The Gestapo Has No Sense of Humor – Düsseldorf 1933

The National Socialists took control of the German government on January 30, 1933 and consolidated their power with great speed.  Political street violence had been part of German life for a long time, but the Nazis escalated that pattern rapidly and brutally, using terrorist tactics to wipe out political opposition in a matter of weeks.  My father, Johannes (1904-1977), was the first victim in our family, when he was arrested in March and imprisoned for several weeks because of his liberal politics, and my grandfather, Rudolf (1873-1953),was next when he was expelled from his professor’s position the following fall, in part because of actions he took against Nazi students.  The situation with my mother’s brothers was something else entirely.

My mother had three younger brothers who, in 1933, were in their mid-twenties. All three were good looking and charming, with cheerful dispositions and a taste for evenings with friends in the taverns of Düsseldorf’s Altstadt, taverns with names like the Golden Kettle (Im Goldenen Kessel) and Fatty’s Irish Pub, which are still popular today. On the night of Tuesday, November 7, 1933, my uncles Paul Fischer (1909-1947), a recent law graduate still in training, and Herbert Fischer (1907-1992), by day in business with his father, went out for an evening of socializing.   Their father Franz (1868-1937) and older brother Günter (1906-1979) were away on a business trip for several days.

Herbert Fischer (1907-1992). This picture was taken several years after his imprisonment by the Gestapo in 1933.

The social evening lasted until 3 :00 in the morning, when the bars closed.  Paul and Herbert, whose state after a long night of drinking can only be guessed, got into the car of a friend who drove them home.  Still joking as they tumbled out of the car, Herbert spotted a poster that had been pasted on a nearby wall and was partially coming off. Tearing the poster off the wall, Herbert crumpled it into a ball and threw it into the car at his friend saying, “Here! You can use this to clean your windshield!”  It seems that Herbert didn’t recognize the poster as Nazi propaganda, nor did he notice the Stormtrooper watching nearby.  Although lacking legal authority, the hundreds of thousands of brown-shirted Stormtroopers of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung constituted a militia of the Nazi Party and were free to attack and bully citizens  who showed any sign of dissent from the regime.  Although Herbert was non-political, the waiting Stormtrooper saw his petty vandalism as a political act and took him into custody.  Paul went along to be a witness in his brother’s defense, but soon found himself taken into custody as well.

Paul Fischer (1909-1947). This picture was taken a couple of years after his imprisonment by the Gestapo in 1933.

As Paul and Herbert got passed on from the Stormtrooper to a bicycle policeman to an automobile police squad to the police station, the story of the incident grew from a tipsy prank to an organized conspiracy against the state.  By dawn, both Herbert and Paul were arrested and imprisoned and their case turned over to the “political police,”  a part of the recently formed Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei or Gestapo). Apparently the fact that Paul was a lawyer in training (Referendar) increased the Gestapo’s suspicions.  The brothers were held for more than a week without charges and were subject to repeated beatings.

The day after the arrest, my grandmother and my father and mother began agitating with the police for the young men’s release.  It took three days just to identify the official with authority over Paul and Herbert’s case.  My grandmother was so desperate for her sons’ release that she forced herself to mumble “Heil Hitler!” to the police official, the only time in the entire Nazi period that she ever used that hated salutation. As my father wrote at the time, “Endless approaches, endless waiting, walking down endless corridors, daily hopes, daily disappointments, long negotiations and discussions, after the third day with the help of a lawyer.”  After a week, Paul was released with no explanation either for his arrest or his beatings or his release.  He left the city immediately to recuperate from the wounds he received in the beatings. Herbert continued to be held, inexplicably, because, as my father wrote, “He never at any time ever engaged in any political activity whatsoever.” Nevertheless, it took another week to negotiate his release, again without explanation, but, as my mother wrote, he came out “relatively undamaged.”

In the end, it all came to nothing and the brothers returned to their respective occupations.  But the reality of being arrested and beaten and held for many days for no reason was part of the atmosphere of terror that would be part of daily life in Germany for the next 12 years.

Johennes Höber’s letter to his parents telling of the Gestapo’s arrest of his brothers-in-law, Herbert Fischer and Paul Fischer, on November 8, 1933. (Deutschleser: Bitte klicken für ein größeres Bild.)

