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Hilda Golden, 92, UMass sociology professor

HILDA HERTZ GOLDEN

Hilda Hertz Golden was only 13 when her family fled Berlin in 1933 as the Nazis targeted her father, Paul Hertz, a prominent Social Democratic Party politician and economist who opposed Adolf Hitler.

Hilda and her mother went to France before joining Paul in Czechoslovakia, where he had relocated after the Social Democratic Party went into exile. Years later, Dr. Golden would tell chilling stories about the time a neighbor denounced the Hertzes to the Gestapo, which ransacked the family’s house.

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“My mother had a happy childhood in Berlin, but no adolescence,’’ Dr. Golden’s son, Daniel of Belmont, said in a eulogy during a memorial service last month, adding that “she had to grow up overnight.’’

A former Globe reporter who is now editor at large for Bloomberg News, he wrote about his mother and her family in 1990 for the Globe Sunday Magazine. His mother, he said in the eulogy, “overcame the tragic history of 20th-century Europe to become a uniquely American success story.’’

Dr. Golden, who retired in 1986 after teaching sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for 24 years, died of congestive heart failure Feb. 22 in Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. She was 92 and had lived in Amherst for about 50 years.

In addition to authoring and coauthoring books and papers, “Hilda was a role model for women,’’ said Roland Chilton of Amherst, a retired UMass sociology professor. “When I arrived in 1970, Hilda had been a member of the department for eight years and was the only woman of a 24-member sociology faculty.’’

He lauded her monograph, “Immigrant and Native Families: The Impact of Immigration on the Demographic Transformation of Western Massachusetts, 1850-1900,’’ for its extensive research and findings.

By studying “19th-century local, state, and federal materials that included local histories, town reports, town directories, information in state and county censuses, and vital statistics files, Hilda was able to show that immigration made a difference in fertility and mortality rates,’’ he said.

At UMass, Dr. Golden was a mentor and friend to students such as John Dalphin of Rowley, who now teaches at Merrimack College in North Andover.

He was the first doctoral candidate at UMass Amherst to earn his degree under her guidance.

“Hilda was a very positive being,’’ he said, praising her ability to teach and conduct research while raising two children.

“She was a very brilliant woman, a serious scholar, but it didn’t go to her head,’’ Dalphin said. “Whenever there was a gathering at her house, she was always in the kitchen making sandwiches.’’

Dr. Golden’s life, her son said in his eulogy, is “the story of a German refugee who, undeterred by her heavy accent and lack of a high school education, achieved fulfillment in her adopted country and language as a respected scholar, popular teacher, and devoted wife and mother.’’

Leaving her family in Prague, Dr. Golden went on her own to London, where she caught diphtheria while working in a poor neighborhood.

“She did attend school those years,’’ her son said, “but because she moved about so much, it was never enough to complete a high school education.’’

Instead, she took and passed a test in London that was akin to the high school equivalency exam in the United States.

Embarking for America on her own in 1939, she arrived in New York City and took baby-sitting jobs that provided room and board until she went to college as a scholarship student.

Studying sociology, she graduated from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and her ties to the school stayed strong.

“It was Skidmore that turned me into an American,’’ she once wrote for a college publication.

Upon arriving in the United States with no family nearby and few possessions, she recalled, the Skidmore community embraced her, furnishing her room with a comforter, stuffed animals, and ice skates.

A former classmate, Dorothy Halpern of Auburndale, became a lifelong friend and was among the students who invited Dr. Golden to their home on holidays.

Together they went fishing in Boston Harbor and to concerts at Symphony Hall.

After Skidmore, Dr. Golden went to Duke University in Durham, N.C., where she received a doctorate in 1950.

At a party in New York, she met Morris Golden. They married in 1954 and later moved to Amherst, where he was a UMass English professor.

The Goldens enjoyed hiking, and a woodsy trail in North Amherst is named for them. He died in 1994.

After he died, Dr. Golden filled her life with volunteer work.

And a 1997 Skidmore profile of her noted that in retirement, she was conducting demographic research when she received the college’s distinguished alumna award in 1992.

A couple of years earlier, Dr. Goldman returned to Berlin with her son after the Berlin Wall was torn down. With his mother serving as translator and guide, Daniel Golden wrote about the experience for the Globe. Together, they visited the house where she grew up.

“My mother used to walk through the woods to a nearby elementary school,’’ he wrote for the Sunday Magazine in 1990.

“In the summer she played marbles and other games with the neighbors’ children, and in the winter her older brother taught her to skate by the simple device of leading her out to the middle of a frozen pond and leaving her there. When she fell and skinned her knee, she was treated by one of her father’s friends, a physician who just happened to be Germany’s minister of finance.’’

He wrote that when his mother was 10, “she joined a Social Democratic Party children’s group, in which she read books and heard talks about labor history and went on hikes singing Socialist songs.’’

In her eulogy, Dr. Golden’s daughter, Olivia of Washington, D.C., wondered whether her mother would have been part of “the next generation of political leadership’’ in Germany if Hitler had not risen to power.

“She believed deeply in each individual’s obligation to make the world and the nation and the community better in some way,’’ Olivia said.

In addition to her son and daughter, Dr. Golden leaves a grandson and two step-grandchildren.

Dr. Golden once wrote that she loved the United States too much to consider permanently resettling in Germany.

“From the perspective of a long life, I consider it a gift that I have been able to live my adult life as an American,’’ she wrote.

“Each trip back to Berlin has added to my conclusion that for me a permanent return to Germany after the defeat of the Nazis would not have led to an equally satisfying life.’’

In the United States, she recalled, “I have at times asked myself, ‘Did I pay back in a small way the generosity of Americans by making a contribution to American society?’ I hope so.’’

Gloria Negri can be reached at g_negri@globe.com.
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