In Praise of Similarity and Difference: Portrayals of German Jews (Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882), Part II)Posted: July 31, 2018
Note: With the exception of the first illustration below, the images in this post are borrowed from the wonderful book, Der Zyklus „Bilder aus dem altjüdischen Familienleben“ und sein Maler Moritz Daniel Oppenheim [The Series “Pictures of Old Jewish Family Life” and its Painter Moritz Daniel Oppenheim] by Ruth Dröse et al. (Hanau: Co-Con Verlag, 1996).
Minority groups in any society continually negotiate a balance between maintaining their distinct identity and fitting into the larger society in which they live. In the United States, this negotiation has been repeatedly managed by immigrant groups, including Irish, Italian and Eastern Europeans in the 19th century and East and South Asians, Middle Easterners and myriad Latinos today. Jews in Germany in the 1800s faced similar social negotiations. At the beginning of the century, Jewish mobility was tightly restricted and their lives were often segregated from the majority community. A hundred years later, however, Jews were leaders in countless fields in Germany, including literature, the arts, science, the professions and business. Prejudice and discrimination persisted, but the progress over the century was remarkable.
As German Jews entered the middle and educated classes, they faced the conundrum of maintaining their distinctive customs and beliefs while sharing the benefits and liberal values of participation in a broader, more diverse, modern society. In the second half of the 19th century, the domestic art of my great-great-great grandfather’s brother, Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, portrayed a credible balance between these competing objectives. You can read a prior post about him here. His series depicting Jewish life became wildly popular. They started as black-and-white paintings that were photographically converted to lithographs. The set sold thousands of copies in many editions.Close family relations, benevolent gender roles, respectful children, education, hospitality, formal mealtimes, well-made but not opulent furnishings and clothing — these were all esteemed values of German middle class life when Moritz painted this illustration in 1867. He dressed the figures in clothing from a century earlier – perhaps suggesting that the Jewish exoticism pictured was explicable as an anachronism. The artistic style, however, is a mid-19th century domestic genre scene. Except for the figure on the right and the Sabbath lamp hanging over the table, this could be many idealized German homes of Oppenheim’s day. The father blesses his daughters while his wife nurses the baby. Three boys stand respectfully; one holds a book while observing the Sabbath guest, a religious student in foreign dress. The Sabbath bread lies under a napkin waiting for the family to sit and eat together. For both Jewish and Gentile audiences, this image conveys strong nineteenth-century family values held in common by the majority and minority populations. Aside from the males’ skullcaps and the Sabbath lamp in the center of the room, this illustration could be an idealized scene of Christian piety on a Sunday afternoon in the mid-1800s. It is, however, a Jewish home on a Saturday. While the father dozes, the sons and daughters read and study. No doubt their books are religious or moral texts. The good but not extravagant clothes and furnishings and the domestic tranquility convey that this is a gutbürgerlich, solid middle class, pious German home. Once in a while, Moritz Oppenheim would allow his illustrations of Jewish life to convey greater distinctiveness than others. In this portrayal of Shavuot, the men wear prayer shawls (Talit) and the central figure carries a richly decorated Torah. The Gothic-arched windows of the synagogue and the tablets of the Ten Commandments over the door, however, would connote a religious environment familiar to German Christians of the time. What this image has most in common with Christian illustrations of the time is the attentive, prayerful, eyes-upraised piety of all the participants, including children. Jews showed their German patriotism by volunteering for the army in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. In this scene, ten German-Jewish soldiers – officers and enlisted, infantry and medical corps, battle-ready and wounded – pause in the war to observe the anniversary of the death of the father of one of their number, the man third from right with a prayer shawl. The place is a commandeered home in a French village. The crucifix hung on the back wall by the French family has been covered with a cloth for this occasion but remains part of the scene. French girls observe the unusual ceremony through the window. The message is one of German loyalty and communal piety, so the soldiers at prayer are simultaneously unified with and and yet different from German society as a whole. The first portfolio of Oppenheim’s lithographs with six images was published in 1866 and was followed by numerous later editions with additional plates. Thousands of the sets were sold . The huge 1901 edition pictured, measuring nearly 2 feet by 3 feet, included 20 large prints. Oppenheim’s lithographs, with their multilayered meanings, decorated Jewish homes across Europe for decades. They can be seen at the Jewish Museum in New York and at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art housed in the historic Rodeph Sholem Synagogue.
More stories about the Höber family are in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, published by the American Philosophical Society. Information is available here. Also available at Amazon.com.
German edition, Deutsche auf der Flucht, ein Briefwechsel zwischen Deutschland und Amerika von 1938 bis 1938, available here.
This entire blog is available in book form. Send a note to the author through the comments section below.
Note: The images in this post are borrowed from the wonderful reference book and catalogue raisonné , Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Die Entdeckung des jüdischen Selbstbewußtseins in der Kunst [“The Discovery of Jewish Self-Awareness in Art”], edited by Georg Heuberger and Anton Merk, Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt am Main, 1999.
One of the fascinating things about digging into my family’s history was to discover that before 1900, almost everyone on my father’s side of the family was Jewish. My father was baptized and confirmed as a Protestant, as was his father, and my mother came from an entirely Protestant background,. So it was only late in my life that I learned of my father’s Jewish roots. My 5X great-grandfather, Lazarus Gumpel, sponsored the first Reformed synagogue in Hamburg, Germany around 1800. Other family members were close with Abraham Geiger and Theodore Creizenach, among the founders of Reform Judaism in the early 19th century.