More stories about the Hoeber and Fischer families are to be found in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, published by the American Philosophical Society. Information is available here. Also available at Amazon.com

Advertisements

How Tyranny Begins

Seeburg Student Center, University of Kiel, where Nazi students prevented the lecture of Prof. Walther Schuecking, May 26, 1930.

Seeburg Student Center, University of Kiel, where Nazi students prevented the lecture of Prof. Walther Schücking , May 26, 1930.

The following account is based on documents I recently received from the Schleswig-Holstein State Archives in Schleswig, Germany.  I am indebted to my friend, archivist Dagmar Bickelmann, who  has been endlessly helpful in locating records relating to my grandfather’s time at the University of Kiel.

My grandfather, Rudolf Höber (1873-1953), was elected Rektor (Chancellor) by the faculty of the University of Kiel in March 1930.  Shortly after his installation, the university community  was shaken when the local chapter of the National Socialist German Student Association forcibly disrupted a lecture by the distinguished professor of international law, Walther Schücking (1875-1935).

Schücking had served in 1918 as a German delegate to the Versailles peace conference that ended World War I.  Thereafter, he became a strong advocate for the League of Nations, the international organization dedicated to ending war, and spoke often on the struggle for world peace.  On Monday, May 26, 1930 he was scheduled to speak in the ceremonial hall of the Seeburg, the student center on  Kiel Harbor. His lecture was entitled “The Moral Idea of the League of Nations.”  The Nazis opposed the League of Nations, just as they opposed “pacifism.” They claimed that ending war and supporting the League would cause Germany to live for decades under the onerous terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which they believed could be reversed only by a new war.

Prof. Schücking’s lecture meeting was chaired by a distinguished panel of academics and jurists.  The Nazis packed the hall early, making it difficult for anyone else to find a seat.  When Schücking began to speak, the Nazis interrupted his presentation, shouting insults and catcalls. His discussion of the accomplishments of the League of Nations was derided by the audience and met with raucous laughter. As Schücking continued his lecture, the disruptions got louder.  During a discussion that followed Prof. Schücking’s talk, a Nazi party member, Schalow, screamed that the League was a fraud and that leaders who preached the “emasculating” doctrine of pacifism were cowards.  He claimed that the presiding panel was nothing but a bunch of Jews.  The panelists intervened vigorously in the debate.  A jurist condemned the “murderous activities of the SA,” the Sturmabteilung or Nazi Stormtroopers who often physically assaulted their opponents. Nazis screamed that one of the panelists was a member of the Reichsbanner, a pro-democracy militia of the Social Democratic party. When it became apparent that the most disruptive speaker, Schalow, was a student, one of the professors threatened to bring him before the university disciplinary tribunal for violation of the university’s code of behavior. This temporarily brought the meeting back under control.

Near the end of his talk, Prof. Schücking spoke critically of the political ineptness and rudeness of German political fanatics. The Nazis showed their displeasure by stamping their feet so loudly that the meeting had to be brought to a close.  Triumphant at having  prevented Prof Schücking from finishing his lecture, the Nazi students launched into a chorus of the Horst Wessel Lied, an anthem of the Nazi Party.  They finished the evening by standing, giving the Nazi salute, and shouting “Heil Hitler!” in unison.  In response, someone in the audience, possibly another professor, shouted “Pfui!,” in those days roughly the equivalent of yelling “Disgusting!” Someone else in the audience – according to the Nazis, an angry “German worker,” not a student – responded by punching that person in the face. The meeting thus came to a tumultuous end.

Clipping from Nazi newspaper boasting about suppressing academic freedom by disrupting Prof. Schücking's speech. Schleswig-Holsteinische Tageszeitung, 31 May 1930.

Clipping from Nazi newspaper boasting about suppressing academic freedom by disrupting Prof. Schücking’s speech. Schleswig-Holsteinische Tageszeitung, 31 May 1930.

As it happened, the Nazi student group had reserved the same room in the Seeburg student center for a meeting of their own two days later, on Wednesday, May 28.  On the afternoon of the scheduled Nazi meeting, however, a notice was posted from Rektor Höber that read, “Because of the events on Monday evening … we hereby withdraw the permission previously granted for the use of the large hall for a National Socialist meeting.”

