Deutsche Ausgabe erscheint im Sommer 2018 // The German Edition is Coming this Summer

Deutsche Ausgabe: “Deutsche auf der Flucht, Ein Briefwechsel zwischen Deutschland und Amerika von 1938 bis 1939.”, erscheint im Sommer 2018.


Liebe Kollegen/innen, Freunde, Verwandte,

Grüße aus Philadelphia!  Es freut mich sehr, Ihnen/euch mitteilen zu können, dass mein Buch, Against Time, Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, im Frühsommer dieses Jahres in deutsche Fassung erscheinen wird. Der deutsche Titel lautet, Deutsche auf der Flucht, ein Briefwechsel zwischen Deutschland und Amerika von 1938 bis 1939. Viele von Ihnen/euch kennen das Buch schon auf Englisch, und der Berliner Lukas Verlag wird jetzt die deutsche Version des Buchs herausgeben.  Es ist eine besondere Ehre, dass die Kosten der Veröffentlichung durch die Stiftung Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand (Berlin) unterstützt werden. Für weitere Informationen zum Buch, siehe unten.

Im Laufe des letzten Jahres habe ich mich mit der Abfassung der deutschen Version beschäftigt.  Ich bedanke mich bei den deutschen und amerikanischen Kollegen/innen und Freunden/innen, die meine Forschungen im Bereich meiner Familiengeschichte in den letzten Jahren Unterstützt haben.  Natürlich werde ich Ihnen/euch allen das Veröffentlichungsdatum ankündigen, sobald ein Termin festgelegt ist.

Mit freundliche Grüße, Ihr/euer



Dear Colleagues, Friends and Relatives,

Greetings from Philadelphia! I am pleased to tell you that my book, Against Time:  Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, will be issued in a German edition this summer.  The German title is Deutsche auf der Flucht, ein Briefwechsel zwischen Deutschland und Amerika von 1938 bis 1939, (“Germans Fleeing:  An Exchange of Letters Between Germany and America from 1938 to 1939”). I am honored that the costs of publication are being supported by the German Resistance Memorial Foundation in Berlin. During the last year I have been occupied with the preparation of the German edition, which involved translating my notes and comments from English to German and re-editing all of the original German letters written by my parents.  I am grateful to the American and German colleagues and friends who have supported my research into my family’s history over the last several years.  I will, of course, let everyone know when a definite publication date has been set.

The English edition remains available from the publisher and on Amazon.  For further information about that book, click here.

Best wishes,


English edition:  Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, by Francis W. Hoeber. Published by the American Philosophical Society Press, September 2015.


Review of “Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939” from CHOICE, A Publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries


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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

A Conversation — Finding Refuge in America: Germans 1939, Syrians 2015

Johannes Hoeber and Elfriede Hoeber shortly before their departure from Germany for America, 1938

Johannes Höber and Elfriede Höber shortly before their departure from Germany for America, 1938

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.

Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, by Francis W. Hoeber. Published by the American Philosophical Society Press, September 2015.

Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, by Francis W. Hoeber. Published by the American Philosophical Society Press, September 2015.

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.

American Immigration Visas that saved Elfriede and Susanne Höber's lives, 11 July 1939.

American Immigration Visas that saved Elfriede and Susanne Höber’s lives, 11 July 1939.





Stymied in Antwerp – October 1939

Elfriede Höber and Susanne Höber on the balcony of their apartment at Pempelforterstrasse 42, Düsseldorf , December 1938.

Elfriede Höber and Susanne Höber on the balcony of their apartment at Pempelforterstrasse 42, Düsseldorf, December 1938.

 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.

German Passport issued to Elfriede Fischer Höber and Susanne Höber, Düsseldorf, June 22, 1939.

German Passport issued to Elfriede Fischer Höber and Susanne Höber, Düsseldorf, June 22, 1939.

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.

Nazi regime stamps in Elfriede and Susanne's passport show their exit permit, fiscal authorization and crossing of the border into Belgium, September 1939.

