Aleksander Leyfell found a new home at MIT in 1968 after he left Poland during a time when the government was oppressing Jewish people and intellectuals. A former book publisher and diplomat who lived in Switzerland, France, and Japan, and traveled in intellectual and artistic circles, Leyfell became a librarian for MIT Libraries’ International Acquisitions Department.
It was his wife, Anita, whom he met in Samarkand while spending World War II in the Soviet Union, who suggested that Aleksander apply to work at MIT in 1968 when she saw a newspaper ad for a librarian position. She thought that, as a former book publisher, Aleksander would make a good librarian.
“Books were his joy,” Anita Leyfell says. “Aleksander was an intellectual with many talents and an interest in philosophy, history, literature — he was a member of the PEN club and a Fellow at the Russian Research Center at Harvard — but didn’t have credentials that would readily translate into employability in the U.S. MIT recognized his talents, his knowledge of languages, his experience in the Diplomatic Corps and in publishing. MIT had a special place in his heart and meant so much to him.”
Because he was so welcomed at the Institute when he immigrated, Leyfell and his wife decided to make a gift to MIT in appreciation. Aleksander Leyfell retired from MIT in the 1980s. He died in 2006 at age 94 and Anita Leyfell recently established the Aleksander and Anna Anita Leyfell Fund. The fund will support the MIT Public Service Center, which enables MIT students to use their education and skills to address the needs of underserved communities around the world.
“Aleksander was grateful to MIT for the emotional support, for providing him with an intellectual home and professional identity in his new country. He was among people who respected and appreciated him, and was surrounded by books — his first love.”