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

Frank

 

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,

Frank

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

 


This Website is Now Also a Book

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Francis W. Hoeber, A Family Over Three Centuries, 2018.

A FAMILY OVER THREE CENTURIESprivately printed, incorporates all 82 stories from this website, Hoeber:  A Family Over Three Centuries. Current technology makes it possible to print small quantities of this 300-page book with high quality images for a manageable price.  While the website provides the opportunity to reach many readers around the world, it is a different kind of pleasure to hold abook in your hand, scan the illustrations, and dip into a story that catches your eye at random.

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I prepared the book version primarily for family and friends. The process required reformatting the online material page by page using Indesign and Photoshop software, but the product is worth the effort.  The Blurb Books service that did the printing provides high quality reproduction of the text and illustrations. If any readers of this website would like a copy, I will have one printed for you for my cost of printing ($50 US) and postage (varies). Please contact me through the comments section below if you would like information about getting a copy. 

It is gratifying that the site has received more than 36,000 hits from nearly a hundred countries, from Algeria to Zambia.   I have become acquainted — and even friends — with dozens of historians, writers and other interested readers who have contacted me about the content of these stories.  The site has been in hiatus for some months as I have been preparing the book, but postings will resume in 2018.

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FOR ORDERING INFORMATION, PLEASE LEAVE A REPLY IN THE

COMMENTS SECTION BELOW


The Dark Humor of a Nuremberg Prosecutor — 1945

Robert Kempner was my parents’ friend and, like them, a Social Democrat and activist against the Nazi Party before 1933.  Like them, he fled Germany for America before World War II.  At the end of the War the U.S. government recruited Kempner, a lawyer, to be one of the lead prosecutors  at the International War Crimes Tribunal in Nuremberg. The fact that he was bilingual made Kempner particularly effective in cross examining the Nazi leadership.  He also was a witness against Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1960.

Robert M. W. Kempner when he was a prosecutor at the International War Crimes Tribunal, Nuremberg, 1946.

Robert M. W. Kempner when he was a prosecutor at the International War Crimes Tribunal, Nuremberg, 1946.

While my parents were able to escape Germany before the War, my mother’s mother and three brothers were trapped there for the duration.  After the war, communications between Americans and German nationals continued to be restricted for many months.  Desperate for news about her family, and unable to communicate through civilian channels, my mother wrote to Robert Kempner in Nuremberg asking him to find out if they were alright.  As a prosecutor, he had access to the American military mail system, and wrote my parents an extraordinary postcard in response. The original is preserved in my family’s papers.

Postcard from Nuremberg Prosecutor Robert M. W. Kempner to Johannes and Elfriede Hoeber, December 26, 1945.

Postcard from Nuremberg Prosecutor Robert M. W. Kempner to Johannes and Elfriede Hoeber, December 26, 1945.

The first surprising thing is that Kempner used a Nazi-era card with an Adolf Hitler postage stamp.  There is great irony in the inscription on the lower left: The Führer knows only war, work and care. We want to take whatever part [of that burden] off him that we can.  By the time this postcard was written, the Führer’s cares were long over, since he had killed himself more than six months earlier when the Nazis were crushed by the Allies.

The trial of Major War Criminals had begun on November 20, 1945 and would continue until the end of the next year. There was evidently a Christmas recess in the proceedings, since Kempner writes that he was on a vacation trip (!)  to places like Heidelberg and Mannheim where he and my parents had been associated in anti-Nazi activities years earlier.  Note, by the way, that Kempner wrote in English, even though his and my parents’ first language was German.  American military censors would probably not have allowed letters through if they were written in a language other than English.

Reverse of Postcard from Bob Kempner to Johannes and Elfriede Hoeber, December 26, 1945.

Reverse of Postcard from Robert Kempner to Johannes and Elfriede Hoeber, December 26, 1945.