One of the interesting characters I discovered was my 3X great-grandfather’s brother, Moritz Oppenheim (1800-1882). He was born in the confined ghetto in Hanau, near Frankfurt, to a wealthy family of jewelers and bankers. He grew up to be called The First Jewish Painter. He showed his talent early, with this remarkable and quirky self-portrait when he was just 14 years old.
Moritz discovered early that he could make a decent living painting religious scenes based on both Old and New Testament themes. Many of these, however, bear the saccharine character of popular 19th century religious illustrations. The slightly racy quality of this painting of Potiphar’s Wife (here trying to seduce Joseph) makes it more interesting than some in this genre:
I think Moritz really was at his best when he got into portraiture. He had a wonderful capacity to capture the personalities of interesting people. I love this painting of my great-great-aunt, Bernhardine Friedeberg (1822-1873), which captures not just her beauty but her intelligence and determination:
Good portraits were a sign of status and taste in Europe and America in the 19th century, and Moritz’s skills eventually came to the attention of the Rothschild banking family, then legendary as one of the wealthiest families in the world. In 1836, the Rothschilds commissioned him to paint portraits of the five brothers who dominated banking in Europe as well as other Rothschild relatives. The brilliance of the paintings and the fame of their subjects made Oppenheim himself famous.
The Rothschild commissions opened doors to other clients, and Moritz was appointed to paint portraits of the greatest literary figures of his time, including the romantic poet Heinrich Heine and the political commentator Ludwig Börne. Working from earlier sketches, in 1864 he also created a painting of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, at 21 the most famous composer in Europe, playing piano for Wolfgang von Goethe in 1830.
I previously wrote a post about my artist great-grandmother, Marie Höber, here. Moritz Oppenheim was her great-uncle, and Marie treasured a letter she received from him praising her miniatures on ivory. The letter from Uncle Moritz, with its handsomely addressed envelope, is preserved in my family’s papers.
Moritz Daniel Oppenheim dictated his memoirs shortly before his death at the age of 82, but they wouldn’t be published until his grandson edited them 42 years later.
By the time he was in his sixties, Oppenheim was highly successful and known throughout Europe. And yet his greatest fame and popularity was yet to come with the publication of an extraordinary series of lithographs providing a particular portrayal of Jews as they fit into the contentious social and political world of Oppenheim’s times. This series will be the subject of Part 2 of this post, coming soon.
More stories about the Höber family are in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, published by the American Philosophical Society. Information is available here. Also available at Amazon.com.
German edition, Deutsche auf der Flucht, ein Briefwechsel zwischen Deutschland und Amerika von 1938 bis 1938, available here.
This entire blog is available in book form. Send a note to the author through the comments section below.
My mother’s father, Franz Fischer, for whom I am named, was born on a pig farm in the village of Küingdorf, Germany in 1868, 3 1/2 weeks after his parents married. Located on the border between Westphalia and Hanover ( now Niedersachsen or Lower Saxony ), the landscape around Küingdorf is reminiscent of parts of Vermont or central Pennsylvania. The farm had sufficient land to raise grain to feed the pigs as well as a productive and profitable forest area. The farm was prosperous and well-maintained, but a pig farm all the same,
Franz was the oldest of nine children and in other another area of Germany would have been the heir apparent. It was a peculiarity of the traditional law in the Küingdorf area, however, that a farm was inherited by the youngest son, not the oldest. Thus, Franz knew early on that he would have to find another way than farming to earn his living. So while still a very young man he became interested in that most modern of conveyances, the bicycle.
In 1902, Franz met Clara Schallenberg, a city girl. She was the daughter of a successful retail and wholesale merchant dealing in household china and kitchen ware. Franz and Clara married in 1903.
One of the first things Franz and Clara did when they married was to register as Konfessionslos — without religious affiliation — in the local registry office. This registration would exempt them from church taxes. My mother wrote later of Franz and Clara, “I grew up in a pleasant, peaceful family in which I was taught to have deep disrespect for organized religion and great respect for fundamental ethical principles that none of us would ever abandon. Our father’s principles were rather simple: we do the right things, not to appeal to some figure ‘up there’ in the sky, but simply to do the right thing.” It was a powerful moral rectitude grounded in principled atheism.
Although Franz was born a farm boy, in the city of Dusseldorf he made himself into a gentleman in a time when social mobility was more limited than it is today. While industrialization at the turn of the twentieth century brought substantial migration from farm to city, Franz and Clara took things a step further and entered the Bildungsbuergertum, the literate and cultured middle class. I remember the proud, respectful tone in my grandmother Clara’s voice when she told me Franz was ein richtiger Herr, a genuine gentleman. Clearly one of the things that made Franz a gentleman is that he dressed the part.
As Franz’ business prospered, he and Clara attended concerts and plays, kept a large library and read extensively. Clara could recite long passages from Goethe and other German classics as well as Shakespeare and the Bible, her atheism notwithstanding. Franz and Clara sent their daughter, my mother Elfriede, to the university preparatory school (Gymnasium) and supported her through her PhD. at Heidelberg. Franz embellished his considerable library by pasting a handsome book plate, designed by a friend who was a graphic artist, inside each cover.
Franz and Clara remained committed to bicycling throughout their lives.
Franz died in 1937, well before I was born, but his photographs have made him very real to me. From my mother’s stories about him, he was an easy person to like and was admired by those who knew him.
