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JAN H. BRUELL
Jan Bruell was born on December 27, 1920, in Bielsko, Poland, and died in Austin on January 21, 1997, at the age of 76, leaving behind his beloved wife, Tillie, a daughter Sue, and two sons, Peter and Steven.
Jan's was an extraordinary life, intellectually and personally. He was reared in Poland in the 1920s and 1930s by a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, and thus was familiar with and comfortable in both traditions. This peaceful family life was disrupted by the cataclysm that culminated in the Nazi holocaust, during which Jan, his father, and his two brothers were carted off to the Auschwitz concentration camp and later to Buchenwald. Towards the end of the war, Jan's father was scheduled to be transported to another concentration camp, and Jan volunteered to go there with him. The train convoy was attacked by the American air force. Jan was hit by shrapnel in the elbow and consequently lost his right arm. Jan, his father, and his brothers all survived the concentration camps-incredibly, the brothers received every letter and "care package" sent from the outside while, literally next door, legions of "undesirables" were being shot or gassed.
After the war, Jan attended the University of Heidelberg for three years, during which time he met and married Tillie, who would be his life-long companion. In 1949, he received his diploma in Psychology. He and Tillie then came to the United States, to Boston, where one of his brothers was living. Jan obtained a fellowship to Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, where, with the famous developmental psychologist Heinz Werner and others, he pursued studies in visual perception. In 1953, after receiving his Ph.D. degree in experimental psychology, Jan moved to Cleveland, to Western Reserve University, as an Assistant Professor. Two years later, in 1955, he became a U.S. citizen.
At Western Reserve, Jan continued to work on problems in visual perception, and as an outcome of research and consulting work at a Cleveland hospital published several papers on perceptual disturbances among hemiplegic patients. In 1957 he was promoted to Associate Professor, and to Professor in 1964. During these years, Jan became involved with research in the newly-developing field of Behavior Genetics. He carried out extensive studies on the genetics of activity and temperament, using the method of cross-breeding inbred strains of mice.
Jan's outstanding work on "heterosis," the increased vigor often found among the hybrid offspring from crossings of inbred strains, led to him being recruited to the behavior-genetics program then being developed under Gardner Lindzey at The University of Texas. In 1968, Jan came to Austin, to the psychology department, where he remained for the rest of his life. He continued with some animal research but became primarily interested in medical genetics and genetic counseling, and developed a chromosome laboratory. In addition to his work in behavior genetics, he pioneered the application of computers to the management of self-paced courses. He was a founding member of the Behavior Genetics Association and, from 1978-1986, served as the editor of Behavior Genetics, the major journal in the field.
Jan was a highly cultured person, conversant in many languages beyond his native Polish, including German, English, and BASIC, the computer language with which he developed his course curriculum. His classical education only deepened his natural affinity for music, literature, history, and philosophy. An appreciation for what is beautiful and good was heightened by a life punctuated by trauma and loss. He writes, for example: "On Sundays a symphonic orchestra composed of [Auschwitz] inmates played in front of the camp commander's house. When I heard Beethoven, compulsive sobbing gripped me. Never before had music affected me that deeply." Yet this same sensitive individual had a sharp, analytical mind as comfortably suited to science as to the liberal arts. This was evident in his pioneering work in behavior genetics and computer applications-and in a special, very personal project of his later years that, had it come to fruition, would have helped to illuminate the human condition.
This integration of science and culture was intended to explore his family tree, European history, and human evolution. It would have centered around the major theme of the Jewish people: their continuity, extraordinary achievements, and near-elimination from the European scene during the 1940s. Two books were envisioned. One would trace the Bruell family to its origins in the 14th century. It would deal with two things that had always struck Jan forcefully: the high literacy and educational achievement of his relatives, and the importance of Jews in his life and in the life of central Europe.
Another book would have focused on the venerable question of why, despite unremitting antisemitism and severe social restrictions, European Jews were so bright and accomplished. The theme to be pursued was that all this came about through a kind of social Darwinian selection whereby the smartest had managed to survive. This theme obviously dove-tailed with Jan's professional interests, which included not just behavior genetics-research on the genetic basis of individual differences-but also evolutionary psychology, the natural and social selection of heritable adaptations that could explain human nature and its diverse cultural expressions.
Despite insights into the darkest side of human nature, which arose from his concentration camp experiences and his intimate knowledge of history and biology, Jan had a positive and humanitarian attitude toward life. His personality was not soured by circumstances that would have demoralized many. He was extraordinarily energetic and productive; he got more done with one arm than most do with two.
Jan was a gifted storyteller, always ready to illuminate any question or problem, like a rabbi dispensing insights and wisdom through narrative rather than proclamation. He was a gentleman in the fullest sense of that word: charming and gracious, kind and decent, caring and tolerant to a fault. He always tried to see the good in people and was reluctant to say a bad word about anyone. Jan's compassion for humanity was deep and genuine, not the ideologically inspired kind often accompanied by indifference to real individuals. His essential gentleness was evident in his treatment of students. For them, he had high intellectual and ethical expectations, yet he was more kind than stern even when they foundered. A hapless student had every opportunity to improve his standing thorough the option of retaking tests, yet if caught cheating, he wouldn't be embarrassed or punished with an F; rather, he would get a chance at redemption by doing a good deed, for example, by volunteering to push a wheelchair-bound person around the campus for a few months.
Jan was a good colleague, teacher, and friend; he is sorely missed.
Larry R. Faulkner, President
The University of Texas at Austin
John R. Durbin, Secretary
The General Faculty
This Memorial Resolution was prepared by a special committee consisting of Professors John C. Loehlin (Chair), David B. Cohen, and Joseph M. Horn.