was 95.

Lang died May 1 of respiratory failure at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, his daughter, Glenna Lang, said Wednesday.

Lang fled Nazi Germany for New York City with his family in 1936 when he was 12. Drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II, he returned in 1944 to his homeland, where he saw combat, most notably at the Battle of Remagen.

He later entered the Counter Intelligence Corps, where he used his German skills to help root out hardline Nazis.

He stayed in Berlin at war’s end to investigate Germany’s descent into fascism and its struggle to become a democracy. On the strength of an essay he wrote criticizing the American army’s formulaic approach to screening German citizens for employment, he was hired as a research associate in the Intelligence Branch of the U.S. Office of Military Government’s Information Control Division.
As a field worker monitoring German political activities and attitudes and as an analyst, Lang assisted scholars assessing the progress of de-Nazification — work that inspired him to become a social scientist.

He enrolled in the University of Chicago when he returned to the U.S., earned three degrees in six years, and married fellow sociology graduate student Gladys Engel. They co-authored books and articles on the impact of television on American politics, including analyses of the Nixon-Kennedy debates, and the Watergate hearings.

Lang taught at Queens College, City University of New York; the University of California, Berkeley; Columbia University; and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He became director of the communication school at the University of Washington in 1984 and remained there until his retirement in 1993. He and his wife moved to Massachusetts in 2014 to be closer to their children.

The Langs were also art collectors and in 2014 donated a collection of 1,400 prints to the Smith College Museum of Art.

Gladys Engel Lang died in 2016. Kurt Lang’s survivors include two children, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

A memorial service is planned for June 15 at 3pm at the Cadbury Commons assisted living community in Cambridge.

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