Kempner did not respond directly to my mother’s questions about her family (he probably wasn’t able to contact them) but he responded to reports of widespread starvation and freezing conditions in the war-devastated country.  This was probably my mother’s biggest concern and Kempner wrote, “The Germ.[an] situation is not to [sic] bad, they need more fat and meat but they have enough bread and also enough coal for [heating] 1-2 rooms.”  Overall, though, Kempner shows little sympathy for the suffering of the Germans, far too many of whom denied any involvement in the nation’s atrocities.  Here is the full text of the postcard:

Dec 26
Dear Elfriede and Jonny:
It was very nice of Elfriede to write me.  Thanks for the letter.  At present I am travelling (5-6 days) for vacation, visiting Heidelberg, Mannheim, Wiesbaden, Frankfurt.
The Germ. situation is not to[o] bad, they need more fat and meat but have enough bread and also coal for 1-2 rooms.  Of course, they don’t like the de-nazification program.  You know they all ‘had’ to join the Party, were helpful to Jews, if not having a Jewish grandmother, or at least participants of July 20, 1944, which was, if all the allegations of participation were true, a mass movement of the first rank.  The Communist vote will be pretty low because of the happenings in the Russian area where fraternization without giving cigarettes is called rape.  There are a lot of openings for Elfr. & Jonny but I think we better stay around Philadelphia Pa.  Hope you will write me again.
Yours,
Robert MWK

“July 20, 1944” refers a failed attempt by eight military officers to assassinate Hitler.  After the war, totally unrealistic numbers of German claimed to have supported it.

The comment about the Russians is unclear, but it was well known that the occupying Soviet Army committed massive rapes of German women, including elderly women and young girls.

Kempner’s comments about “lots of openings” refers to the fact that, as exiled Germans committed to democracy, my parents would have opportunities in a new government to be installed by the Allies — but Kempner didn’t recommend it.  In any event, my parents never considered returning to the country from which they had been driven out.

It was an idiosyncrasy of Kempner’s that he addressed my father as “John” or “Jonny.” My father was adamant about not Anglicizing his name, which was Johannes. During his lifetime Robert Kempner was the only one with the temerity to address him as John.

Years later, Robert Kempner successfully sued the German government for restitution on behalf of hundreds — perhaps thousands — of victims of the Nazis, primarily in Israel and America.  My parents were among the clients for whom he secured some compensation from the German authorities for the losses they had suffered.

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 hereAlso 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 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.  

REVIEW 

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


A Surprising Perspective on America — 1937

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.

Steamship Europa in Cherbourg, France. Photo by Johannes Höber, May 1937 as he and Elfriede were leaving for a month in the US.

Steamship Europa in Cherbourg, France. Photo by Johannes Höber, May 1937 as he and Elfriede were leaving for a month in the US.

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 Höber’s diary of visit to America, May-June 1937.

Elfriede Höber’s diary of the visit to America, May-June 1937. Click image to enlarge.

Page of Elfriede's trip diary with Johannes's photos.

Page of Elfriede’s trip diary with Johannes’s photos. Click on image to enlarge.

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.

Elfriede: "We drove by the White House as though it were an ordinary residence. No guards. Unfortunately Mr. Roosevelt was not at home."

Elfriede: “We drove by the White House as though it were an ordinary residence. No guards to be seen. Unfortunately Mr. Roosevelt was not at home.”

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.

Ursula Höber upon her graduation from medical school, University of Pennsylvania, June 9, 1937.

Ursula Höber upon her graduation from medical school, University of Pennsylvania, June 9, 1937.

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.

Höber family with their two cars, Chatham, Massachusetts, June 1937.

Höber family with their two cars at a lunch spot in Chatham, Massachusetts, June 1937.

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.”

One of the steam boats of the Fall River Line that carried passengers between Cape Cod and New York until 1937.

One of the steam boats of the Fall River Line that carried passengers between Cape Cod and New York until 1937.

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.”

Fiorello H. LaGuardia, Mayor of New York.

Fiorello H. LaGuardia, Mayor of New York.

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.

Elfriede and Johannes Höber at home in Düsseldorf in 1938, a few months before leaving Germany permanently to live in the United States.

Elfriede and Johannes Höber at home in Düsseldorf in 1938, a few months before Johannes left Germany permanently to live in the United States. Elfriede and Susanne followed him a year later.

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


Through Books, Immigrants Become Americans. 1939 …

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:

Firmin Roz, Geschichte der Vereinigten Staaten, Leipzig, 1930.

Firmin Roz, Geschichte der Vereinigten Staaten, Leipzig, 1930.

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:

Karl Baedecker, United States, Leipzig, 1909

Karl Baedecker, United States, Leipzig, 1909

 

Baedecker's United States, one of 50 maps in the book.

Baedecker’s United States.  This fold-out map of Washington D.C. is one of 50 maps in the book. Click for larger image.