Stamps in Elfriede and Susanne’s passport show their exit permit, fiscal authorization and crossing of the border into Belgium, September 1939.

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


Letter from Elfriede Höber in Antwerp to Johannes Höber in Philadelphia, October 16, 1939.

Letter from Elfriede Höber in Antwerp to Johannes Höber in Philadelphia, October 16, 1939.

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, 1938-1939available by clicking here.

AGAINST TIME: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939

Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, by Francis W. Hoeber. Published by the American Philosophical Society Press, September 2015.

To all of you who are readers of this website, and who mean so much to me:

I am pleased to let you know that my book, Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, about my parents’ flight from Germany to America just before World War II, will be published by the American Philosophical Society Press on September 1, 2015.

You are invited to join me for a reading and reception at the historic building of the American Philosophical Society adjacent to Independence Hall at 104 South 5th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, September 9, 2015 at 5:30 P.M.

In a nutshell, here’s the story of Against Time: My father, Johannes Höber, left Nazi Germany for America in November 1938. My mother, Elfriede, and my nine year old sister, Susanne, were unable to leave until nearly a year later. Fifty years later, I found an old folder containing the long letters Johannes and Elfriede exchanged during the anxious months they were separated. In these letters, Elfriede describes the worsening situation in daily life under Hitler’s regime and Johannes describes his rapid entry into American political life in Philadelphia. Against Time collects those letters with an introduction, notes and an epilogue that set the letters in the context of their time. Johannes and Elfriede were both political scientists and activist Social Democrats, so their letters are of more than just personal interest. Together, the letters tell the intense story of a remarkable couple in one of the most tumultuous periods in world history. You can learn more about the book and read excerpts and view the illustrations at .

Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939 is available for ordering at a pre-publication discount from the American Philosophical Society Press by clicking here . Copies are set to be shipped on September 1.

Thanks so much for your interest.

75th Anniversary of a Memorable Day

Today, November 5, 2014, marks the 75th anniversary of the day my mother, Elfriede Fischer Höber, and my sister Susanne Höber, arrived safely in the United States from Nazi Germany. They had made a narrow escape weeks after World War II had begun.

In the spring of 1939, Elfriede and Susanne, then age 9, had found themselves stranded in the north German city of Düsseldorf.  My father, Johannes, had come to Philadelphia a few months earlier to prepare the way for them. In the intervening period, the Nazis continued to tighten the screws on the German population and threatened to plunge Europe into war. The pressure was getting extreme for the hundreds of thousands who wanted to leave the country. On June 22, Elfriede succeeded in getting a new passport for both her and Susanne.

Passport issued by the German authorities on June 22, 1939 for Elfriede Fischer Höber and Susanne Höber.

Passport issued by the German authorities for Elfriede Fischer Höber and Susanne Höber on June 22, 1939 .

The greater difficulty, however, was to get a visa allowing them to enter the United States.  American law at that time permitted only 27,000 Germans to obtain immigration visas annually.  In 1938 alone, over 300,000 Germans applied for visas, meaning that hundreds of thousands of people desperate to leave the country were denied admission to the United States.  Liberal legislative efforts to expand the number of German refugees allowed into the United States were stymied by a coalition of Southern congressmen, anti-immigration groups, isolationists and antisemites (since a majority of those seeking admission were Jews).  The denial of entry to the U.S. doomed thousands who might otherwise have survived the Nazis.

Elfriede and Susanne were among the lucky ones.  After months of struggling with visa applications and mind-numbing paperwork both in Germany and the United States, they were summoned to the office of the U.S. Consul General in Stuttgart on July 12, 1939.  The last step in the application process was a physical examination, which both of them fortunately passed.  When the examination was done, a clerk used a rubber stamp to imprint two immigration visa approvals on a page of the passport, using quota numbers 608 and 609.  Vice Consul Boies C. Hart, Jr.’s signature and the embossed consular seal on each imprint made them official.  Elfriede and Susanne now had  had the wherewithal to escape to safety and freedom, a chance denied to countless others.

