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In Memoriam: Francis Nicosia, 1944-2023 

Longtime UVM and St. Michael’s College professor was a prolific scholar and avid opera fan

Published November 27, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.

click to enlarge Francis Nicosia - COURTESY
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Francis “Frank” Raymond Nicosia passed away peacefully at the University of Vermont Medical Center on November 21, 2023, due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. Throughout his illness, he was always in the company of family members.

Frank was born and raised in Philadelphia. After graduating from Penn State University, where he also spent a semester abroad in Spain, he became a Peace Corps volunteer in a small desert village in Libya and then taught English and history in a German high school in a small town in southern Germany. He received an MA in modern European history from Georgetown University and a PhD in German and Middle Eastern history from McGill University. He was a history professor at Saint Michael's College in Colchester, Vt., from 1979 until 2007 and then taught at the University of Vermont, where he was the Raoul Hilberg Distinguished Professor of Holocaust Studies until he retired in 2018.

He was a prolific scholar who focused especially on the Holocaust and the need for deep historical understanding to make sense of the present. Amongst his many works was Nazi Germany and the Arab World, Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, and The Third Reich and the Palestine Question. He coauthored the textbook The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust, coedited six books and edited three volumes of documents. He published numerous articles in English and German in scholarly journals and collections. He received many grants and fellowships for his research in Germany, Israel, England and the United States.

Despite his scholarly contributions, Frank always maintained that the most wonderful thing about working as an academic was the continued relationships with young people, who gave him hope. In 2000, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education named him Vermont Professor of the Year, and in 2014 he received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Holocaust Educational Foundation at Northwestern University.

In addition to his teaching at UVM and St. Michael’s, he also served as a visiting professor at the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism of the Technical University in Berlin and at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He served several stints as the interim director of the Carolyn and Leonard Miller Center for Holocaust Studies at UVM.

Frank always enjoyed hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in fall and winter and perennial flower and vegetable gardening in spring and summer. He produced bumper crops of garlic in his backyard garden! Along with his wife, Ellen, and sister-in-law, Nancy, he was an avid opera fan, enjoying live performances from Middlebury to New York, as well as Saturday radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera. He was also a lifelong Philadelphia Phillies fan and took enormous joy in watching their 2023 postseason run. Frank and Ellen worked together advocating against militarism and for health care for all, as well as going door-to-door canvasing during progressive political campaigns.

Frank’s kindness, good nature and brilliance will be forever missed. He was an extraordinary scholar, teacher, father, husband and citizen. He was loved by many, especially his sons, Alex Nicosia of Middlebury, Vt., and Tim Nicosia of Westwood, Mass., to whom he was deeply devoted, as well as his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Nicosia; his grandchildren, Maeve, Patrick and Joey; and his wife, Ellen Oxfeld. Frank and Ellen married in 2000 and were happy every day they were together.

He is additionally survived by his brother Joe Nicosia and sister-in-law Janet Nicosia of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.; his sister, Frances Nicosia, and her husband, Michael Volpe, of Philadelphia, Pa.; his brother Michael Nicosia and his wife Patricia Tierney of West Chester, Pa.; his sister-in-law Nancy Oxfeld of West Orange, N.J.; and his mother-in-law, Edith Oxfeld, of South Orange, N.J.

Donations in Frank’s memory may be made to either the Center for Holocaust Studies at UVM, the Democracy Now! radio show or Metropolitan Opera Saturday Matinee Radio Broadcasts. As he struggled to overcome health obstacles in his last months, Frank always looked forward to connecting to the world through Democracy Now! and to pure beauty through the Saturday opera broadcasts.

A celebration of his life is planned for spring 2024.

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