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:

Mark Twain, Huck Finns Fahrten und Abenteuer, Berlin, 1938

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finns Fahrten und Abenteuer, Berlin, 1938

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.

Benjamin Spock, M.D., Baby and Child Care, New York, 1946

Benjamin Spock, M.D., Baby and Child Care, New York, 1946

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:

Oliver Wiswell (19 ), Rabble in Arms (19 ), Lydia Bailey (19 ) by Kenneth Roberts. My parents learned a lot of American history from these novels.

Oliver Wiswell (1940 ), Rabble in Arms (1933 ), Lydia Bailey (1947 ) by Kenneth Roberts. My parents learned a lot of American history from these novels.

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:

The Blankenburgs of Philadelphia (1928), by Lucretia Blankenburg. Mayor Blankenburg was called "Old Dutch Cleanser" because of his work cleaning up ocrruption in Philadelphia.

The Blankenburgs of Philadelphia (1928), by Lucretia Blankenburg. Mayor Blankenburg was called “Old Dutch Cleanser” because of his work cleaning up ocrruption in Philadelphia.

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:

History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 by J. Thomas Scharff and Thompson Westcott, 1884. My mother bought this set at Leary's used books on 9th Street for $25 around 1955.

History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 by J. Thomas Scharff and Thompson Westcott, 1884. My mother also bought this set at Leary’s Used Books on 9th Street for $25 around 1955.

History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 by J. Thomas Scharff and Thompson Westcott, 1884. Click on image to view more clearly.

History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 by J. Thomas Scharff and Thompson Westcott, 1884. Click on image to view more clearly.

More on the Hoeber family is in the book Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939. Click here for details and ordering information. 

 


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 www.againsttimebook.com .

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.


A Family Lost — and Found, 1934-2015

Prof. Isidor Rosenthal 1837-1915.  He was married to my great-great gandmother's sister and taught physiology at the University of Erlangen.

Prof. Isidor Rosenthal 1837-1915. He was married to my great gandmother’s sister and taught physiology at the University of Erlangen.

My great grandmother’s sister, Anna Höber, married Isidor Rosenthal in 1869.  He was a professor of physiology at the University of Erlangen and became the mentor to my grandfather, Rudolf Höber, who also became a professor of physiology in Kiel and Philadelphia.  Anna Höber Rosenthal’s groundbreaking social reform work in maternal and child care and public health resulted in a street being named for her in Erlangen.  In 1870, Isidor and Anna had a son, Werner Rosenthal, who grew up to become a professor of pathology at the University of Göttingen, as well as an activist for education reform.  In 1915, Werner married Erika Deussen, daughter of the great Sanskritist and Indologist Paul Deussen. They eventually had three daughters, Ruth, Eva and Beate.

Werner Rosenthal and Erika Deussen Rosenthal, with their daughter Ruth, 1917. This was during World War I and Werner is wearing the uniform of an Army doctor.

Werner Rosenthal and Erika Deussen Rosenthal, with their daughter Ruth, 1917. This was during World War I and Werner is wearing the uniform of a German Army doctor.

Despite the fact that Werner was a practicing Protestant all his life, the Nazis removed him from his university teaching duties in 1934 because his father was born Jewish.  Erika, a government physician, also lost her job.  With no means of earning a living in Germany, Werner and Erika emigrated to India with their eldest daughter (the other two followed later).  Erika had connections in India because her father had studied Sanskrit and Indian religion there.  Werner became a professor at the University of Mysore and Erika practiced medicine. When World War II began in 1939, the British colonial government incarcerated Werner as an “enemy alien” and he died in a prison camp in 1942.

In the 1950s, Erika and two of her daughters, Eva and Beate, moved to the United States.  I met them when I was a boy.  The third sister, Ruth, had moved from India to Israel in 1938 or 1939, shortly before the War.  There she met and married Hubert Sommer, a Jewish refugee from Austria.

Although my parents kept in contact with Eva and Beate for many years, and although I exchanged letters with Beate until shortly before her death in 2004, I knew nothing of Ruth, other than that she lived in Israel.  Then, in November 2014, I was conducting some Internet research and stumbled across a genealogical website with tons of information about her and her descendants.  I discovered that Ruth had three children, nine grandchildren and a dozen great-grandchildren.

