Centenary of a Distinction for a Charming Man — Rudolf Höber, February 11, 1915

Rudolf Höber  (right)entertaining students of the medical school on a pleasant summer day near the University of Kiel, 1927.

Rudolf Höber (right) entertaining medical students at lunch on a pleasant summer day, University of Kiel, 1927.

By all accounts, my grandfather, Rudolf Höber, was a man with a sweet disposition.  He had lived through tragedy in his own life, including the suicide of his father and the death of his brother in a mountaineering accident. Rudolf’s best friend, Albrecht Bethe, believed these experiences endowed him with a deep sympathy for the troubles of others.   Although he was a brilliant scientist who explored the biochemistry of cells, he retained a sensitive appreciation for the beauty of the natural world as a whole. At a time when German professors held enormous social status and were known for their imperiousness, Rudolf  was valued by his students and colleagues for his accessibility and camaraderie.

Among other things, Rudolf was a committed feminist.  In an era when educational opportunities for women in science and the professions were limited, Rudolf mentored his new wife, Josephine, through medical school and into her practice as a  physician.  In addition, during his eleven years as an instructor [Privatdozent] at the University of Zürich (1898-1909) he supervised the dissertations of 24 medical students, two-thirds of whom were women.

Rudolf was named Associate Professor of physiology in the medical school at the University of Kiel in 1909  Then, exactly 100 years ago, Rudolf was appointed to the position of full professor and Director of the Physiological Institute.  The title of Professor was then so exalted in Germany that it could only be bestowed by the Emperor himself.  And so it was that Kaiser Wilhelm signed Rudolf’s appointment certificate on February 11, 1915.

Rudolf Höber's professorial appointment signed by Kaiser Wilhelm, February 11, 1915.

Rudolf Höber’s professorial appointment signed by Kaiser Wilhelm, February 11, 1915.

By 1930, Rudolf had become internationally known for his scientific work and for the work of the Physiological Institute he led.  In recognition, the University faculty elected him to the position of Rektor, or Chancellor, of the University.  Still, he retained his charm and good nature.  In May, Professor Hugo Prinz sent Rudolf a memo requesting that the Rektor issue an order directing that students were not permitted to congregate on the steps of the classroom buildings during the interval between classes.  Rudolf responded the next day:

Dear Colleague:

Your request that a notice be posted directing students that they are forbidden to stand on the steps during the interval between classes has been placed before me today.  I should like to recommend to you kindly that you not insist upon this.  It is surely not practical to ensure compliance with the prohibition.  Furthermore, the steps are so particularly alluring as a place to linger in the sunshine that your proposal strikes me as rather cruel.  I hope that your discomfort will not be too great, and that you will understand that I cannot put the requested directive into effect.

With best wishes,

Respectfully,

Höber

Letter from Rudolf Höber  to Professor Prinz declining to restrict students from congregating outdoors.  I am indebted to Dagmar Bickelmann of the Landesarchiv (State Archives) of the state of Schleswig-Holstein for unearthing this letter.

Letter from Rudolf Höber to Professor Prinz declining to restrict students from congregating outdoors. I am indebted to Dagmar Bickelmann of the Landesarchiv (State Archives) of the state of Schleswig-Holstein for unearthing this letter for me.

In 1933, Rudolf emigrated to Philadelphia, where he received an appointment at the University of Pennsylvania.  He continued to be popular among his students and continued to mentor women students in particular until his retirement in 1947.

Rudolf Höber late in his career (in the U.S.) with his research associate, Dr. Priscilla Briscoe, May 1939


Throwing a Pistol in the Rhine — 1933

Arminius "Pirkert" .32 caliber revolver, Germany, 1920s.  This might have been the kind of gun my father might have bought before the Nazis took over Germany in 1933.

Speculation: this Arminius “Pirkert” .32 caliber revolver, Germany, 1920s, might have been the kind of gun my father bought before the Nazis took over Germany in 1933.