The National Socialists took control of the German government on January 30, 1933 and consolidated their power with great speed. Political street violence had been part of German life for a long time, but the Nazis escalated that pattern rapidly and brutally, using terrorist tactics to wipe out political opposition in a matter of weeks. My father, Johannes (1904-1977), was the first victim in our family, when he was arrested in March and imprisoned for several weeks because of his liberal politics, and my grandfather, Rudolf (1873-1953),was next when he was expelled from his professor’s position the following fall, in part because of actions he took against Nazi students. The situation with my mother’s brothers was something else entirely.
My mother had three younger brothers who, in 1933, were in their mid-twenties. All three were good looking and charming, with cheerful dispositions and a taste for evenings with friends in the taverns of Düsseldorf’s Altstadt, taverns with names like the Golden Kettle (Im Goldenen Kessel) and Fatty’s Irish Pub, which are still popular today. On the night of Tuesday, November 7, 1933, my uncles Paul Fischer (1909-1947), a recent law graduate still in training, and Herbert Fischer (1907-1992), by day in business with his father, went out for an evening of socializing. Their father Franz (1868-1937) and older brother Günter (1906-1979) were away on a business trip for several days.
The social evening lasted until 3 :00 in the morning, when the bars closed. Paul and Herbert, whose state after a long night of drinking can only be guessed, got into the car of a friend who drove them home. Still joking as they tumbled out of the car, Herbert spotted a poster that had been pasted on a nearby wall and was partially coming off. Tearing the poster off the wall, Herbert crumpled it into a ball and threw it into the car at his friend saying, “Here! You can use this to clean your windshield!” It seems that Herbert didn’t recognize the poster as Nazi propaganda, nor did he notice the Stormtrooper watching nearby. Although lacking legal authority, the hundreds of thousands of brown-shirted Stormtroopers of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung constituted a militia of the Nazi Party and were free to attack and bully citizens who showed any sign of dissent from the regime. Although Herbert was non-political, the waiting Stormtrooper saw his petty vandalism as a political act and took him into custody. Paul went along to be a witness in his brother’s defense, but soon found himself taken into custody as well.
As Paul and Herbert got passed on from the Stormtrooper to a bicycle policeman to an automobile police squad to the police station, the story of the incident grew from a tipsy prank to an organized conspiracy against the state. By dawn, both Herbert and Paul were arrested and imprisoned and their case turned over to the “political police,” a part of the recently formed Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei or Gestapo). Apparently the fact that Paul was a lawyer in training (Referendar) increased the Gestapo’s suspicions. The brothers were held for more than a week without charges and were subject to repeated beatings.
The day after the arrest, my grandmother and my father and mother began agitating with the police for the young men’s release. It took three days just to identify the official with authority over Paul and Herbert’s case. My grandmother was so desperate for her sons’ release that she forced herself to mumble “Heil Hitler!” to the police official, the only time in the entire Nazi period that she ever used that hated salutation. As my father wrote at the time, “Endless approaches, endless waiting, walking down endless corridors, daily hopes, daily disappointments, long negotiations and discussions, after the third day with the help of a lawyer.” After a week, Paul was released with no explanation either for his arrest or his beatings or his release. He left the city immediately to recuperate from the wounds he received in the beatings. Herbert continued to be held, inexplicably, because, as my father wrote, “He never at any time ever engaged in any political activity whatsoever.” Nevertheless, it took another week to negotiate his release, again without explanation, but, as my mother wrote, he came out “relatively undamaged.”
In the end, it all came to nothing and the brothers returned to their respective occupations. But the reality of being arrested and beaten and held for many days for no reason was part of the atmosphere of terror that would be part of daily life in Germany for the next 12 years.
More stories about the Hoeber and Fischer families 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
Review of “Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939” from CHOICE, A Publication of the Association of College and Research LibrariesPosted: May 2, 2016
I am delighted that the following review appeared on May 1, 2016, in CHOICE, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries.
AGAINST TIME: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, by Francis W. Hoeber
Francis Hoeber possesses, apparently, decades’ worth of materials from his family’s history. However, he has chosen to publish only letters from 1938 and 1939, because they are truly exceptional in foregrounding human experience in the face of obliterating fascism. His father, Johannes, had emigrated from Germany in 1938, with the idea that Elfriede would follow with their young daughter. Complications arose. Eventually they united, lived in the US, and raised their family. That is a passive, objective summary. In contrast, these letters, written by two literate, gifted writers, construct a deeply experienced history entwined with significant world events. Genuine, emotional, human, rational—the letters exemplify precisely why published history needs such primary material. We can read or view synthesized historical accounts in textbooks or documentaries; we can summarize and categorize, intellectually. However, only by absorbing the personal narratives of people who recount the events they lived through can readers approximate the feelings, the vibrant presence, the individual acts that enliven historical experience. Through self-expressed microhistory, whether routine (running a business) or epochal (Kristallnacht), readers feel the macrohistory viscerally. Hoeber provides relevant context in footnotes and summaries to orient readers.
Summing up: Highly recommended.
–J. B. Wolford, University of Missouri—St. Louis
More information about Against Time is available by clicking here.
You can order the book directly from the publisher by clicking here.