Rudolf Höber, Professor of Physiology, University of Kiel. He was actually a more cheerful and charming person than this rather serious picture shows him to be.

Rudolf Höber, Professor of Physiology and Rektor of the University of Kiel, around the time he banned the Nazi party from the University because of its disruption of free speech.

The president of the National Socialist Student Association, a student named Münske, went to the office the Rektor, who agreed to meet with him. Rektor Höber, however, refused to allow the Nazi meeting, in order to ensure there was no repetition of the violence of March 26.  In a letter to Rektor Höber three days later, Münske renewed his claim that the Nazis should not be held responsible for disrupting Prof. Schücking’s lecture and should not be excluded from use of the hall in the future.  Rektor Höber dictated a file memorandum noting that he would not respond to Münske’s letter, since he had discussed the matter with him  on May 28.  The memo included evidence showing the Nazis as a group to be responsible for breaking up the Schücking meeting.

Rektor Rudolf Höber's memo concerning the Nazi attack on Prof. Schuecking, 7 June 1930.

Rektor Rudolf Höber’s memo concerning the Nazi attack on Prof. Schücking, 7 June 1930.

The Schücking affair was a marker in the advance of the Nazi assault on liberalism, internationalism and academic freedom of speech.  It was a precursor to  the Baumgarten affair five months later, when Nazi students disrupted a sermon of the liberal theologian Otto Baumgarten, branding him a pacifist, “Jew-lover” and traitor to the nation.  In response, Rektor Höber expelled the students involved and permanently banned the National Socialist German Student Group from the University campus.  This action was one of the factors held against Höber when the Nazis took control of the country in 1933, leading to his expulsion from the faculty and emigration to the United States.

More stories about the Hoeber family are to be found in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, published by the American Philosophical Society. Information is available here. Also available at Amazon.com


My Grandfather’s Pearl Stickpin – 1918

Regular readers of this website may know that, for me, photographs, documents and objects are bridges across time.  In this case, a picture and a pearl connect me to my family as it was nearly a century ago.

A German historian contacted me recently and asked for a photograph of my grandfather, Rudolf Höber, around 1915.  That’s when Rudolf became Professor and Director of the Physiological Institute at the University of Kiel.  I don’t have an individual portrait of him in 1915, but I found this great family portrait taken in February 1918.

The Höber Family, February 1918. Rudolf Höber surrounded by, from left, Ursula, Josephine, Johannes, Gabriele.

The Höber Family, Kiel, Germany, February 1918. Rudolf Höber surrounded by, from left, Ursula, Josephine, Johannes, Gabriele.

The parents and their three children all look somewhat gloomy, but serious portraits were the fashion of the day.  At the time the picture was taken, scientists came from as far away as Japan to study with Rudolf at the Physiological Institute, despite the fact that it was the middle of World War I.  The sailor suit my father is wearing in the picture was typical for German school boys then and later. It was particularly appropriate in Kiel, which had a huge naval installation.  A few months after this picture was taken, Johannes, 14, was on his way home from his Gymnasium when he witnessed the shooting that marked the mutiny of the German naval forces, starting the German Revolution of 1918.

When the photograph was cropped to pull out the portrait of Rudolf the historian had requested, I noticed something. In the center of the knot of Rudolf’s tie is a pearl stickpin.

Prof. Rudolf Höber, Kiel, February 1918.

Prof. Rudolf Höber, Kiel, February 1918.

When Rudolf died in 1952, the pearl stickpin passed to my father, Johannes.  And when Johannes died in 1977 the pearl stickpin passed to me.

My grandfather's pearl stickpin.

My grandfather’s pearl stickpin.

Although it is not particularly fashionable today, I still try to find occasion to wear the stickpin once in a while.

Wearing my grandfather's pearl stickpin - 2016.

Wearing my grandfather’s pearl stickpin – 2016.

More stories about the Hoeber family are to be found in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, published by the American Philosophical Society. Information is available here. Also available at Amazon.com


Revolutionary Politician — Great-great Uncle Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim (1819-1880)

Doctor of Law degree granted to Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim by the Univeristy of Heidelberg, 20 March 1839.

Doctor of Law degree granted to Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim by the University of Heidelberg, March 20, 1839.