All at once I had 30 new Israeli cousins I had never heard of! I began an email exchange with several of the family and even got a phone call from one of these distant relatives.  I was delighted to be able to provide them with references to biographies of Isidor Rosenthal and Paul Deussen and a book that detailed Werner Rosenthal’s work in support of adult education.

Books on Isidor Rosenthal, Werner Rosenthal and Paul Deussen.

Books on Isidor Rosenthal, Werner Rosenthal and Paul Deussen. (Click for legible image.)

This spring, my cousin Yoel Sommer, Ruth’s son, along with his wife Gina and his son Ishay, traveled from Israel to Germany to visit the sites that had been home to their family generations ago.  I was able to connect them with writers and academics who have studied and written about the family members who preceded them. My academic friends were able to tell Yoel and his family pieces of their family’s history they previously did not know.  The Sommers were able to visit the well-preserved grave of Isidor Rosenthal in Erlangen, the grave and little museum dedicated to Paul Deussen in Oberdreis, and the house in Göttingen where Werner and Erika once lived.  As it happened, their visit coincided with the centennial of the death of Isidor Rosenthal.  Without being there myself, I was moved by the reuniting of this family with the places from which their ancestors originated — reunited over space and time, and through tragedy and history.

Gina, Ishay and Yoel Sommer at the monument and grave of Isidor Rosenthal in the Zentralfriedhof in Erlangen.  They are accompanied by Professors Karl-Heinz Leven and Karl-Heinz Plattig of teh University of Erlangen.

Gina, Ishay and Yoel Sommer at the monument and grave of Isidor Rosenthal, Yoel’s great-grandfather, April 10, 2015.  The monument is in the Zentralfriedhof in Erlangen, where Isidor died a hundred years ago. They are accompanied by Professors Karl-Heinz Leven and Karl-Heinz Plattig of the University of Erlangen. (Click for larger image.)

Grave of Paul Deussen in Oberdreis visited by the Sommers, April 9, 2015, accompanied by Deussen's biographer, Heiner Feldhoff.  Prof. Deussen was Yoel's great-grandfather.

Grave of Paul Deussen in Oberdreis visited by the Sommers, April 9, 2015, accompanied by Deussen’s biographer, Heiner Feldhoff. Prof. Deussen was Yoel Sommer’s great-grandfather.


An Inventory of a Life Together — A Requirement to Leave Nazi Germany, 1939

As I  await the publication of Against Time:  Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, the story of my parents’ emigration to the United States, I am trying to give readers here an idea of what was involved in those tense times.  There were difficulties from both sides:  the Germans made it hard to get out and the United States made it hard to get in.

German policy for all practical purposes allowed taking only 10 % of cash, stocks or valuables out of Germany.  Two departure taxes, the Gold Discount Bank Fee [Golddiskontobankabgabe] and the Nation Abandonment Tax [Reichfluchtsteuer] amounted, in effect, to the expropriation of  up to 90% of the liquid assets of emigrants.  Jewelry, silver, artworks and similar valuables were subject to the same taxes to prevent people from turning their money into objects they could  export.

Inventory of the household effects of Johannes and Elfriede Höber required by the Nazis as a condition of leaving the country.  August 9, 1939.

Inventory of the household effects of Johannes and Elfriede Höber required by the Nazis as a condition of leaving the country. August 9, 1939.

What was permitted was the export of household belongings and personal effects sufficient for a “modest life” [bescheidende Existenz] in the émigré’s new country.  Anyone planning to move out of Germany had to file a detailed inventory of everything they owned before they could get a permit to leave.  The normal method of shipping was by having a moving company pack the entire household into an enormous crate that would then be transferred by crane to a ship and transported by sea.  When the crate reached the United States, the household goods would be transferred to a truck and delivered to the new residence.

My father came to the United States in December 1938 but my mother and my then nine-year-old sister were not able to leave Germany until late the following year.  In August 1939, my mother prepared the household for shipping, and prepared the required inventory, a copy of which she later brought with her to America.