Also available at Amazon.com
Rudolf and Josephine Höber, my grandparents, fled Nazi Germany for Philadelphia already in 1933, but their son Johannes and his wife Elfriede were holding on in Düsseldorf in the belief that the Nazis couldn’t last. By 1937, my grandparents were desperate to have their children join them in America, so Rudolf and Josephine invited the young couple to come and visit them in America. It turned into a grand trip.
Elfriede kept a travel diary capturing her impressions of the country that would later become home to her and Johannes and their little girl, Susanne.
Elfriede complained on every page about the “unbearable,” “insane” heat (Washington and Philadelphia before air conditioning) but otherwise she and Johannes found much to like in America. They were impressed by Washington, where many of the iconic government buildings along the Mall had recently been finished, and they liked the democratic feel of the place.
In Philadelphia, the family attended the graduation of Johannes’s sister, Ursula, from the University of Pennsylvania medical school. They were impressed by the 1,500 graduates and the audience of 8,000 in Philadelphia’s Convention Hall, with Roosevelt’s Secretary of State Cordell Hull as commencement speaker.
Elfriede loved Connecticut: “This is the way I always imagined New England to be, with hills and forests scattered with enchanting villages with white wooden houses and white churches on trim green lawns under high trees. The houses are mostly laid back from the street and not separated by fences. As a result the country seems so open and gains a wonderfully elegant and fresh appearance.” In Woodbury, Connecticut, they asked directions of a police officer. “This guy was like a sheriff in the movies, going around in short sleeves with a big tin badge, unshaven, and stormed off in the middle of our conversation and threw himself into his car to chase another car that had exceeded the Woodbury speed limit.” The family drove from Philadelphia to Cape Cod in two cars, a Ford and a DeSoto, where Elfriede declared the beaches to be the loveliest she had ever seen.
Johannes and Elfriede traveled from Cape Cod (Fall River MA) back to New York by night boat! Elfriede: “Excellent cabin on the Commonwealth, a very old fashioned but very comfortable ship. Wonderful evening ride to Long Island Sound. Fantastic passage through the ocean of lights of the harbor of Newport. Night’s sleep interrupted by foghorns. Awoke at 6:15 in the East River. Reunion with the Empire State Building. Passage under the East River bridges that cross the river in great arches, all with two levels with eight lanes each. Generous good breakfast on board to prepare us for a day in New York.”
Johannes and Elfriede spent their last America day in New York, where Johannes indulged himself three times in “America’s national drink” — an ice cream soda. Elfriede: “Lunch in an enormous restaurant. The ladies room has 60 toilets, 30 for free and 30 for 5 cents. The noise of the streets is mind shattering. The noise of the El is deafening, the subway hellish. The people in this city seem to have lost all sense of hearing.”
And a highlight of the whole trip, an hour before they boarded the ship to return to Europe, was to go by New York’s City Hall and catch sight of Fiorello LaGuardia, whose reputation as a dynamic, progressive mayor had reached even into the corners of Hitler’s Germany. “We were able to watch as LaGuardia stood next to his car for a few minutes talking with advisers. Because we were speaking German, a man appeared next to us out of nowhere, unmistakably a cop, and didn’t let us out of his sight until the mayor left.”
Elfriede and Johannes returned to Düsseldorf in late June 1937, but the visit to his parents bore fruit. Six months later, Johannes and Elfriede began making their own plans to leave Germany and move to the United States. It would be nearly two more years, however, before the whole family could be reunited in Philadelphia.
The story of how Johannes and Elfriede eventually got out of Germany and into the United States is told in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939. You can read more about that book here. Also available on Amazon.com.
If you’re pretty well educated in your birth country, it’s daunting to face a new country and become a person who knows less than anyone else. So how do you catch up? When my parents decided it was time to flee Nazi Germany, their answer was books. I still have some of them. I love this beautiful history of the United States, with its funky canvas dust jacket and the stars on the spine:
My mother’s mother gave her fleeing daughter and son-in-law this old Baedeker’s guidebook to the United States, in English. The fold-out city maps are small but quite detailed. Years later my mother fell in love with the Rand McNally Road Atlas, but in the beginning it was this Baedeker that got her and my father started on American geography:
What do you give a bright eight-year-old to learn a bit about adventures in America? The choices in Nazi Germany weren’t too great, but you could do worse than providing her with a German translation of an American classic — Huck Finn. Susanne learned to love Mark Twain’s stories of life on the Mississippi well before she got here:
And how do you learn to raise children the American way? A couple years after arriving here, my parents were confronted with two new babies in short order — my brother and then me. Fortunately, every American at the time followed the same child-rearing Bible, Dr. Spock. That my mother referred to it frequently is shown by the tattered condition of this cheap paperback edition. She must have been comforted by the first eight words of the book, one of the most uplifting opening sentences of any book ever: “You know more than you think you do.” The simplest reassurance imaginable.
German schools didn’t teach much about the American Revolution, so even educated immigrants didn’t know much about early American history. A German friend who had arrived in America a couple of years earlier than my parents introduced them to the historical novels of Kenneth Roberts set in the American Revolution and the years of the Early Republic. Roberts was a fine historian as well as a novelist, and my parents learned more than many Americans about our early history in a short time from his books. Because of him they loved to visit historic sites in the U.S., starting with Valley Forge shortly after their arrival:
My mother, particularly, developed an interest in the history of Philadelphia. She was fascinated to learn that in the early 20th century Philadelphia was governed by a German-American progressive named Rudolph Blankenburg. At Leary’s huge used book store on 9th Street above Chestnut, she was able to by a book on Mayor Blankenburg, written by his wife, for half a dollar:
When my parents had been in the U.S. for some time, my mother acquired her great treasure, a copy of Scharf and Westcott’s magnificent three-volume History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884. Standards of historical accuracy were different when this set was published, but it is still a wonderful source of anecdotes about the city in its first 275 years:
More on the Hoeber family is in the book Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939. Click here for details and ordering information.
