I have had this charming letter for many years, but only recently deciphered its old script with the invaluable help of my cousin, Britta Fischer. The letter is in German, but the author had lived in New York for nearly 40 years when he wrote it. It reveals an incident in my family’s history that I never knew about.
Emil Höber (1832-1906) came to New York from Karlsruhe just before the Civil War. Trained as a doctor in Germany, Emil became Coroner of New York in 1898. My grandfather, Rudolf Höber, was the son of Emil’s first cousin and grew up in Stettin. By 1899, Rudolf had completed his own medical studies at the University of Erlangen and had begun his career as a research scientist in human cellular physiology. Apparently he wrote to his uncle Emil (whom he had never met) and asked advice about moving to the United States. In this letter, Emil tells Rudolf that scientific research is not as well supported in America as in Europe and that American scientists were not as well regarded. He urges Rudolf to remain in Europe. Lacking Emil’s encouragement, Rudolf decided not to emigrate, and continued his research in Switzerland and Germany for the next 35 years.
In addition to giving advice to Rudolf, in this letter Emil reviews the monumental advances in medical science over his lifetime. Here is the translated letter:
612 Lex. Ave., New York, 24 March 1899
My Dear Rudolf,
I was extremely pleased to receive your letter, and many thanks as well for the paper that you sent me. I must admit – and you will understand when I remind you that I studied medicine between 1852 and 1857 – that my chemical/physiological knowledge is not sufficiently developed to be able to follow you. I have made an honest attempt to stay au courant with the advancements in our science, but a practicing physician and a very busy man cannot do everything, so I gave up on chemistry and microscopy a long time ago and manage as best I can. It is now possible to decide things without understanding chemical formulas, and one can have blood and urine tests conducted by specialists and make do with their results. Your understanding of the history of medicine will tell you what colossal changes it has experienced in the last 50 years. I began my studies in Göttingen in 1852. Thermometers for measuring the temperature of blood were unknown; bacteria had not been discovered; I remember a 2 hour long lecture by Pfeiffer in Munich on “whether and under what circumstances one could risk treating a case of pneumonia without bleeding the patient“; blood transfusions (and intravenous saline) were terra incognita; salicylic acid was not around yet, nor was cocaine; and even less present was Lister’s great work on antisepsis. These are only a few examples; our science really only became a science in these years – if indeed it is one even now in connection with medical therapy. Wohler’s Chemistry is not recognizable in its subsequent editions; Chelin’ Chirugie is today pretty much not worth the paper it is printed on; and a book dealer told me recently that my edition of Virchow’s Cellular Pathology (2nd edition 1859) is no longer of any value whatsoever. Maybe these remarks will be of interest to you.
Now for a different topic! Do not aspire to any American professorship! I could write books about that! I adore America, even though I am not satisfied with my level of success here – but that is mostly my own fault. But a man of science – like you – is better off somewhere else,where he occupies a higher position and receives greater recognition. And the difference in salary is offset by the difference in the cost of living, if not completely then almost. But on balance the difference is not great enough to be decisive and not great enough to make up for other differences. You will not find the scholarly scientific atmosphere of German and Swiss universities here! Based on my experience, you are assured of a professorship, and if you take Rosenthal as an example of how not to do it then your career is assured. You should look for a rich girl – there are nice rich girls – then your security is assured for life. That is important – in fact it is the most important thing. In my opinion, if the drive to acquire scientific knowledge is not constrained by concerns over where the next meal is coming from, then its wings can never be clipped.
If, in spite of my opinion, you still want me to, I will see what Dr. A. Jacobi, Dr. Knapp and Dr. [illegible] here think about it. I would have to show them your paper, or perhaps you could send it to them directly: Dr. A. Jacobi 110 W. 34th St; Dr. H. Knapp 26 W 40th St
You surely know them by name. But – I am almost certain that they will agree with me.
I recently read with great interest the summary report about your man Schlatter’s almost [illegible] stomach resection in the local Medical Record and you probably have that in your medical library.
Unfortunately since I began writing this answer I mislaid your letter, and so I do not know if I have answered all of its contents. If you have time, please write me again. Connecting with young people is good for old people – and perhaps I can be of some use to you in some connection. If you want to know something or to get something from here, just ask and I am at your disposal.
In the meantime, I wish you continuing success! Please greet those near to you and stay well. This is the wish of your cousin
Dr. E. W. Hoeber
My mother, Elfriede, and my sister, Susanne, age 9, were still in Nazi Germany in the spring of 1939. 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 on the hundreds of thousands who wanted to leave the country. On June 22, Elfriede succeeded in getting a new passport that covered both her and Susanne.
The hardest part, however, was to get a visa allowing them to enter the United States. American law at that time permitted only 25,000 Germans to obtain immigration visas. 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 many of those seeking admission to the country 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 it 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 chance to escape to safety and freedom, a chance denied to countless others.
Rudolf Höber was appointed professor of physiology on the medical faculty at the University of Kiel on 11 February 1915. All German universities were governmental institutions at the time; there was no such thing as an American-style private university. Appointments to the exalted position of professor could only be made by the German Kaiser, at the time Kaiser Wilhelm. Although World War I had been under way for six months, teaching at European universities continued, particularly at medical schools like that at Kiel. The fabulous document shown here was signed by Kaiser Wilhelm himself, in pencil, and embossed with his raised seal. This appointment certificate is one of the wonderful pieces in the Hoeber family papers collection.
Eduard Höber, 1804-1849, was the son of Heinrich Höber, the first person who used that family name. After his first wife died, Eduard married Amalie Oppenheim, niece of the famous painter Moritz Daniel Oppenheim. The miniatures of Eduard and Amalie were painted by their daughter, Marie Höber Marx, who probably copied these images from full size wedding portraits, now lost. The photograph of Eduard was probably taken shortly before his death. Eduard, a prosperous businessman in Karlsruhe, was my grandfather Rudolf’s grandfather. His brother Benedict was the progenitor of the branch of the Hoeber family that settled in New York in the 19th century.
The miniatures are delicately painted on ivory sheets and the colors remain clear and bright more than 150 years after Marie painted them. They were in the possession of my distant cousin, Beate Rosenthal Jencks, Marie’s grand-niece. Beate’s parents rescued these and other of Marie’s miniatures when they fled Nazi Germany for India in 1936. Beate had no surviving immediate relatives and gave me these beautiful pieces for the family archive in 2004.
The spot hasn’t changed in 74 years. (See prior post.)