When the Nazis took control of the city of Mannheim in March 1933, they arrested the top Social Democratic leaders in the city government, including my father, Johannes Höber.   They kept him in what they called “protective custody” for five weeks, as previously narrated on this website here.  In the months before the takeover, Johannes had been involved in the militia arm of the pro-democracy coalition Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold.  I previously wrote about that anti-Nazi paramilitary force here.  As part of his involvement in the activities of the Reichsbanner, Johannes bought a pistol that he took on forays with other Social Democrats to disrupt Nazi meetings.  My father was a little guy and descended from a well-to-do family of serious intellectuals and scientists.  He never seemed to me the kind of man who would engage in this kind of reckless activity, but my mother’s head-shaking bewilderment when she told me about it made it clear the story was true.

Johannes Höber  with his daughter, Susanne, around the time he bought his pistol.  To me he doesn't look much like a candidate for an armed anti-Nazi militia.

Johannes Höber with his daughter, Susanne, around the time he bought his pistol. In this picture he doesn’t look much like a candidate for an armed anti-Nazi militia.

My mother, Elfriede Höber, was a committed pacifist and disapproved of my father’s heroics with the Reichsbanner and especially disliked his keeping a gun in the house.  Even decades later, in America, there was a notable tension between them on the one or two occasions when the story came up.

Elfriede Höber around the Nazis arrested  Johannes.

Elfriede Höber around the time the Nazis arrested Johannes.

When Johannes was jailed by the Nazis, Elfriede was left at home alone with their little girl, Susanne, then 3.  The pistol was hidden in a stack of bed sheets in the linen closet of their apartment.  In the early days of the new regime, no one knew what to expect of the Nazis, but Elfriede feared they might come and search the house for contraband after Johannes’ arrest.  Terrified that the Nazis would consider the gun proof that Johannes was an enemy of  the regime, Elfriede decided  she must get rid of it. But how?  The solution that came to her was the bridge across the Rhine River, which had been rebuilt and dedicated in a ceremony just a few months earlier.

The bridge over teh Rhine at Mannheim around 1934.  Elfriede probably used the walkway at the far right to carry Johannes' pistol onto the bridge.

The bridge over the Rhine at Mannheim around 1934. Elfriede probably used the walkway at the far right to carry Johannes’ pistol onto the bridge.

To support her, Elfriede asked her best friend, Marianne Daniels, to go with her to get rid of Johannes’ gun.  The two young women retrieved the pistol from its hiding place in the linen closet and placed it in a plain paper bag.  At night, the two walked out into the dark city, anxious that they might be stopped by a roving squad of storm troopers.  After walking for half an hour along the bank of the Rhine, however, they reached the dark bridge unmolested.  Hearts pounding, they walked out to the middle of the span and dropped the bag with the gun over the railing.  It disappeared into the black waters of the Rhine.  For the moment, that peril was out of the picture.

Postscript:  Readers of this blog may remember that my dear friend Achim in Dresden has shown astonishing skill in recovering rare items related to my family’s history.  This year Achim found an extremely rare copy of the program  from the ceremony on November 19, 1932 dedicating the newly reconstructed bridge at Mannheim, where Elfriede later got rid of the pistol.  The program book was produced by the Press Office of the City of Mannheim, which Johannes headed at the time.

Program for the dedication of the ne bridge across the Rhine at Mannheim, November 19, 1932.

Program for the dedication of the new bridge across the Rhine at Mannheim, November 19, 1932.


A Gift Over Four Generations

Set of fish knives and forks given to Rudolf and Josephine Marx Höber at the time of their wedding, Berlin,  August 10, 1901.

Set of fish knives and forks given to Josephine Marx and Rudolf Höber at the time of their wedding, Berlin, August 10, 1901.