It was said in my family that my father, Johannes Höber, had a knack for being present at historic events. I recently discovered such an incident that I had not known about before. The story is told in a couple of postcards that were found recently among the papers of my sister, Susanne. The postcards were written by my father as a child, in an old fashioned German script that even some German readers do not know today. As was usual at that time, a grownup drew lines on the card with a ruler and pencil to help the child write straight and evenly.
Johannes lived with his parents in the northern port city of Kiel, where his father was a professor and his mother a physician. Johannes’s widowed grandmother, Großmama Mimi, lived in Berlin, a five hour train trip from Kiel. In Late July 1914, Johannes and his younger sister Grilli and their mother made the trip from Kiel to Berlin to stay for a couple of weeks with Großmama Mimi. Perhaps the occasion for the trip was Johannes’s birthday: he turned ten on August 7. While the children were visiting friends in Potsdam, outside Berlin, World War I broke out with Germany’s declaration of war against Russia on August 1, followed promptly by the German invasion of Russia’s ally, France.In the postcards postmarked August 10, Johannes wrote home to his father in Kiel, thanking him for a birthday card and telling him the excitement he had seen in the city. He probably started with a single card, but his enthusiasm carried the message to a second card. Here is what he wrote:
Your card just arrived and I like it a lot. Hopefully we will see each other again soon. Yesterday there was an outdoor church service and a departure parade for the first infantry regiment. We left here already at 10 and arrived at the Lustgarten [park in front of the Imperial palace] – that’s where the parade was – just as a group of the soldiers were marching in. We then looked around and found a very nice place to watch the Kaiser arrive. We had waited barely 5 minutes when we heard “Hurrah!” in the distance and suddenly the Kaiser’s car came around the corner and drove by directly in front of us. It continued for a while that way and eventually we saw the Kaiser driving back.
It is wonderful here in Potsdam. Grilli went to school with [her friend] Tutti today and tidied up and then sewed a gusset and a “Nog” [?] on a shirt for a soldier’s uniform. I spent the whole morning today cutting up wood with a saw.
Your Jonny (now 10)
Thus Johannes was present to see some of the first troops to depart from Germany for the War, under the personal direction of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Four years later, as the War came to an end, Johannes would also witness the mutiny of German Navy at the Kiel naval base. He was walking home from school when he encountered sailors firing on their officers in the streets outside the warship facility. This was one of the events leading to Germany’s signing an armistice ending the War, and another in a string of historic events to which Johannes would be an eyewitness.
For more on the Hoeber family, click here.
My sister Susanne met her husband, Lloyd Rudolph, at Harvard and they embarked on a unique joint career as political scientists. They wrote and taught together, specializing in political development in the then newly-independent India. They were 32 and 35, respectively when they took their second research trip to India in 1962-63. On this occasion they settled in the capital, and shortly after their arrival asked with intrepid directness for an appointment to interview Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. They were pleased and somewhat amazed when their request was granted. The invitation, in an oversize parchment envelope and typed on impressive stationery, was hand delivered by a uniformed messenger in an elegant car to the Rudolphs’ house at 44 Lucknow Road. The interview was scheduled for Tuesday, February 13, 1963.
Recognizing that this was a rare opportunity, Sue and Lloyd devised a singular scheme for making the most of their time with Nehru: they decided they would take no notes, so that neither he nor they would be distracted by their writing. Sue and Lloyd prepared for days. They read articles and newspapers and began drafting a set of questions for the Prime Minister. These they revised again and again to make them simple and direct, with the intention of being both respectful and provocative. When they were finally satisfied with the questions they had formulated — they memorized them. Their determination was to be with Nehru with no paper or writing instrument visible.
On the appointed day, Sue and Lloyd drove their little green Fiat to the imposing Prime Minister’s Secretariat in New Delhi. There they were ushered into Nehru’s private office, where they were able to question him intently for more than an hour. He was cordial and frank, though guarded on certain issues as Sue and Lloyd had anticipated. In an amusing aside, Sue took out a cigarette at one point (everyone smoked then) and Lloyd and the Prime Minister both lit a match for her at the same time. Sue looked at Lloyd but turned and accepted a light from the handsome Nehru.
Already while driving home, Sue and Lloyd talked rapidly as Sue furiously scribbled down notes of what the Prime Minister had told them As soon as they returned to the house on Lucknow Road, they hastened into their study and closed the door. With the prepared list of questions before them as an aid, they spoke into the microphone of their little tape recorder and dictated Nehru’s responses. Each reminded the other of what they had heard, using their collective memory to recall with precision what Prime Minister Nehru had said during the interview. Sometimes during the dictation, one of them would start a sentence and the other would finish it, a rhetorical characteristic that would become one of their habits in subsequent years. They turned the tape over to their secretary to transcribe and later edited the typed transcript before having it typed into a final version with an original and five carbon copies.
The transcribed interview came to a dozen legal-size pages. The candid responses they had been able to elicit from Nehru were a testament to their methodological inventiveness and unique teamwork. Sue and Lloyd used the information they gleaned in numerous articles and books over the ensuing years, and made the transcript available to other scholars. It was cited as recently as last year in a history of the Indian Army since Independence.
