Confronted by the Nazis — 1930 – 1933

Rudolf Höber (1873-1952).  Picture taken around the time he served as Chancellor of the University of Kiel.

Rudolf Höber (1873-1952). Picture taken around the time he served as Chancellor of the University of Kiel.

My grandfather, Rudolf  Höber, was a gentle soul.  Although he was a hard-driving, extremely serious scientist, he was much beloved by his students in the Physiological Institute at the University of Kiel, in northern Germany.  They admired his sweet disposition and his passion for the exquisite objects of study in the world of natural science.     But my Opa Rudi could also be a fighter when someone tried to interfere with teaching or research.

In 1930, three years before Hitler took over Germany, Rudolf  Höber served a term as Chancellor of the University of Kiel.  In October of that year, a group of Nazi students tried to prevent liberal theologian Otto Baumgarten from lecturing at Kiel because he was a “pacifist” and “Jew-lover.”  Rudolf expelled the Nazi ringleaders from the University for their interference with academic freedom.  These expulsions led to nationwide demonstrations by right wing students calling for Rudolf’s ouster from from the University — but he persevered in his teaching.

“Baumgarten and the National Socialists,” a report containing Rudolf Höber’s order expelling Nazi students from the University of Kiel, 1930.

A little over two years after this incident, in January 1933, the Nazis took complete control of Germany.  One of Hitler’s first assaults was against thousands of the most prominent professors at the country’s vast university system on the ground that they were either Jews or political opponents of the Nazis.  Rudolf was one of the early targets of Hitler’s thugs.

A group of Stormtroopers, Hitler's jackbooted paramilitaries.  They were also called Brownshirts because of their uniforms.  In German they were known as the Sturmabteilung or SA.

A group of Stormtroopers, Hitler’s jackbooted paramilitaries.
They were also called Brownshirts because of their uniforms. In German they were known as the Sturmabteilung or SA.

Troops of the SS or Schutzstafel.  They were much more disciplined and much more dangerous than the Stormtroopers of the SA.

Troops of the SS or Schutzstafel. They were more disciplined and dangerous than the Stormtroopers of the SA.

On April 24, 1933, Rudolf was administering examinations to a group of premedical students in the Anatomy Building at the University of Kiel.  During a break, he was returning to his residence when he was accosted by a group of Nazis who threatened to kill him unless he abandoned his post as a teacher.  Here is his report to the Provost of the University:

Kiel, April 24, 1933

To His Excellency the Provost of the University of Kiel.

Your Excellency:

In accordance with our discussion, I am submitting this report to you concerning the events of this morning.  This morning, as chairman of the Examination Commission for the premedical examination, I was present in the Anatomy Building as proctor for a makeup examination.  On my way home I was accosted on Hegewisch Street [where I live] by five SS and SA men and two civilians who told me in the coarsest possible terms that if I did not want to endanger my life I had to keep out of the classrooms and laboratories of the Institute and that I no longer had the right to administer examinations.  They talked about the use of hand grenades, about the need to comply with their demands, about the use of force and things like that.  When I replied that as chair [of the Examination Commission] I also had to participate in other examinations, I was forced to return to the Anatomy Building, escorted by the troops, in order to share the prohibition orally with Professor Benninghoff and the remaining four examinees in the remaining four institutes.

In the Anatomy Building the people around Professor Benninghoff realized gradually that this oral announcement was meaningless, and therefore accompanied me to the Physiological Institute and left me at my residence.  In the meantime, the following had taken place in the Institute:  about 30 SS people filled the corridor.  They accused Assistant Professor Dr. Netter of being a Jew; the same thing happened shortly after that with Professor Mond.  In addition, they issued an order that these men were no longer allowed to administer any examinations either.

          I immediately notified Police Chief Count Rantzau by telephone, who promised me to pursue the matter and inform me of the result this afternoon.

                                                  s/ Höber

Copy of Rudolf Höber's report to the Provost of the University of Kiel, April 24, 1933. Obtained from Rudolf's personnel file in the Prussian Secret State ARchives in Berlin.

Copy of Rudolf Höber’s report to the Provost of the University of Kiel, April 24, 1933. Obtained from Rudolf’s personnel file in the Prussian Secret State Archives in Berlin.

There is no record of what action, if any Count Rantzau took, but Rudolf defied the threats of the SA and the SS and returned to his classroom and laboratory within a matter of days.  He continued teaching for several months more, and his students loyally attended his lectures despite the threats.  This situation couldn’t last, however, as the Nazis tightened their grip on the nation and the German people.  In November 1933, Rudolf was permanently dismissed from his professorship.  Unable to continue his research and teaching in Germany, he, like so many other brilliant scientists, emigrated, first to England and then to the United States.  In 1934 he was appointed Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he continued his pioneering work in physiology until a few years before his death in 1952.

Rudolf Höber in his laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1934

Rudolf Höber in his laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1934

After World War II and the defeat of the Nazis, the Physiological Institute at the University of Kiel was renamed the Rudolf Höber House and a street through the University campus still bears his name.

Advertisements

4 Comments on “Confronted by the Nazis — 1930 – 1933”

  1. Patrick Hennessy says:

    Simply heroic–one of the most compelling entries in your blog to date.

    Patrick Hennessy
    Blue Bell, PA

  2. Katherine Parkin says:

    A heart-racing description of a terrifying experience. What bravery and conviction. Grateful to him and others who tried to defy that evil. Grateful that he lived to tell about it and that you have such incredible treasures — what an amazing document recounting his experience. Thank you!

  3. Frank Hoeber says:

    Thanks Patrick and Katie. The documents and images I use tell the stories almost by themselves, and my task is to keep out of their way while they do it. Like many courageous people, I doubt if Rudolf ever thought of himself as particularly brave. His conviction simply drove him to act without thinking of the consequences. He never doubted for a moment the importance of his position as a scientist and teacher.

  4. […] 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, […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s