The inventory was insanely detailed, down to “one wash line and clothes pins,” a trash can, a honey jar, a cookie box, six dust cloths, and a box of cloth remnants for patching holes in worn clothing.  My parents were both then age 35 and had been married for ten years. The inventory illuminates the lifestyle of a middle-class European family of the 1930s. Thus, the inventory includes furniture, beds and bed linens, china and silverware, kitchen utensils and other items of daily life, but also a dozen each of wine glasses, champagne glasses, beer glasses, punch glasses and liqueur glasses.  My parents’ leisure activity is shown in the listing of two pairs of skis and two pairs of ski boots as well as two pairs of hobnailed climbing shoes, a rucksack and a pair of mountaineering pants — and a picnic basket and its contents.  Most revealing to me was the inclusion on the list of 800 books — mostly on economics, art history and fine arts — as well as 100 children’s books, a pretty good personal library for a nine year old.

My sister, Susanne Höber, as a little girl in the Alps. The inventory of our family’s belongings showed they were people who enjoyed the mountains and also that our parents gave her lots of books.

You can read the full 5-page inventory here: Inventory August 9 1939 — English translation . One of many ironies of my parents’ life is that none of these carefully cataloged belongings ever got out of Germany.  My mother was still in Düsseldorf when Hitler started World War II by invading Poland on September 1, 1939.  As a result, no ships were available to transport the crate of household belongings to the United States.  With no other choice available, my mother had everything put in storage and fled.  Everything, from furniture to books to dust cloths, was destroyed during the Allied bombing of Düsseldorf on June 12, 1943.


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.


Her Life Spared by Happenstance, 1944

Natalie Freyberger, Düsseldorf, 1937.

Natalie Freyberger, Düsseldorf, 1937.

My parents, Johannes and Elfriede Hoeber,  were fortunate in escaping Nazi Germany.  The story of how they got out in 1938-1939 is the subject of the book Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939 to be published next year.  Not all of their friends were as fortunate as they.  When I was working on the book, I found a letter among my parents’ papers that told the astonishing story of a close friend of theirs.  The letter was written to my father in 1960, during the time when Adolf Eichmann was on trial in Jerusalem.

Letter from Natalie Freyberger to Johannes U. Hoeber, May 25, 1960.

Letter from Natalie Freyberger to Johannes U. Hoeber, May 25, 1960.

Natalie Freyberger was a bright young woman who lived in Düsseldorf when my parents did.  She worked part time for Johannes and Elfriede as a secretary in their small newspaper distribution business (the Nazis having expelled my father from his government post years earlier).  Because she was completely reliable, Johannes and Elfriede could leave Frau Freyberger in charge of the business for a couple of weeks when they had to be away.  Like many of Johannes and Elfriede’s friends, Frau Freyberger was Jewish. Early in 1939, her non-Jewish husband divorced her under the Nuremberg laws, which made marriages between Jews and non-Jews illegal.  Frau Freyberger desperately wanted to leave Germany but was unable to do so because she couldn’t find a country that would let her in.  Some time after my parents left Germany, Frau Freyberger was arrested and transported to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt.  The story of how she managed to survive is told in the letter she wrote my father many years later:

May 25, 1960

Dear Dr. Hoeber,

* * * * *

Eichmann’s arrest has aroused all sorts of memories.  He was the most feared visitor to Theresienstadt.  Every time there was an announcement of his visit it set off a panic; his presence meant the same thing as transports to Auschwitz.  He then carried out the selections himself in Auschwitz.  Only one of them took place in Theresienstadt:  for the spouses of mixed marriages.  He found me suitable for removal to Auschwitz too.

It was in October 1944 that the last transport ever went from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz.  All through October there were transports of 2500 people to Auschwitz every second day.  In this desolate confusion someone dispatched me from the main office to the telephone center, which had just been completely “cleansed” by Eichmann.  While I was using the nearest steps to the telephone center, Eichmann was coming down the main stairway to “cleanse” the main office.  They forgot about me in the telephone center.  Everyone who was in the main office was gassed in Auschwitz, so that I alone remained as the result of “forgetfulness.”

Sincerely,

Your

Natalie Freyberger

 


How do You Raise a Bright Little Girl in Nazi Germany?

Erich von Baeyer, "Portrait of a Young Girl" [Susanne Höber], 1938

Erich von Baeyer, “Portrait of a Young Girl” [Susanne Höber], 1938

My sister, Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, lived in Düsseldorf , Germany until she was nine years old .  She was just three when the Nazis took over the country and our family lived there under Hitler’s regime until 1939.  At that time our parents, Johannes and Elfriede, took Susanne to America.  I am always amazed when Susanne tells me that she experienced her childhood as a happy one, full of friends and secure family connections.  Our grandmother on our mother’s side lived nearby as did two of Elfriede’s younger brothers, with whom Susanne was great friends.  She enjoyed school and her school friends and was well taught. Johannes and Elfriede’s circle of interesting grownup friends formed a warm background to Susanne’s daily life. These family and social circles managed to shield Susanne from most of  the oppressive conditions created by the Nazis.