Special sets of knives and forks for eating fish became popular in Europe in the late 19th century.  The steel blades used at that time in ordinary silverware would react with  fish in a way that imparted an unpleasant metallic taste.  Fish sets had silver-plated brass blades and tines that did not interfere with the delicate taste of fish.  The set pictured here was given to my grandparents, Rudolf and Josephine Marx Höber, as a wedding present at the time of their marriage on August 10, 1901.

Josephine Marx on the day of her wedding to Rudolf Höber, August 10, 1901 at her mother's apartment in Berlin.

Josephine Marx on the day of her wedding to Rudolf Höber, August 10, 1901, at her mother’s apartment in Berlin.

Rudolf and Josephine Höber with their first child, Johannes, around December 1904.

Rudolf and Josephine Höber with their first child, Johannes, around December 1904.

 Rudolf and Jospehine were fortunate in being able to bring the fish set with them when they were driven out of Nazi Germany and fled to America in 1934.

Fischbesteck 2

After Rudolf and Josephine died, the fish set was passed on to my parents, Johannes and Elfriede Hoeber.

Johannes and Elfriede Höber at the time of their marriage, December 22, 1928

Elfriede Fischer and Johannes U. Höber at the time of their marriage, Düsseldorf, December 22, 1928.

 After my parents’ deaths, the fish set came to me and my wife, Ditta.

F and D wedding

Ditta Baron and Francis W. Hoeber at their wedding, Philadelphia, July 1, 1967.

On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2014, our younger son Julian married Heather Rasmussen, at the Maritime Hotel in New York City.  We decided that this was the time to pass the fish set on to a fourth generation.  We made a new silvercloth wrapper for the forks and knives and a new box.

Fischbesteck 4

Fischbesteck 1

The  silver set, newly polished after a century of use, is now with Julian and Heather in Los Angeles.

Julian Hoeber and Heather Rasmussen, Los Angeles, December 2014.

Julian Hoeber and Heather Rasmussen, Los Angeles, December 2014.


A Special Book Winds its Way through 20th-Century Germany — to America

Privately bound book containing 25 scientific articles by Rudolf Höber on various topics related to cellular physiology, 1904-1913.

Privately bound book containing 25 scientific articles by Rudolf Höber on various topics related to cellular physiology, 1904-1913.

I don’t know what happened to my grandfather’s scientific papers.  I have tons of family papers, but for some reason they don’t include most of Rudolf Höber’s professional writings beyond his books.  A posthumous article says he published over 200 articles in his lifetime, but for a long time I only had a few of them.

Rudolf, a physiologist, published his first article in 1898 arising out of his doctoral dissertation, Observations on Experimental Shock through Stimulation of Serous Membranes.  Thereafter, he would go on to publish three to six articles a year for the next 50 years.  Whenever Rudolf published a new article, he would get a good number of extra copies, or “offprints,” that he would mail to colleagues around the world with whom he wished to share his research.

Bound volume of articles written by Höber, opened to an article entitled "Observations on the Operations of Neutral Salts," Braunschweig, 1907

Bound volume of articles written by Rudolf Höber, opened to an article entitled “Observations on the Operations of Neutral Salts,” Braunschweig, 1907

Page of an article on "Measuring the Internal Conductivity of Cells" by Rudolf Höber, Bonn, 1913.

Page of an article on “Measurements of the Internal Conductivity of Cells” by Rudolf Höber, Bonn, 1913.

For years, Rudolf sent copies of his articles to his friend Max Cremer, professor of physiology at the Royal Veterinary Technical Institute in Berlin.  He wrote greetings on the cover, such as, “Sent with the sincere thanks of the author,” or, “With best wishes from R.H.”  By 1913, Cremer had received 25 articles from Rudolf, making quite a nice stack, and he decided to have them bound by a local stationer and bookbinder, Adolf Liese. Herr Liese and Prof. Cremer selected boards with green and black marbling for the front and back covers, and dark green buckram for the spine.  On Cremer’s instructions, Liese added gold lettering to the spine reading R. Höber, Separat-Abdrücke [Offprints], 1904-1913.

