The scholar as man of action

The scholar as man of action


norman lebrecht

June 23, 2011

I am still waiting to read an obituary of Professor Raphael Loewe that tells the world how he won the Military Cross in Italy during the Second World War. Those of us who knew Raphael late in life – he died on May 27, aged 92 – knew him as a formidable authority on Hebrew and related languages, an inexhaustible concordance of Aramaic sources and semantic lore. He wrote an important biography of Ibn Gabirol, was professor at University College London and Fellow of St Johns College, Cambridge.

He limped heavily, you could see that, but he never said why.

Then, one day, the composer Robert Saxton mentioned to me that his father had known Raphael in Cambridge as a boy and fought beside him in the Suffolk regiment in the Second World War, in North Africa and later in Italy. Under fire at (he thinks) Monte Cassino, the unit strayed into a minefield. A call went out for volunteers to fetch in the wounded. Raphael went out and carried the wounded colonel in over his shoulder. He then went back again and again under sniper fire, carrying one man after another until the last of the wounded was brought in.

Back in the dugout, he was asked if there was anything he’d like. ‘A cup of tea would be nice,’ said Raphael.

Ian Saxton told his son that he had never seen a more perfect example of religious faith.