In the extensive archive of my family’s papers, I found the University of Heidelberg law degree bestowed on my great-great-grandmother’s brother, Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim. This was in 1839 and he was just 19.  Although he taught law for a time, Heinrich was denied a position as a professor of law because he was Jewish. Later, however, his legal training enabled him to become a well-known journalist and commentator for liberal and left radical causes for nearly 40 years.

As a young man, Heinrich was a member of the intellectual and literary circle around  Countess Bettina von Arnim in Berlin.  Although he was short and had an odd voice and accent, he was known as a great conversationalist and a man of “uncommon wit” (Carl Schurz).  His boyish appearance and sparkling talk made him a favorite with women. In the von Arnim salon he befriended some of the leading European thinkers and progressive political figures of the day. For a time he shared rooms with theologian Abraham Geiger, one of the prime founders of Reform Judaism, and he was good friends with the young Karl Marx.

In March 1848, Heinrich participated in the political uprising in Berlin in a failed attempt to wrest a more democratic form of government from King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia.  He addressed several of the mass demonstrations in the Tiergarten park in the Prussian capitol. Later in 1848, Heinrich fled to the southern Duchy of Baden where he continued his revolutionary activities with a left extremist wing led by Gustav Struve in Karlsruhe and Lörrach.

Declaration of the short-lived German Republic by Gustav Struve, Lörrach in the Duchy of Baden, September 21, 1848. Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim was was one of the leaders of this attempt to establish a constitutional form of government.

Declaration of the short-lived German Republic by Gustav Struve, Lörrach in the Duchy of Baden, September 21, 1848. Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim was was one of the leading voices in this failed attempt to establish a constitutional form of government.

In July 1849, the Baden revolution collapsed and Heinrich was driven into an 11-year exile in Switzerland, France, Belgium and England. He was unable to return to Germany until 1861. During his political exile, he continued to publish pro-democracy commentary, much of it in French.

Revue Germanique, Paris 1858 inclding articles by Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim

Revue Germanique, Paris 1858, including articles by Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim

 

Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim,, Letters on Modern Historians of GErmany, 1858

Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim, “Letters on Modern German Historians,” Revue Germanique, Paris, 1858.

When he was finally able to return to Germany, Heinrich continued his liberal political writing.  In 1879-80 he earned recognition for his articulate opposition to a sudden onslaught of antisemitism led by the prominent historian Heinrich von Treitschke. Oppenheim’s articles targeted the attacks as a political strategy of conservatives to discredit governmental reforms being pressed by liberal activists, many of whom were Jews.

Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim's rebuke to the notorious anti-Semites Heinrich von Treitschke and Adolf Stöcker, Die Gegenwart, January 1880.

Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim’s rebuke to the notorious antisemites Heinrich von Treitschke and Adolf Stöcker, Die Gegenwart, Berlin, January 1880.

On March 29, 1880, a few weeks after publishing his rebuke to the Berlin antisemites, Heinrich died of a chronic lung ailment .  His funeral was attended by many representatives of the Berlin news corps as well as liberal political activists from all over Germany.  Shortly thereafter, his colleagues published a long pamphlet collecting numerous speeches about him and the obituaries published in the many newspapers in Germany.  The pamphlet contains the only known portrait of Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim.

Memorial brochure of tributes to Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim, Berlin, 1880.

Memorial brochure of obituaries and tributes by public figures dedicated to Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim, Berlin, 1880.

The funeral for Heinrich took place in his home in Berlin and a long procession accompanied his casket to the Schönhauser Allee cemetery.  In December of that year, the family arranged for the erection of a grave monument of pink granite.  My family’s papers includes the original text of the gravestone inscription, written by the liberal political leader Ludwig Bamberger.

Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim's grave inscription written by Ludwig Bamberger, 1880.

Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim’s grave inscription written by Ludwig Bamberger, 1880.

“In memory of Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim, born Frankfurt a/M 20 July 1819, died Berlin 29 March 1880.

True and good of heart, strong and bright in spirit, always a ready fighter, always a helping friend, expert in learning and life, compassionate to the least of men, faithful to the greatest of men, willingly accepting and even more willingly giving all that a man can give, thus he worked for his country, thus he lived for others to his last breath, thus unforgettable, irreplaceable, he lives in the memory of his family and his friends.”

Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim's grave (left), Schönhauserallee Cemetery, Berlin. The grave of his sister Amalia, my great-great grandmother, is on the right.

Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim’s grave (left), Schönhauserallee Cemetery, Berlin. The grave of his sister Amalia, my great-great grandmother, is on the right.

More stories about the Hoeber family are to be found in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, published by the American Philosophical Society. Information is available here. Also available at Amazon.com

 

 


The Photographic Art of Philadelphian Bill Rapp

Bill Rapp, Philadelphia-to-Camden Ferry on its Last Day of Operation, March 30, 1952. Bill Rapp Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia

Bill Rapp, Philadelphia-to-Camden Ferry on its last day of operation, March 31, 1952. Bill Rapp Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia.

I first spotted one of Bill Rapp’s photographs among the antiques at the Fitler Square Fair in our old neighborhood in Philadelphia.  This was around 1980. Bill’s wife Jean dealt in prints and old documents, and  in her booth she had a beautiful image of the interior of the old Philadelphia-to-Camden Ferry. The price was a little more than I wanted to pay, by my artist wife Ditta encouraged me to buy it.  Bill made his living as an advertising agent, not a photographer, but he had a wonderful eye and his printing was impeccable.

A portion of the collection of Bill Rapp originals that we acquired in the 1980s.

A portion of our collection of Bill Rapp originals that we acquired in the 1980s.

At the annual spring fairs over the next several years, Ditta and I acquired additional prints of Bill’s beautiful work.  My particular interest was the rare slices of Philadelphia history that Bill had captured. Ditta, the photographer-artist, had a particular appreciation for the artistry of Bill’s work. By the time Bill died in 1989 we had accumulated a nice collection of his photographs.  What happened next, however, was unexpected.  About a year after Bill died there was a knock at our front door — it was Jean Rapp.  She held tightly in her hands a sizable batch of photographic negatives bundled together with a rubber band.  They were Bill’s. She said that because we had shown so much interest in Bill’s work over the years she wanted Ditta and me to have the negatives to print whatever copies we wanted for ourselves.  When we finished with them, Jean asked that we donate them to the Free Library of Philadelphia.  We gratefully accepted the negatives and the responsibility that went with them.  Not long after this we learned that Jean, too, had passed away.

Bill Rapp, Horticultural Hall, Philadelphia, before 1957. This building was a relic of the U.S. Centennial Eshibition in 1876. It was destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1957. Bill Rapp Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia.

Bill Rapp, Horticultural Hall, Philadelphia. This building was a relic of the U.S. Centennial Exhibition in 1876. It was destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1957. Bill Rapp Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia.

In those days Ditta had a darkroom in our house for her own work.  She hired a student to come in and make rough prints of the negatives so we would know what we had.  The resulting proofs were fine, but we weren’t ready to part with the negatives because we lacked the resources then to print the images in the finished quality they deserved.  Years passed with Bill’s negatives and the proof prints resting quietly in storage.

Bill Rapp, Ship maintenance, Philadelphia, ca. 1950. Bill Rapp Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia.

Bill Rapp, Ship Maintenance, Philadelphia, ca. 1950. Bill Rapp Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia.

In 2011, we decided it was finally time to deal properly with Bill’s legacy.  In the meantime we had become friends with Mike Froio, a photographer and instructor at Drexel University. We arranged with Mike to clean and scan all  of Bill’s negatives.  Ditta selected more than a hundred of them to be printed in archival form.  In 2012 and 2013 we donated two large albums of these prints to the Free Library of Philadelphia along with an indexed archive housing all of Bill’s original negatives.   We also gave the Library a set of disks containing the scans of the negatives and photographs  along with a digital inventory.

Bill Rapp, Street scene, 9th and Bainbridge Streets, Philadelphia, ca. 1950. Bill Rapp Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia.

Bill Rapp, Street scene, 9th and Bainbridge Streets, Philadelphia, ca. 1950. Bill Rapp Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia.

Recently, the Free Library finished loading many of Bill’s images online; you can see them by clicking here (look for the live lambs that were once sold in the Italian market to be turned into Easter dinner).   Curator Laura Stroffolino also posted a nice blog entry about the collection that you can read here. It is a privilege to participate in preserving the legacy of a fine artist whose work might otherwise have been lost.