Logistical issues made it impossible for Elfriede and Susanne to cross the German border into Belgium until September 19,  by which time Germany had attacked Poland, and Britain and France declared war on Hitler.  It took another six anxious weeks in Antwerp before they were  finally able to board a ship for America.  It is hard to imagine their joy and relief when they were reunited with Johannes on a pier in New York harbor on that day three-quarters of a century ago.

The full story of Elfriede and Susanne’s escape is told in the book Against Time:  Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939 published by the American Philosophical Society. Click here to learn more about the book.

A Wonderful Publisher for AGAINST TIME: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939

Many readers of this blog know that I have been working for a long time to translate and edit nearly a hundred long letters that my parents exchanged as they were fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938-1939.  I am very pleased to tell you that my manuscript has been accepted for publication by the American Philosophical Society and will be available as a book by mid-2015.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the American Philosophical Society, it is an international honorary membership organization of scientists, scholars, artists and public officials. Its elected members include numerous heads of state and Nobel prize winners. APS was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743.  Its headquarters building, Philosophical Hall, has been located next to Independence Hall since 1789.  The Society has maintained a small but important publishing program since its founding, and my book will now join its list of publications.

Philosophical Hall, headquarters of the American Philosophical Society, Independence Square, Philadelphia

Philosophical Hall, headquarters of the American Philosophical Society, Independence Square, Philadelphia


About Against Time:  Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939

Johannes and Elfriede Höber at the time of their marriage, December 1928

My mother, Elfriede Höber, had to stay behind in Germany when my father left for Philadelphia on November 12, 1938.  She and my nine year old sister Susanne were unable to get out of Europe until a year later.  It was a scary time.  During the months they were separated, my mother and father exchanged long letters, with Elfriede describing the worsening situation under the Nazis and my father, Johannes, describing his flight from Europe and his exhilarating entry into American life.     These letters form the basis of Against Time:  Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939.

Johannes died in Washington, DC in 1977 at the age of 73.  I found the letters among his papers some years after his death but didn’t grasp their significance for some time.  My knowledge of German was sketchy then.  Having turned away from Germany in 1939, my parents rarely spoke the language at home; most of the German I knew I learned in high school.  Working with a German-English dictionary, I could only make out a few parts of the letters that were typed; the handwritten letters entirely eluded my comprehension.  In addition, the letters were full of unintelligible terms that appeared in no dictionary – Abo, Wobla, Staka, Affi – and perplexing names – Onkel Karl, Onkel Paul, Felix, Nepomuk – that didn’t belong to anyone I had ever hear my parents mention.  I felt that I would never figure these letters out and that I would be defeated by the handwriting, the foreign language, the mysterious terms and the unidentifiable names.  But there was something about the letters – their secrecy, their mystery, and the dark times in which they were written – that kept calling me back.

Letter from Elfriede Höber  in Düsseldorf to Johannes Höber  in Philadelphia, 2 January 1939

Letter from Elfriede Höber in Düsseldorf to Johannes Höber in Philadelphia, 2 January 1939

Over a period of years I tried to figure out what the letters meant.  I returned to evening German classes to be better able to deal with the language.  I struggled to decipher the words and their significance.  It eventually became apparent, from the context, that many words were a code that Johannes and Elfriede understood but others could not.  I then realized that the letters were written with the assumption that they might be opened by the Nazi authorities.  If that were to happen, Johannes and Elfriede wanted to ensure that their own words would not endanger them or their friends or family.  Eventually, from context and research, and from repeated readings, I was able to decode most of the content of the letters.

