VMU Mourns the Loss of Professor Alfred Erich Senn


It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of Professor Emeritus Alfred Erich Senn, American scientist of Lithuanian-Swiss origin and one of the most prominent historians of 20th century Lithuania. Professor Senn was VMU Honorary Doctor and Foreign Member of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. He also taught at VMU for over a decade.

Professor Emeritus Alfred Erich Senn, age 83, passed away peacefully on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 in his home, surrounded by his family.

Alfred Erich Senn was born in Madison, Wisconsin on April 12, 1932. His Swiss father, Herr Dr. phil. Alfred Senn and Lithuanian mother, Marija Vedlugaite, along with sisters Marie and Elfrieda Senn had newly emigrated from Lithuania to the US where the future historian’s father joined the German department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison after a very brief stint at Yale. When Alfred Erich Senn was 7, his father later accepted a position with the German department at the University of Pennsylvania and the family moved to Bala-Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.  Alfred E. Senn grew up speaking Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, and German in his home and English in school.

Professor Alfred E. Senn was deeply interested in east European political history, WWII espionage in Switzerland, and later the influence of politics on sports.  He received a BA in 1953 from the University of Pennsylvania and then an MA in 1955 and a Ph.D. in 1958 from Columbia University in East European history.  He taught at the University of Wisconsin–Madison from 1961-2008 and retired as professor emeritus.

Over his career, the scientist authored eight books, several monographs, and numerous scholarly articles. His main research focus was Lithuania: the historian is widely recognized for significant contributions into Lithuania’s better understanding in the English-speaking world.  Alfred Erich Senn’s book, Gorbachev’s Failure in Lithuania, was awarded the Edgar Anderson Presidential Prize by the American Association of Baltic Studies in 1996.  His book entitled Power, Politics, and the History of the Olympics was an insightful and accessible exploration of the history of the Olympics and the influential role of politics since the modern Games began in 1896 and is still in use by universities around the world.  In 2004, Alfred E. Senn was awarded the Officer of the Order of Vytautas the Great Cross, a presidential honor conferred on heads of Lithuania and foreign states, as well as their citizens, for distinguished services to the State of Lithuania.

The historian witnessed and participated in the 1988-1991 events of Lithuania’s liberation from the Soviet Union. He published eight books dedicated to Lithuanian history in which he explored the birth of Lithuanian diplomacy and its activities on the most significant issues of Lithuanian foreign policy. Throughout the years he also met with numerous Lithuanian politicians and diplomats himself. For his merits in promoting Lithuania abroad, the scientist was awarded the Lithuanian Diplomacy Star, an honorary sign, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Professor Senn worked at VMU for over a decade and frequently read lectures to students. According to VMU Public Communications Dept. Professor Auksė Balčytienė, VMU students will remember Alfred Erich Senn (or Al, as friends used to call him) as the author of the unique oral history method who taught students of journalism, history, political science and other disciplines to employ memory reconstruction in order to artfully rebuild the factological mosaic and thus reconstruct historical details via a journalistic interview.

“It weren’t just the subjects Al taught to the students that were authentic, personally experienced and full of wisdom. He was authentic himself: his elegant writing, his manner of speech and his friendship. Al was a sensitive and passionate explorer of history, a thinker and a writer who artfully inweaved factological elements into a journalistic text. He genuinely cared about history and the people in it. His authentic being will remain alive in history books, analytical insights, journals, and works of study mentorship”, Prof. Balčytienė said.

VMU Honorary Doctor Prof. Alfred E. Senn was also appreciated as a talented writer and storyteller. The professor’s book “Lithuania In My Life”, published as a part of the Acta Humana series by VMU in 2012, described how Lithuania emerged in the life of his father, Swiss linguist Alfred Senn, and later in his own life.

Alfred Erich Senn is survived by his wife of 58 years, LaVonne Ann Young Senn and loving family including children: Ann Senn (Mark Ambrosen), Eric Senn, Theresa Senn Hendrickson (Jon Hendrickson), and Tom Senn (Woody Manion) along with grandchildren: Matt Senn (Erika Mikulec), Christina Senn, Molly Sygulla (Will Klein), Kaiya Sygulla, Delaney Ambrosen, Zachary Ambrosen, and Brea Hendrickson. Alfred Erich Senn is also survived by an extended family of very dear relations and friends across the US, Lithuania, Germany, Switzerland, and other parts of Europe.  He will be deeply missed by many.

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