Remembering Hans N. "Tom" Tuch

by Leonard J. Baldyga

Hans N. (Tom) Tuch, an early and persistent advocate of public diplomacy as an indispensable element in the conduct of U.S. foreign affairs, died on September 7, 2020, at his residence in Bethesda, MD. He was 95. The cause of death were complications following a recent fall. His seminal book, Communicating with the World: U.S. Public Diplomacy Overseas, published in collaboration with Georgetown University in 1989, was the first major treatise on the subject written by a practicing public diplomat.

PHOTO CAPTION: Four America House directors gathered in Wiesbaden with Paul G. Lutzeier, Coordinator of U.S. Information Centers, Hesse, to discuss the most effective presentation of art exhibitions. From left to right: Ned Burford, Darmstadt; Bela Zempleny, Kassel; Hans N. Tuch, Wiesbaden; Lutzeier; and Gibson Morrisey, Frankfurt. The America Houses were libraries and cultural centers that brought American perspectives to German citizens. The United States operated these cultural centers until about 2006. Photo and caption courtesy of Hans Tuch.

Mr. Tuch’s interest in and involvement with public diplomacy started at his first post as a State Department foreign service officer in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1949 where he was director of the Amerika Haus (U.S. Information and Cultural Center), contributing to U.S. efforts to reintegrate Germany into the community of western democratic nations.

He next was assigned to implement President Eisenhower’s international “Atoms for Peace” initiative by building Atoms-for-Peace exhibits in Germany, Japan, and India. This public diplomacy effort resulted in his first book (with Henry Dunlap), Atoms At Your Service, published by Harper & Brothers in 1957. It was translated into seven languages.

Mr. Tuch next served from 1958 to 1961 as the first post-war Press and Cultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, where he participated in the implementation of the first U.S.-Soviet Cultural Agreement that marked an initial thaw in the Cold War by opening the Soviet Union to exchanges of students, academics, and specialists in the sciences, as well as American exhibitions, American publications, and the performing arts. Thus, he was the U.S. embassy’s focal point at the 1959 U.S. National Exhibition in Moscow and witness at the famed Nixon-Khrushchev Kitchen Debate. He was consequently inducted into Vice President Richard Nixon’s “Kitchen Cabinet.” He also managed the first tour to the Soviet Union of the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and the visits of American performing artists Isaac Stern, Roberta Peters, Van Cliburn, and Byron Janis, as well as the American composers Roger Sessions, Roy Harris, Peter Mennin, Ulysses Kay, Aaron Copland, and Lucas Foss.

Upon return from Moscow in 1961, he served under Edward R. Murrow’s directorship of the U.S. Information Agency as Assistant Director for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. When the Soviets violated the Nuclear Test Ban treaty in 1963, Murrow, at Tuch’s suggestion, ordered the massing of all VOA transmitters to blast the Soviet Union for endangering the world.

From 1965 to 1967, Mr. Tuch served as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires ad interim of the U.S. embassy in Sofia, followed by three years as public affairs officer at the U.S. Mission in Berlin.

PHOTO CAPTION: American playwright Thornton Wilder agreed to participate in program events for the America House in Frankfurt during his trip to Germany in 1954. His lecture filled two adjoining lecture halls at Frankfurt University, where Tuch reports “Wilder’s German was fairly fluent but somewhat ungrammatical.” Wilder (l) and Tuch (r) became friends during several days together. Photo courtesy of Hans (Tom) Tuch

After Portuguese language training in Washington, Mr. Tuch was assigned to Brazil, where he served as the Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs from 1971 to 1973 and as Acting Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires ad interim from 1973 to 1975.

He was named the Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1975, and from 1976 to 1981 he served as Deputy and Acting Director of the Voice of America. On the day the American diplomats in Tehran were taken hostage on November 4, 1979, he ordered the creation of a VOA Farsi language service which went on the air within 10 days.