I know the details of this story because I was the secretary who typed the notes of the interview along with many others they conducted with government and political officials that year. In 1962-1963 I took a year off between my second and third years as an undergraduate at Columbia University to work for them in India. It was quite an adventure.
Sue and Lloyd were unique scholarly collaborators. Through decades of writing and teaching they made an indelible imprint on the field of political science and enriched the lives of countless students and scholars around the world. Their emotional, personal, intellectual and professional bonds made them inseparable life partners for 63 thrillingly adventurous years. Susanne died in her sleep on December 23, 2015. Lloyd slipped away equally peacefully on January 16, 2016, just 24 days after Susanne.
For more on the Hoeber Family go to http://againsttimebook.com/.
When my mother and father were forced to leave Germany in 1939, they had to abandon everything they owned. Five years earlier, however, when my father’s parents were expelled by the Nazis, it was still possible for them to bring personal effects with them. My grandfather, Rudolf Höber and my grandmother, Jospehine Marx Höber, both came from families that were pretty well off. Some of the things they brought with them are still in use in our house today, and we enjoy them particularly around Christmas time.
At Christmas dinner we often use white napkins saved for special occasions. Linen napkins in bourgeois households in 19th century Germany were huge, nearly a meter square. When my great-grandmother, Elise Koehlau, married Anselm Höber in 1865, she brought a supply of such napkins into the marriage. As was traditional then, she embroidered the monogram of her maiden name in the corner of the napkins with red thread and each napkin was numbered.
My grandmother’s father, Jakob Marx, made money as a financier in the Franco-Prussian War. He and his wife Marie had a home at Pariserplatz 1, next to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. These plates were theirs.
When my grandparents, Rudolf and Josephine, married in 1901 they got a set of silverware with an “RJH” monogram.
When my parents and grandparents came to this country over 75 years ago, they rapidly became integrated into the life of their new country, to which they were devoted. Like so many American families, however, we hang on to some of the ways our family did things generations ago, particularly at holidays. After all these years, we still roast a goose at Christmas and bring out some of the beautiful things that remind us of our history.
Americans are schizophrenic about immigration. We have two contradictory traditions with respect to people from other countries who come here to live. On the one hand, we have the Emma Lazarus, tradition: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore … ” and so on. This welcoming tradition dates as far back as William Penn, whose 1701 Charter of Privileges welcomed people of all nationalities and religions to come and live in his Quaker colony in America. On the other hand, America has an equally strong xenophobic tradition, from the Alien Enemies and Naturalization Acts of 1798, through the nativist Know Nothing Party of the 1840s and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, to the restrictive Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 and the proposal today of a leading candidate for president of the United States to physically deport 11 million migrants by force. For more than two centuries, persons wanting to come here from abroad to live have encountered these contradictory impulses in American culture—welcoming and exclusionary—when trying to secure permission to immigrate.
In the process of escaping Hitler and finding refuge here, my parents encountered both of these contrary American traditions. My book, Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, illustrates the realities for a family negotiating what was ultimately an arbitrary U.S. immigration process as well as the day-to-day personal impact of migration under pressure. My parents got out of Germany and into the U.S. as the result of their education, hard work and good luck. But if it had not been for generous Americans who enthusiastically supported refugees who wanted to become part of the American fabric, their story could easily have turned out differently.
On November 22, 2015, I spoke with radio producer Loraine Ballard Morrill in Philadelphia about Johannes and Elfriede’s experiences in getting into the United States as they sought to escape Germany in 1938 and 1939. The conversation led to a discussion about the parallels between anti-immigrant rhetoric in the 1930s that led to the restrictions on refugees in that period and the politics of exclusion of Syrian refugees in 2015. You can hear the interview by clicking here.
My readership spiked hugely one day recently. The platform I use for this blog gives me daily statistics on the number of readers, identifying the country in which the readers are located and the posts they hit. A two year old post, originally captioned “New Houses for Eskimos — 1966”, suddenly got more hits in one day than the whole website usually gets in a week. Then two comments popped up on that post. The first read:
“First off, we are not Eskimo. Second, your mother put our moose meat down. Third, it is not the tundra. AND YES! We have trees. So before you publish something like this, you should do your research.”
The second comment read,
“First of all, we are [not] Athabaskan Eskimos, we are Athabaskan Indians. Your article is incorrect on so many topics and disrespectful on so many levels. Before you blog about any community or tribe you should travel to that community and do your research yourself. You have no right to stand in judgement of another race or community and publicly put that race or community down to such levels of disgrace. This type of public discrimination should be banned.”
I was mortified. The post was based on a report to the federal Housing Demonstration Program that my mother wrote when she visited two housing sites in Alaska in 1966. She loved that trip and the people she met, and retold the story many times over the next 25 years. It’s true that she used the word “Eskimo,” which was the government’s designation of the people at that time; the government subsequently learned better. The Athabaskans who wrote me had reason to be angry; no one wants to be called by the wrong name. It’s also true that my mother used the word “tundra,” though when I checked I found she used that description for only one of the two towns she visited. The other was clearly in a forested area. The mistake was mine. As to derogatory comments about moose meatloaf, well, the readers got me there. Though the remark was rude, I think it’s not unusual and not the worst offense if someone doesn’t care for food they’ve never eaten before. That has been a common experience among travelers since people began to travel. The truth is, though, that I would like to try moose meatloaf.
