Date of birth:
winter and spring
Benfey Wilkins arrived in the United States with her parents,
Eduard and Lotte Benfey, in December 1939. Until Kristallnacht in
1938, her family had not felt threatened by the Nazis. Though Jewish by
Hitlerís definition, their faith was Christian. Her father was both a
World War I veteran and a judge in Berlin. It was largely through her aunt
Anni Albers, who was already at Black Mountain College, that her parents
were convinced of the true danger, and in January 1939 Renate and her
younger brother were sent to England. They were joined in May by their
parents who were able to arrange passage on a refugee ship to New York.
When Josef and Anni Albers visited the Benfeys in New York in January
1940, they brought Renate back to Black Mountain College so that she could
finish high school in the village of Black Mountain while her parents
found a place to live. After graduation in the spring of 1940, she
enrolled as a student at the college.
recalled that though she did not choose Black Mountain College, it was a
perfect place for her to grow up and adapt to her new country. She took a
general curriculum with a focus on courses in French, Spanish and Russian.
She worked on the construction of the Studies Building, pouring cement for
the foundations and nailing "bendable nails" into the oak
she left Black Mountain, Renate moved to Cambridge where her parents then
lived. Her mother was assistant manager at the Window Shop, a restaurant
that had been created to give employment to refugees. Benfey first took a
secretarial course and worked for the American Friends Service Committee
before enrolling at Boston University for her B.A. degree in Sociology.
After her marriage to Homer Wilkins, a physicist, she lived in Grinnell,
Iowa; St. Louis, Missouri; Alfred, New York; and South Hadley,
Massachusetts while rearing their two children. In South Hadley she began
working part-time at Mount Holyoke College in the Admissions Office. After
her divorce, she became assistant to the Dean of the College Chapel. She
completed her Master of Education degree in student personnel work at
Springfield College. At her retirement she was Dean of Students.
Wilkins presently lives in Vermont.