Bill Rapp, O.U. Lunch ("Baked Beef Hash Rice and Carrots 35 cents"), Philadelphia, 1950s. Bill Rapp Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia.

Bill Rapp, O.U. Lunch (“Baked Beef Hash Rice and Carrots 35 cents”), Philadelphia, 1950s. Bill Rapp Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia.

Stories about the Hoeber family are to be found in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, published by the American Philosophical Society. Information is available here. Also available at Amazon.com


A Story in Some Grains of Sand

Old Delft vase acquired by Jacob Marx around 1870, Berlin.

Old Delft vase acquired by Jacob Marx around 1870, Berlin.

When I went to my late sister Susanne’s Vermont home recently, I spotted this familiar old family vase.  I placed it on a table on the sunny porch to photograph it. Then, with  relatives watching, I turned the vase over and poured out — some ordinary sea sand.

Sand from the Baltic, Kiel 1914, Barnard 2016

Sand from the vase. Baltic Sea, Kiel 1914, Barnard, Vermont 2016

How did I know there would be sand in the vase?  The answer is a story I heard from my father a long time ago.

My great-grandfather, Jacob Marx, was a banker and investor in Berlin in the mid-nineteenth century.  He made some smart investments in the industrial boom before and after the Franco-Prussian War in the early 1870s.  Some of his new wealth he invested in art, including several antique Delft vases.

Jakob Marx, 18XX-18XX

Jakob Marx, 1835-1883

After Jacob died in 1883, the vases were owned by his widow, Marie, and when she died in 1913 they were inherited by my grandparents, Rudolf Höber and Josephine Marx Höber.  At that time, Rudolf and Josephine lived on Hegewischstrasse in Kiel, a university city and naval harbor on the Baltic Sea.

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

Rudolf and Josephine Höber with their first child, Johannes, around December 1904 (ten years before they inherited the Delft vases).

Josephine displayed the vases atop a tall Schrank, an antique wardrobe cabinet in the family living room. Inconveniently, however, a streetcar line traversed the street in front of the residence, and every time a trolley went past the Delft vases shook and rattled.  The noise annoyed Josephine, who also feared the old pieces would be shaken off the cabinet and break.  To resolve the problem, she gave her ten-year-old son Johannes a metal pail and told him to go down to the shore of the Baltic, fill the bucket with sand and bring it home.  Josephine then filled each  Delft vase with sand.  The extra weight kept them from rattling on top of the Schrank for the next 19 years.

In 1933, the Nazis forced Rudolf out of his position in Kiel and he and Josephine emigrated to Philadelphia.  They took the vases with them — and the sand went along.  Josephine died in 1941 and Rudolf in 1953 and then the vases — and the sand — were inherited by my parents, Johannes and Elfriede.  They moved several times and at each move the vases were carefully packed and the sand with them.

Johannes died in Washington DC in 1977 and Elfriede in Oakland, California in 1999.  When we divided up Elfriede’s possessions among her three children, my sister  Sue expressed a desire to have the Delft vases.  We wrapped them and transported them — and the sand — to the house in Barnard, Vermont, where she and her husband Lloyd worked and wrote in the summers for many years. And there they have remained until now.  The next home for the Delft vases and the sand from the Baltic Sea remains to be seen.

Sue and Lloyd Rudolph's house in Barnard, Vermont, the last stop so far in the Delft vases ' journey.

Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph’s house in Barnard, Vermont, the last stop so far in the Delft vase’s journey.

More stories about the Hoeber family are to be found in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, published by the American Philosophical Society. Information is available here. Also available at Amazon.com


The Dark Humor of a Nuremberg Prosecutor — 1945

Robert Kempner was my parents’ friend and, like them, a Social Democrat and activist against the Nazi Party before 1933.  Like them, he fled Germany for America before World War II.  At the end of the War the U.S. government recruited Kempner, a lawyer, to be one of the lead prosecutors  at the International War Crimes Tribunal in Nuremberg. The fact that he was bilingual made Kempner particularly effective in cross examining the Nazi leadership.  He also was a witness against Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1960.

Robert M. W. Kempner when he was a prosecutor at the International War Crimes Tribunal, Nuremberg, 1946.

Robert M. W. Kempner when he was a prosecutor at the International War Crimes Tribunal, Nuremberg, 1946.

