A Special Book Winds its Way through 20th-Century Germany — to AmericaPosted: December 9, 2014
I don’t know what happened to my grandfather’s scientific papers. I have tons of family papers, but for some reason they don’t include most of Rudolf Höber’s professional writings beyond his books. A posthumous article says he published over 200 articles in his lifetime, but for a long time I only had a few of them.
Rudolf, a physiologist, published his first article in 1898 arising out of his doctoral dissertation, Observations on Experimental Shock through Stimulation of Serous Membranes. Thereafter, he would go on to publish three to six articles a year for the next 50 years. Whenever Rudolf published a new article, he would get a good number of extra copies, or “offprints,” that he would mail to colleagues around the world with whom he wished to share his research.
For years, Rudolf sent copies of his articles to his friend Max Cremer, professor of physiology at the Royal Veterinary Technical Institute in Berlin. He wrote greetings on the cover, such as, “Sent with the sincere thanks of the author,” or, “With best wishes from R.H.” By 1913, Cremer had received 25 articles from Rudolf, making quite a nice stack, and he decided to have them bound by a local stationer and bookbinder, Adolf Liese. Herr Liese and Prof. Cremer selected boards with green and black marbling for the front and back covers, and dark green buckram for the spine. On Cremer’s instructions, Liese added gold lettering to the spine reading R. Höber, Separat-Abdrücke [Offprints], 1904-1913.
When Cremer got the newly bound volume home, he stamped his own identification on the flyleaf: Dr. med. Max Cremer, Professor für Physiologie an der Kgl. Tierartzlichen Hochschule, Berlin.
After Prof. Cremer’s death in a Nazi-dominated Germany in 1935, the volume made its way into the library of the Institute for Veterinary Physiology at Humboldt University in Berlin. A librarian dutifully added the library’s stamp to the flyleaf . A library label was glued to the spine and it was shelved with the other scientific books in the library. And there it stayed for another 50 years.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Humboldt University, in previously-Communist East Berlin, experienced a crash modernization effort, as the government of a reunited Germany moved the locus of the nation to the historic capitol of Berlin. As modern text books and research materials flooded into Humboldt’s library, tens of thousands of outdated and obsolete volumes were deaccessioned. One of the books deaccessioned was Cremer’s volume of Rudolf Höber’s articles. The University library added an additional stamp, “ausgeschieden”, or “deaccessioned,” and sent the book off to a huge outlet in Leipzig that had been the Communist government’s principal depository for used books for decades before the fall of the Wall. There it would sit until someone, anyone, showed an interest in buying it.
I am in the habit of checking out used book websites to see what’s around. One night, I typed in Rudolf’s name. As I had come to expect, dozens of copies of his two books, in several languages, popped up on the site. But at the end of the very long list, this item caught my eye: R. Höber, Konvolut von 25 Sonderabdr. z. Physiologie, Zentralantiquariat Leipzig [“A Collection of 25 Offprint Copies on the Subject of Physiology,” Central Used Book Depository, Leipzig]. A few keystrokes, a credit card number, and 36 Euros later, and the book was on its way to me, perhaps the one person in the entire world who wanted it most.
It was a revelation to open the package from Leipzig, the see the stamps inside the cover, and then to see my grandfather’s distinctive handwriting on each article, bold but delicate, that has become so familiar to me as I have worked with his papers. And when I read Mit den besten Grüssen vom Verfasser – “With the best wishes of the author” – I fancied for a brief moment that he had addressed those words to me, and that it was he who had sent me this volume from across the Atlantic and over a century in time.