I wrote back to the two commenters to apologize as best I could for the errors in the post. The answer I got back from Stacy made me feel a little better — and made me want more than ever to visit that town in Alaska that meant so much to my mother half a century ago. She wrote:
I’ve decided that I would respond after a long day of thinking about this entire blog. I’d like to thank you for responding to my comment. I think it is very nice of you to try and make this blog more accurate than previously written. It would take a very long time to actually explain all the details of what my father’s homeland really, truly is. However, I will say this – unless, you’ve been here in Alaska yourself and went into someone’s home and actually stayed more than a week, it’s hard to sum up our traditions, food and overall life. We are very easy-going people, who work hard on a daily basis to keep the kids and elders fed. Once that happens, if we have time for ourselves after a long day, we may start on some arts and crafts or the men may play a game of poker. Anyway, like I said – until you’ve experienced Alaska yourself, it’s hard for me to sum up what it’s actually like to visit at someone’s house over tea, eat smoked salmon strips, crackers and walking away with the endless smiles and happiness you feel in your heart after a really good visit filled with laughter and fun!
If you like the stories on this website, you may be interested in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, by Francis W. Hoeber.
Details and ordering information are available by clicking this link.
World War II began with Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. My mother, Elfriede, and my 9 year old sister, Susanne, were living in Dusseldorf and getting stuck in Nazi Germany became an all-too-real possibility for them. It was imperative that they get away and join my father, who had fled to Philadelphia the previous year. The war had started just a few weeks after the American consul had granted Elfriede and Susanne immigration visas after months of struggling. Then, getting the household packed up, wrapping up their business, and saying farewell to family and friends took weeks — and suddenly it was almost too late.
The start of the war only increased the flood of emigrants racing to escape Europe. The stamps in Elfriede’s passport show that on September 14 she paid the German government 8 Reichsmarks for an exit permit. On September 19 she obtained a bank certification for the 20 Reichsmarks (about $10), the total that she was allowed to take out of Germany. Thankfully, on September 22 at 8:50 P.M. she and Susanne crossed the border at Aachen out of Germany and into Belgium. They arrived in Antwerp the same day, where they were supposed to board a ship for America. But it wasn’t that simple.
The first days of the war saw numerous naval battles between Germany and Great Britain, including the sinking a British warship with a loss of 700 lives. The fighting at sea completely disrupted civilian shipping in the English Channel and the North Atlantic. As a result, Elfriede and Susanne’s ship was delayed again and again. Day after day they trekked to the shipping office of the Holland America Line, which was besieged by hundreds of refugees desperate to escape Europe. Seventy-five years later, Susanne still remembers the grimy hotel, the chaos at the shipping office, the fear and the grinding boredom of the wait. Finally, however, after weeks of waiting, Elfriede was able to confirm their passage on the S.S. Westernland that ultimately left on October 28. She sent off a letter to her husband, Johannes, in Philadelphia, with the news. After explaining the complicated arrangements with finances and ships, she added,
How have these things been with you all these weeks? At this point I’ve heard almost nothing about you for two months, but now it seems like we’ll actually get out of here and get to you. I hope we don’t run into any disaster other than seasickness on the way, because as [my brother] Paul aptly noted, you can take Vasano for seasickness but for torpedoes you can only take a lifeboat. To tell the truth, I’m not really very worried about the torpedoes. When cautious people at home asked me whether I was really going to risk the transatlantic trip at this time, I just answered that it was pretty much the same to me whether a bomb fell on my head in Düsseldorf or a torpedo hit some other part of my body on the ocean. On the other hand, a bomb shelter is warmer than the North Atlantic in October. …
If heaven and assorted Führers don’t spit in our soup again, we’ll be with you in a couple of weeks.
Alles liebe Deine Friedel
The story of what happened next, and more about Elfriede and Johannes’ flight from Germany to the United States, is contained the book from which this story is taken: Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, available by clicking here.
Like other members of my family about whom I have written on this website, I have spent most of my working life in public service. A few years ago, the local affiliate of National Public Radio asked me to write an essay reflecting on this work for broadcast as part of its “This I Believe” series. Then, last week, the national “This I Believe” organization contacted me to say my essay will be published this fall in an anthology. I was pleased that after the passage of some time my essay is still of interest. It will be a while until the book of essays is released, but for now you can read mine below. In addition, you can hear the audio of the original broadcast archived on the WHYY website by clicking on this link.
I believe in government.
My grandmother, Josephine, was the first in my family to enter government service nearly a century ago. She was a doctor in the women’s health clinic in Kiel, Germany. As a public health physician, she improved the lives of poor young mothers and children who otherwise would have gotten no proper medical care.
My father and mother, who fled Germany to escape the Nazis, made civil service their lifelong work here in America. Each of them built a distinguished career in agencies founded on principles of social and economic justice for all Americans.
As the son and grandson of civil servants, I grew up believing in the capacity of government to ameliorate human suffering and to improve the lot of ordinary people. While I was still in college, I, too, went to work in the public sector. I was thrilled when I landed a job as a summer intern for Senator Hubert Humphrey. I was able to be in the Senate gallery when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, guaranteeing the equal rights under the law that Americans take for granted today.