While my parents were able to escape Germany before the War, my mother’s mother and three brothers were trapped there for the duration.  After the war, communications between Americans and German nationals continued to be restricted for many months.  Desperate for news about her family, and unable to communicate through civilian channels, my mother wrote to Robert Kempner in Nuremberg asking him to find out if they were alright.  As a prosecutor, he had access to the American military mail system, and wrote my parents an extraordinary postcard in response. The original is preserved in my family’s papers.

Postcard from Nuremberg Prosecutor Robert M. W. Kempner to Johannes and Elfriede Hoeber, December 26, 1945.

Postcard from Nuremberg Prosecutor Robert M. W. Kempner to Johannes and Elfriede Hoeber, December 26, 1945.

The first surprising thing is that Kempner used a Nazi-era card with an Adolf Hitler postage stamp.  There is great irony in the inscription on the lower left: The Führer knows only war, work and care. We want to take whatever part [of that burden] off him that we can.  By the time this postcard was written, the Führer’s cares were long over, since he had killed himself more than six months earlier when the Nazis were crushed by the Allies.

The trial of Major War Criminals had begun on November 20, 1945 and would continue until the end of the next year. There was evidently a Christmas recess in the proceedings, since Kempner writes that he was on a vacation trip (!)  to places like Heidelberg and Mannheim where he and my parents had been associated in anti-Nazi activities years earlier.  Note, by the way, that Kempner wrote in English, even though his and my parents’ first language was German.  American military censors would probably not have allowed letters through if they were written in a language other than English.

Reverse of Postcard from Bob Kempner to Johannes and Elfriede Hoeber, December 26, 1945.

Reverse of Postcard from Robert Kempner to Johannes and Elfriede Hoeber, December 26, 1945.

Kempner did not respond directly to my mother’s questions about her family (he probably wasn’t able to contact them) but he responded to reports of widespread starvation and freezing conditions in the war-devastated country.  This was probably my mother’s biggest concern and Kempner wrote, “The Germ.[an] situation is not to [sic] bad, they need more fat and meat but they have enough bread and also enough coal for [heating] 1-2 rooms.”  Overall, though, Kempner shows little sympathy for the suffering of the Germans, far too many of whom denied any involvement in the nation’s atrocities.  Here is the full text of the postcard:

Dec 26
Dear Elfriede and Jonny:
It was very nice of Elfriede to write me.  Thanks for the letter.  At present I am travelling (5-6 days) for vacation, visiting Heidelberg, Mannheim, Wiesbaden, Frankfurt.
The Germ. situation is not to[o] bad, they need more fat and meat but have enough bread and also coal for 1-2 rooms.  Of course, they don’t like the de-nazification program.  You know they all ‘had’ to join the Party, were helpful to Jews, if not having a Jewish grandmother, or at least participants of July 20, 1944, which was, if all the allegations of participation were true, a mass movement of the first rank.  The Communist vote will be pretty low because of the happenings in the Russian area where fraternization without giving cigarettes is called rape.  There are a lot of openings for Elfr. & Jonny but I think we better stay around Philadelphia Pa.  Hope you will write me again.
Yours,
Robert MWK

“July 20, 1944” refers a failed attempt by eight military officers to assassinate Hitler.  After the war, totally unrealistic numbers of German claimed to have supported it.

The comment about the Russians is unclear, but it was well known that the occupying Soviet Army committed massive rapes of German women, including elderly women and young girls.

Kempner’s comments about “lots of openings” refers to the fact that, as exiled Germans committed to democracy, my parents would have opportunities in a new government to be installed by the Allies — but Kempner didn’t recommend it.  In any event, my parents never considered returning to the country from which they had been driven out.

It was an idiosyncrasy of Kempner’s that he addressed my father as “John” or “Jonny.” My father was adamant about not Anglicizing his name, which was Johannes. During his lifetime Robert Kempner was the only one with the temerity to address him as John.

Years later, Robert Kempner successfully sued the German government for restitution on behalf of hundreds — perhaps thousands — of victims of the Nazis, primarily in Israel and America.  My parents were among the clients for whom he secured some compensation from the German authorities for the losses they had suffered.

More stories about the Hoeber family are to be found in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, published by the American Philosophical Society. Information is available hereAlso available at Amazon.com