Working with the letters has shown me that my parents’ story during this dangerous period was not so dark as I had imagined.  Indeed, the letters are full of cleverness, good fortune and a persistent optimism in the face of frightening difficulties.  At the same time, there is a tension, a sense of strain I feel each time I pick them up.  I sensed in these letters how emotionally challenging the events of 1938-1939 were.  I often found the anxiety transmitted through their words to me.  There were periods when I gave up all work on the letters for a year or two at a time.

But I did go back, and eventually there was a great reward for me in deciphering and understanding the letters in this book.  Although Johannes died in 1977 and Elfriede in 1999, through the letters I got to meet and know them as two new people.  As a father, Johannes could be difficult, but in the letters he is charming, caring, clever, ambitious and loving and concerned for the welfare of Elfriede and Susanne.  He helped and encouraged Elfriede to do what she had to do to escape from Germany and bring Susanne to him.  As a mother, Elfriede could be reserved, even stolid, but in these letters I discovered an affectionate, engaged and loving wife and mother.

Carbon copy of a letter from Johannes Höber  in Philadelphia to Elfriede Höber in Düsseldorf , 24 January 1939

Carbon copy of a letter from Johannes Höber in Philadelphia to Elfriede Höber in Düsseldorf , 24 January 1939

In deciphering these letters I also discovered two fine, passionate, but very different writers.  My father’s letters are carefully organized and precise, self-conscious and at the same time full of colorful detail and rich accounts of people, places and events that convey his deep interest in the world he observed.  My mother’s letters, even when slightly chaotic, convey a full sense of her strong feelings about what she was experiencing.  Her letters are often laced with a breezy wit, though the humor is mostly ironic and often witheringly sarcastic.  I never knew my mother was as darkly funny as she is in these letters.

Writing a book and getting it published is no sport for the short-winded.  I have been working on this project for a long time and it will be more months until the book sees the light of day.  But it is thrilling work and I am very much looking forward to the day when I can share all of this with all of you.

Partners in Science

Josephine Marx Höber and Rudolf Höber in their Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania, 1934

Long before women were generally accepted in the medical profession and the sciences, my grandmother, Josephine, joined my grandfather, Rudolf, as a full research collaborator in the field of cellular biochemistry and human physiology.

Rudolf Höber and Josephine Marx were married in 1901.  He already had his medical degree and a teaching and research position at the University of Zürich.  In 1902, when he was 29, Rudolf published The Physical Chemistry of Cells and Tissues, a major theoretical work that would go through eight editions over the next 45 years.  He also published as many as six technical articles annually documenting the results of his laboratory research.

With Rudolf’s encouragement, Josephine entered the medical school at Zürich and obtained her degree in 1909.  She was a pioneering woman in the medical profession in Europe.  Also in 1909, Rudolf and Josephine moved to Kiel, Germany, where Rudolf became professor of physiology and Director of the Physiological Institute at the University of Kiel.  Although Josephine did not have an official position in the University, she was a partner and collaborator in Rudolf’s work, sharing his passion for the world of biochemistry, biophysics and the nature of cellular function.  The couple travelled to the Stazione Zoologica in Naples and to the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory to conduct research.  In the 1920’s, Josephine became an active participant in the laboratory work, and collaborated on several of the research articles Rudolf published both in German and in English.

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they expelled Rudolf from his position at the University of Kiel.  Anxious to continue his life’s work, he accepted an invitation from the University of Pennsylvania to become a visiting professor at the medical school there, and he and Josephine moved to Philadelphia in 1934.  The University, however, did not provide him with the kind of laboratory, apparatus and assistance that he had had at the University of Kiel.  Although he received some financial support from American foundations, including the American Philosophical Society, Rudolf was frustrated by the limited facilities and staff available to him.  Part of the solution was that Josephine joined him in the lab on a full time basis – without pay.

Rudolf and Josephine were equal partners in the lab for many years.  The articles they wrote and published jointly continued to make findings in physiology that remain foundational in biotechnical work being done today.

Here is one of the articles Rudolf and Josephine co-authored, as published in the Journal of General Physiology:


To read the complete article, click here