The spine of Prof. Cremer's book of bound articles by Rudolf Höber

The spine of Prof. Cremer’s book of bound articles by Rudolf Höber

When Cremer got the newly bound volume home, he stamped his own identification on the flyleaf:  Dr. med. Max Cremer, Professor für Physiologie an der Kgl. Tierartzlichen Hochschule, Berlin.

After Prof. Cremer’s death in a Nazi-dominated Germany in 1935, the volume made its way into the library of the Institute for Veterinary Physiology at Humboldt University in Berlin.  A librarian dutifully added the library’s stamp to the flyleaf .  A library label was glued to the spine and it was shelved with the other scientific books in the library. And there it stayed for another 50 years.

Labels in Prof. Cremer's bound copy of Rudolf Höber's articles:  stamp of Adolf Liese, stationer and bookbinder; stamp of Prof. Max Cremer; stamp of the library of the Institute for Veterinary Physiology, Humboldt Univrsity, Berlin.

Labels in Prof. Cremer’s bound copy of Rudolf Höber’s articles: stamp of Adolf Liese, stationer and bookbinder; stamp of Prof. Max Cremer; stamp of the library of the Institute for Veterinary Physiology, Humboldt Univrsity, Berlin.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Humboldt University, in previously-Communist East Berlin, experienced a crash modernization effort, as the government of a reunited Germany moved the locus of the nation to the historic capitol of Berlin.  As modern text books and research materials flooded into Humboldt’s library, tens of thousands of outdated and obsolete volumes were deaccessioned. One of the books deaccessioned was Cremer’s volume of Rudolf Höber’s articles.  The University library added an additional stamp, “ausgeschieden”, or “deaccessioned,” and sent the book off to a huge outlet in Leipzig that had been the Communist government’s principal depository for used books for decades before the fall of the Wall.  There it would sit until someone, anyone, showed an interest in buying it.

I am in the habit of checking out used book websites to see what’s around.  One night, I typed in Rudolf’s name.  As I had come to expect, dozens of copies of his two books, in several languages, popped up on the site.  But at the end of the very long list, this item caught my eye:  R. Höber, Konvolut von 25 Sonderabdr. z. Physiologie, Zentralantiquariat Leipzig [“A Collection of 25 Offprint Copies on the Subject of Physiology,” Central Used Book Depository, Leipzig].  A few keystrokes, a credit card number, and 36 Euros later, and the book was on its way to me, perhaps the one person in the entire world who wanted it most.

Invoice from the Central Used Book Depository (Zentralantiquariat) in Leipzig.

Invoice from the Central Used Book Depository (Zentralantiquariat) in Leipzig.

It was a revelation to open the package from Leipzig, the see the stamps inside the cover, and then to see my grandfather’s distinctive handwriting on each article, bold but delicate, that has become so familiar to me as I have worked with his papers.  And when I read Mit den besten Grüssen vom Verfasser – “With the best wishes of the author” – I fancied for a brief moment that he had addressed those words to me, and that it was he who had sent me this volume from across the Atlantic and over a century in time.


75th Anniversary of a Memorable Day

Today, November 5, 2014, marks the 75th anniversary of the day my mother, Elfriede Fischer Höber, and my sister Susanne Höber, arrived safely in the United States from Nazi Germany. They had made a narrow escape weeks after World War II had begun.

In the spring of 1939, Elfriede and Susanne, then age 9, had found themselves stranded in the north German city of Düsseldorf.  My father, Johannes, had come to Philadelphia a few months earlier to prepare the way for them. In the intervening period, the Nazis continued to tighten the screws on the German population and threatened to plunge Europe into war. The pressure was getting extreme for the hundreds of thousands who wanted to leave the country. On June 22, Elfriede succeeded in getting a new passport for both her and Susanne.

