When the Nazis took over Germany in 1933, one of their first acts was to fire thousands of the nation’s most brilliant scientists and academics from their university positions, either because they were Jewish or because they were deemed “politically unreliable.” Those expelled included Albert Einstein, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, Edward Teller and countless others. My grandfather, Rudolf Höber, a professor of physiology at the University of Kiel, was also one of them. I previously wrote about his last months at Kiel here. All of these fired individuals faced the difficult problem of finding a new place to teach and continue their research.
Some American educators quickly recognized that Germany’s loss might well be America’s gain. The Institute of International Education, a foundation established in 1919 in the aftermath of World War I, quickly decided to establish a program to place exiled German academics in American universities. To head the new Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars, the IIE hired a recent graduate of Columbia University, a young man named Edward R. Murrow. A few years later, Murrow would become America’s most famous broadcast journalist, but in 1933 he led the effort to provide new careers for scientists and other scholars victimized by Hitler. His job was particularly difficult because the United States was in the depths of the Depression and money was tight everywhere. The Emergency Committee’s method was to match up a scientist with an appropriate university and have the university provide the scientist with a position. Then, using funds provided by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Emergency Committee would reimburse the university for all or part of the new faculty member’s salary. Once the word got around the scientific community that Rudolf Höber was interested in coming to the United States, a bit of competition arose to get him because of his prominence in cutting edge cellular biochemistry and biophysics. The Emergency Committee received offers from the University of Chicago, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Tennessee and the University of Pennsylvania to create a visiting professorship for Rudolf. Ultimately the University of Pennsylvania won out in obtaining Rudolf for its medical faculty. The following is the offer extended to Rudolf by the University’s Vice president in charge of the School of Medicine:
Upon his arrival in the United States, Rudolf wrote to Murrow and expressed his appreciation for the work of the Emergency Committee in finding a place for him to continue his work in America. Murrow responded cordially.
Within a few months of receiving the offer from the University of Pennsylvania, Rudolf and his wife, Josephine, were on their way to America. They had escaped the Nazis and would live and work in Philadelphia for the rest of their lives.