After college, I got a job with the National Labor Relations Board, where we worked to protect the rights of employees who wanted to be represented by a union. I will never forget the respect I was accorded when I entered a metal factory in Wilkes Barre PA or a nursing home in Millville, New Jersey. I was the government man responsible for setting the rules of fair play between employees and their employers. I will never forget being welcomed into the small town home of a man or a woman who had been fired for union organizing, knowing that these individuals were relying on their government — on me — to save them and their families from economic disaster. It was a huge responsibility, and the long days of hard work were repaid by the conviction that my colleagues and I were making a difference.
Now, 45 years after my first government job, I am a manager for the New Jersey courts. Our Judiciary has created drug courts that save the lives of addicts who were once criminals and turn them into responsible citizens. I have worked on programs to keep kids who went wrong from being locked up in institutions that too often only increase the likelihood that they will offend again. I leave my house at seven in the morning and I don’t get home until seven at night, and in between there’s hardly a minute of down time. But I take very seriously my responsibility to do the most that can be done with the hard-earned tax dollars that pay my salary.
So I believe in government. I believe in the good that government can do. My whole life has taught me to believe in government. No one knows the flaws of government better than those of us who labor under its maddening limitations. But government is still the best institution that we have devised to address the panoply of problems that beset the human condition.
I love this picture. A balding man in a brown work coat lies on a wooden garden lounge chair incongruously brought into the paneled rooms of the Physiological Institute at the University of Kiel, Germany in 1927. The experimental subject is wired to an electrical apparatus on a table that is in turn wired to a morning-glory-shaped loudspeaker horn. We are standing with a group of medical students waiting intently for the sound of the subject’s heart muscles and nerves to emerge from the horn (and perhaps hoping that the 100-volt battery that powers the apparatus doesn’t do him any harm). The device emitted rhythmic notes of varying tones and intensity as the electrical impulses in the muscles and nerves varied with the heartbeat. Sometimes called the “electric stethoscope,” this instrument was adapted as a teaching tool to train doctors to diagnose the condition of the heart through sound.
One of the first persons to use the amplified sound of the heart to teach use of the stethoscope was my grandfather, Rudolf Höber (1873-1953). He was a pioneering physiologist at the Universities of Zürich, Kiel and Pennsylvania who has been remembered for discoveries in biochemistry and biophysics at the cellular level. A couple of years ago, The Journal of Electrical Bioimpedence noted the 100th anniversary of Rudolf’s discoveries related to the variability of electrical charges across cell membranes. Among other things, Rudolf was an inventor who devised instruments for measuring electrical characteristics at the cellular level; he even had a glass blower working for him to fabricate apparatus. Here is his diagram of a bioelectric device he created around 1910:
During World War I, the technology of vacuum tubes was developed that enabled the amplification of electrical waves for use in telephones. Rudolf adapted this technology to use in combination with his earlier bioelectric measurement devices — resulting in the mechanism at the top of this page.
This year the University of Kiel is marking its 350th anniversary with a series of events, including the medical school’s exhibition on prominent scientists who worked there. You can get information about the overall exhibition by clicking here and about Rudolf in particular here.
When my father got to America at the age of 35, he had never so much as held a hammer in his hand. In Germany, educated people like him hired someone to do household repairs. In Philadelphia, Johannes shared a big old rented house with relatives and money was very tight, so it was a disaster when the toilet in the house developed a leak. Johannes asked one of his new American friends to recommend a plumber who could do the repair cheaply. The friend told him not to call a plumber. “Go to the hardware store first,” the friend said, “and see if they can help you.”
Bellet’s hardware store, around the corner on Germantown Avenue, was packed with tools and screws and nails and parts and housewares in great array. Johannes asked Mr. Bellet if he could possibly help him with a leaky toilet. Mr. Bellet walked him to a counter where there was a toilet with the tank partially cut away to show the flush valves and float mechanism and other innards that made the thing work. Mr. Bellet asked Johannes to show him where the water was leaking, and Johannes pointed to the connection between two brass and copper parts. “Here’s how you fix it,” said Mr. Bellet, and started unscrewing nuts and disassembling the parts of the mechanism. After a few moves, Mr. Bellet was able to pull out a small black rubber washer from a connecting joint. Holding it up triumphantly, he said cheerfully, “Here’s what you need!” Out of the chaos of a cabinet with dozens of small wooden drawers Mr. Bellet pulled a matching washer and handed it to Johannes. “Do you now know how to put it back together?” he asked. When Johannes responded with a dubious grimace, Mr. Bellet led him back to the mysterious toilet mechanism on the counter. Deftly but deliberately, Mr. Bellet re-installed the little black washer and patiently instructed Johannes at each step of the way. “Understand now?” asked Mr. Bellet. “I think so,” said Johannes. “How much do I owe you?” “Five cents,” said Mr. Bellet, beaming. Johannes was not the first immigrant he had taught to repair a toilet.
Johannes nearly ran back to the house on Cresheim Road to try out his newly-learned skills and his newly-bought washer on the recalcitrant toilet. Remembering Mr. Bellet’s instructions pretty accurately, he carefully dismantled the mechanism, located the worn, slimy old washer, replaced it with the sturdy new one and put the thing back together. He turned the water back on — no leak! He flushed — it worked!
That evening, with the rest of his relatives gathered around the dinner table, Johannes regaled them with his adventure with Mr. Bellet and the black washer. “This is a wonderful country,” he said. “Five cents for a washer and five dollars worth of free advice!” And he later taught his kids that in America you don’t call the plumber, you do it yourself.