Passport issued by the German authorities on June 22, 1939 for Elfriede Fischer Höber and Susanne Höber.

Passport issued by the German authorities for Elfriede Fischer Höber and Susanne Höber on June 22, 1939 .

The greater difficulty, however, was to get a visa allowing them to enter the United States.  American law at that time permitted only 27,000 Germans to obtain immigration visas annually.  In 1938 alone, over 300,000 Germans applied for visas, meaning that hundreds of thousands of people desperate to leave the country were denied admission to the United States.  Liberal legislative efforts to expand the number of German refugees allowed into the United States were stymied by a coalition of Southern congressmen, anti-immigration groups, isolationists and antisemites (since a majority of those seeking admission were Jews).  The denial of entry to the U.S. doomed thousands who might otherwise have survived the Nazis.

Elfriede and Susanne were among the lucky ones.  After months of struggling with visa applications and mind-numbing paperwork both in Germany and the United States, they were summoned to the office of the U.S. Consul General in Stuttgart on July 12, 1939.  The last step in the application process was a physical examination, which both of them fortunately passed.  When the examination was done, a clerk used a rubber stamp to imprint two immigration visa approvals on a page of the passport, using quota numbers 608 and 609.  Vice Consul Boies C. Hart, Jr.’s signature and the embossed consular seal on each imprint made them official.  Elfriede and Susanne now had  had the wherewithal to escape to safety and freedom, a chance denied to countless others.

Logistical issues made it impossible for Elfriede and Susanne to cross the German border into Belgium until September 19,  by which time Germany had attacked Poland, and Britain and France declared war on Hitler.  It took another six anxious weeks in Antwerp before they were  finally able to board a ship for America.  It is hard to imagine their joy and relief when they were reunited with Johannes on a pier in New York harbor on that day three-quarters of a century ago.

The full story of Elfriede and Susanne’s escape is told in the book Against Time:  Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939 to be published by the American Philosophical Society in 2015.


Her Life Spared by Happenstance, 1944

Natalie Freyberger, Düsseldorf, 1937.

Natalie Freyberger, Düsseldorf, 1937.

My parents, Johannes and Elfriede Hoeber,  were fortunate in escaping Nazi Germany.  The story of how they got out in 1938-1939 is the subject of the book Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939 to be published next year.  Not all of their friends were as fortunate as they.  When I was working on the book, I found a letter among my parents’ papers that told the astonishing story of a close friend of theirs.  The letter was written to my father in 1960, during the time when Adolf Eichmann was on trial in Jerusalem.

Letter from Natalie Freyberger to Johannes U. Hoeber, May 25, 1960.

Letter from Natalie Freyberger to Johannes U. Hoeber, May 25, 1960.

Natalie Freyberger was a bright young woman who lived in Düsseldorf when my parents did.  She worked part time for Johannes and Elfriede as a secretary in their small newspaper distribution business (the Nazis having expelled my father from his government post years earlier).  Because she was completely reliable, Johannes and Elfriede could leave Frau Freyberger in charge of the business for a couple of weeks when they had to be away.  Like many of Johannes and Elfriede’s friends, Frau Freyberger was Jewish. Early in 1939, her non-Jewish husband divorced her under the Nuremberg laws, which made marriages between Jews and non-Jews illegal.  Frau Freyberger desperately wanted to leave Germany but was unable to do so because she couldn’t find a country that would let her in.  Some time after my parents left Germany, Frau Freyberger was arrested and transported to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt.  The story of how she managed to survive is told in the letter she wrote my father many years later:

May 25, 1960

Dear Dr. Hoeber,

* * * * *

Eichmann’s arrest has aroused all sorts of memories.  He was the most feared visitor to Theresienstadt.  Every time there was an announcement of his visit it set off a panic; his presence meant the same thing as transports to Auschwitz.  He then carried out the selections himself in Auschwitz.  Only one of them took place in Theresienstadt:  for the spouses of mixed marriages.  He found me suitable for removal to Auschwitz too.

