Regular readers of this website may know that, for me, photographs, documents and objects are bridges across time. In this case, a picture and a pearl connect me to my family as it was nearly a century ago.
A German historian contacted me recently and asked for a photograph of my grandfather, Rudolf Höber, around 1915. That’s when Rudolf became Professor and Director of the Physiological Institute at the University of Kiel. I don’t have an individual portrait of him in 1915, but I found this great family portrait taken in February 1918.
The parents and their three children all look somewhat gloomy, but serious portraits were the fashion of the day. At the time the picture was taken, scientists came from as far away as Japan to study with Rudolf at the Physiological Institute, despite the fact that it was the middle of World War I. The sailor suit my father is wearing in the picture was typical for German school boys then and later. It was particularly appropriate in Kiel, which had a huge naval installation. A few months after this picture was taken, Johannes, 14, was on his way home from his Gymnasium when he witnessed the shooting that marked the mutiny of the German naval forces, starting the German Revolution of 1918.
When the photograph was cropped to pull out the portrait of Rudolf the historian had requested, I noticed something. In the center of the knot of Rudolf’s tie is a pearl stickpin.
When Rudolf died in 1952, the pearl stickpin passed to my father, Johannes. And when Johannes died in 1977 the pearl stickpin passed to me.
Although it is not particularly fashionable today, I still try to find occasion to wear the stickpin once in a while.
More stories about the Hoeber family are to be found in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, published by the American Philosophical Society. Information is available here. Also available at Amazon.com