1933: The Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars

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.

Rudolf Höber, Professor of Physiology, University of Kiel, around the time of his expulsion in 1934.

Rudolf Höber, Professor of Physiology, University of Kiel, around the time of his expulsion in 1934.

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:

University of Pennsylvania's   appointment of Rudolf Höber as Visiting Professor, december 12, 1933. click for larger image.

University of Pennsylvania’s appointment of Rudolf Höber as Visiting Professor, December 12, 1933.

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.

Edward R. Murrow around the time he ran the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars, 1933-35.

Edward R. Murrow around the time he ran the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars, 1933-35.

Edward R. Murrow's letter acknowledging Rudolf Höber's placement at the University of Pennsylvania, May 12, 1934. 9click for larger image)

Edward R. Murrow’s letter acknowledging Rudolf Höber’s placement at the University of Pennsylvania, May 12, 1934.

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.

Rudolf and Josephine Höber  on the boat to the United States.  Both were workaholics, so their relaxation in this picutre is uncharacteristic for both of them.

Rudolf and Josephine Höber on the boat to the United States, May 1934. Both were workaholics, so their relaxed pose in this picture is totally uncharacteristic .

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5 Comments on “1933: The Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars”

  1. Katherine Parkin says:

    Frank, have you studied the anti-immigrant, “they’re taking our jobs” sentiment in this period, which was undoubtedly coupled with anti-Semitism? We’re of course proud to claim these scientists as Americans now, but I wonder if beyond the academy (and even within it), if they were as warmly welcomed?

    • Frank Hoeber says:

      Katie, things were very different in 1933-34 than they were five years later. The people to be rescued at the beginning of the Nazi regime numbered in the hundreds, not the hundreds of thousands who would seek admission to the U.S. in 1938-39. In addition, these early refugees were mostly elite intellectuals and academics, whose high status may have overridden the antisemitism that pervaded the U.S. State Department. And the universities were quite willing to welcome this “free” additional talent because they were paid for out of Rockefeller money and so didn’t displace other scholars. Rudolf Höber continued in his “visiting professor” status during the 15 years or so he was at Penn, so he wasn’t seen as taking anyone else’s job. The records documented in his passport indicate he got an immigration visa just for the asking in 1934. This was a far cry from the agonizing wait and endless arguments my mother had to endure when she sought an immigration visa in 1939.


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