It was in October 1944 that the last transport ever went from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz.  All through October there were transports of 2500 people to Auschwitz every second day.  In this desolate confusion someone dispatched me from the main office to the telephone center, which had just been completely “cleansed” by Eichmann.  While I was using the nearest steps to the telephone center, Eichmann was coming down the main stairway to “cleanse” the main office.  They forgot about me in the telephone center.  Everyone who was in the main office was gassed in Auschwitz, so that I alone remained as the result of “forgetfulness.”

Sincerely,

Your

Natalie Freyberger

 


How do You Raise a Bright Little Girl in Nazi Germany?

Erich von Baeyer, "Portrait of a Young Girl" [Susanne Höber], 1938

Erich von Baeyer, “Portrait of a Young Girl” [Susanne Höber], 1938

My sister, Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, lived in Düsseldorf , Germany until she was nine years old .  She was just three when the Nazis took over the country and our family lived there under Hitler’s regime until 1939.  At that time our parents, Johannes and Elfriede, took Susanne to America.  I am always amazed when Susanne tells me that she experienced her childhood as a happy one, full of friends and secure family connections.  Our grandmother on our mother’s side lived nearby as did two of Elfriede’s younger brothers, with whom Susanne was great friends.  She enjoyed school and her school friends and was well taught. Johannes and Elfriede’s circle of interesting grownup friends formed a warm background to Susanne’s daily life. These family and social circles managed to shield Susanne from most of  the oppressive conditions created by the Nazis.

Susanne Höber, Düsseldorf, Christmas 1938.

Susanne Höber, Düsseldorf, Christmas 1938.

Although our parents were nonreligious — Konfessionslos in German — Düsseldorf was a Catholic city and our family measured life around the celebration of the holidays of the Christian calendar — Lent, Easter, Pentecost, St. Martin’s, Advent, Christmas. The Karnival season in late winter — the German equivalent of Mardi Gras — was celebrated raucously in Düsseldorf and the surrounding Rhine valley. Rosenmontag, the Monday before Ash Wednesday, was celebrated with a huge costumed parade in which children participated as well as adults.  For Rosenmontag in February 1939, Susanne decided she wanted to dress as a Mexicanerin, a Mexican cowgirl.  Her grandmother helped her assemble all the accessories for her costume — wide skirt, big belt, checked shirt, kercheif and a  broad-brimmed hat.  Elfriede tracked down the makeup Susanne wanted as well as a cap pistol (despite Elfriede’s pacifist aversion to such toys).  The final charming effect was documented both in a photograph by Susanne’s Uncle Günter and in her own self-portrait drawing.

Susanne Höber as "Mexicanerin" for Karneval, Monday, February 20, 1939.  Her drawing of herself is on the left and a photo by her Uncle Günter Fischer is on the right.

Susanne Höber as Mexicanerin for Karneval, Monday, February 20, 1939.

Had Johannes and Elfriede remained in Germany, Susanne would have been required to enter the Hitlerjugend,  the Nazis’ corps for indoctrinating children in the fascist ideology of the Third Reich. Protecting her from such an intolerable experience was one of the many reasons our family fled Germany.

POSTSCRIPT: After I wrote the piece above, I sent it to Susanne to review.  She liked it, and sent the following additional story. Note that this is a memory from 75 years ago:

I was very much aware of living in Nazi Germany. Here is the Ruth Boker story. She was my best friend in school. We walked to school together every day. I told her a joke about Herman Göring having an operation to have his chest widened so he could wear all his medals. It was a story that [my uncles] Herbert and Günther told. I was very aware that such stories were not for public consumption. When I went to pick her up one morning Ruth insisted that I tell her father the wonderful story about Herman Göring. When her father heard the story he pounded  on the breakfast table and said I never wish to hear such a story again in this house. This illustrates how daily talk was self censored and my awareness of it.