At his last post, as Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs in Bonn from 1981 to 1985, he participated in the creation of the U.S. Congress – German Bundestag Youth Exchange Program. This exchange program is still going strong today, approximately 23,000 American and German students having participated in it over the last nearly 30-plus years. Upon leaving Germany in 1985, the President of the Federal Republic awarded him its Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Mr. Tuch’s service in Germany with Ambassador Arthur Burns resulted in  another book, Arthur Burns and the Successor Generation, published in 1988.

Mr. Tuch retired from the Foreign Service in 1985 as a Career Minister. He subsequently taught public diplomacy and intercultural communication as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.

His final book was Arias, Cabalettas and Foreign Affairs: A Public Diplomat’s Quasi-Musical Memoir published in 2008, reflecting his life-long love of classical music, specifically opera. He and his wife became active supporters of the Wolf Trap Opera Company in Vienna, VA. For Wolf Trap’s new Center for Education, Mr. Tuch in 2004 donated a collection of some 3,000 programs of opera, theater, concerts, and recitals, all of which he attended over the years, with the earliest dating back to 1938.

Born in Berlin, Germany, on October 15, 1924, Mr. Tuch emigrated to the United States in 1938. From a prominent Jewish family in Berlin, he said his father kept telling him: “Don’t worry. This does not concern you. Never will. I was a front-line soldier, a French POW. I was decorated with the Iron Cross, so this does not concern you.” Mr. Tuch said his father kept maintaining this position until his early death in 1936 and, if he had not died, his mother and he would have succumbed in the Holocaust because they would not have got out until it was too late. He said his mother, intelligent and cognizant of what was going on, sent him to relatives in Kansas City in 1938. She got out of Germany at the last minute in 1940, primarily, she claimed, because she was a widow with close relatives in the U.S.

Writing in the Christian Science Monitor in 1985, Elizabeth Pond wrote: “When ‘Tom’ Tuch retired recently, a whole generation retired with him. He is one of the last of those Europeans who fled to America as refugees from Hitler—then paid back their debt with a lifetime of service to their adopted country.”

He attended Southwest high school in Kansas City, graduating in 1942. He received his B.A. degree from the University of Kansas City in 1947 and an M.A. degree from the School of Advanced International Studies of John Hopkins University in 1948. He also was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Missouri in 1986.

During World War II, Mr. Tuch served as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division in Europe and jumped on D-Day in Normandy and at Eindhoven, Holland, during Operation Market Garden. He was awarded a Bronze Star and Combat Infantry Badge. He was present at the Battle of Bastogne as an interpreter for the headquarters unit and was the GI who translated General Anthony McAulliffe’s “nuts” response to the German surrender ultimatum as “go to hell.” His commanding officer present, a colonel, took credit for the translation.

Mr. Tuch was the recipient of the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, USIA’s Distinguished Honor Award, and the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy. He was past-president of the USIA Alumni Association (now the Public Diplomacy Association of America), and was a founding and emeritus member of the board of the Public Diplomacy Council. He served as a member of the Board of Trustees of Youth For Understanding from 1985 to1991 and was an Editorial Board member of the Foreign Service Journal from 1991 to 1994, contributing over 15 articles to the Journal. Until recently, he was still writing letters to the editor and contributing articles. His published articles appeared in a number of journals, including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Philadelphia Inquirer.

One of Mr. Tuch’s most cherished activities was his 17 years of volunteer work as manager of the St. Alban’s Opportunity Shop in Washington, D.C., an organization that served some 40 charities in the area.

He was predeceased by his wife, Ruth (Mimi) Lord Tuch, whom he met while they were students at SAIS. They were married in Wiesbaden in 1949.

Mr. Tuch is survived by his son David and his daughter-in-law Helena of São Paulo, Brazil, his daughter Andrea and his son-in-law Patrick Lannan of Santa Fe, NM, and his loyal friend and companion Sylvia Weiss of Bethesda, MD. His family also expresses its sincerest thanks to Zeni Manuzone for the tender care and affectionate attention she provided Mr. Tuch in the last difficult moments of his life.

A memorial celebration will be arranged at a later date. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Wolf Trap Opera, 1645 Trap Road, Vienna VA 221