Susanne Höber, Düsseldorf, Christmas 1938.

Susanne Höber, Düsseldorf, Christmas 1938.

Although our parents were nonreligious — Konfessionslos in German — Düsseldorf was a Catholic city and our family measured life around the celebration of the holidays of the Christian calendar — Lent, Easter, Pentecost, St. Martin’s, Advent, Christmas. The Karnival season in late winter — the German equivalent of Mardi Gras — was celebrated raucously in Düsseldorf and the surrounding Rhine valley. Rosenmontag, the Monday before Ash Wednesday, was celebrated with a huge costumed parade in which children participated as well as adults.  For Rosenmontag in February 1939, Susanne decided she wanted to dress as a Mexicanerin, a Mexican cowgirl.  Her grandmother helped her assemble all the accessories for her costume — wide skirt, big belt, checked shirt, kercheif and a  broad-brimmed hat.  Elfriede tracked down the makeup Susanne wanted as well as a cap pistol (despite Elfriede’s pacifist aversion to such toys).  The final charming effect was documented both in a photograph by Susanne’s Uncle Günter and in her own self-portrait drawing.

Susanne Höber as "Mexicanerin" for Karneval, Monday, February 20, 1939.  Her drawing of herself is on the left and a photo by her Uncle Günter Fischer is on the right.

Susanne Höber as Mexicanerin for Karneval, Monday, February 20, 1939.

Had Johannes and Elfriede remained in Germany, Susanne would have been required to enter the Hitlerjugend,  the Nazis’ corps for indoctrinating children in the fascist ideology of the Third Reich. Protecting her from such an intolerable experience was one of the many reasons our family fled Germany.

POSTSCRIPT: After I wrote the piece above, I sent it to Susanne to review.  She liked it, and sent the following additional story. Note that this is a memory from 75 years ago:

I was very much aware of living in Nazi Germany. Here is the Ruth Boker story. She was my best friend in school. We walked to school together every day. I told her a joke about Herman Göring having an operation to have his chest widened so he could wear all his medals. It was a story that [my uncles] Herbert and Günther told. I was very aware that such stories were not for public consumption. When I went to pick her up one morning Ruth insisted that I tell her father the wonderful story about Herman Göring. When her father heard the story he pounded  on the breakfast table and said I never wish to hear such a story again in this house. This illustrates how daily talk was self censored and my awareness of it.


Escaping Nazi Germany through the Basel Train Station — November 12, 1938

 

 

The train station in Basel, Switzerland as it appeared before some years before Johannes Höber arrived there from Nazi Germany.

The train station in Basel, Switzerland as it appeared some years before Johannes Höber arrived there from Nazi Germany.

Germany was in an uproar on Saturday, November 12, 1938.  The nation was reeling from the events of November 9-10, events that Americans know as Kristallnacht, the Nazis’ broadest attack on the country’s Jews up to that time.  During the night, storm troopers attacked and destroyed tens of thousands of Jewish homes and businesses.  Thousands of Jews were “arrested” without charges and placed in prison camps.  Most of the synagogues in Germany were burned in that one night.   My parents, Johannes and Elfriede Höber, spent most of the night seeking out their Jewish friends and helping where they could.  My father’s account of that night has already been published here in a prior post.

Weeks before Kristallnacht, Johannes and Elfriede had already decided that Hitler’s Germany had become intolerable and that they would leave if they could. Life was becoming increasingly dangerous for them.  Years earlier, the Nazis had imprisoned Johannes because of his Social Democratic politics and more recently the Gestapo had interrogated him about his socialist friends.  In addition, his mother’s parents were Jewish, exposing him to additional danger. Johannes and Elfriede’s original plan was for Johannes to leave in late November with Elfriede and their daughter Susanne to follow later.  The events of Kristallnacht, however, caused them to change their plans and for him to leave immediately.

Johannes and Elfriede Höber on a road outside Düsseldorf, Germany, where they lived for several years before they fled to America. (He's wearing knickers and long stockings under that coat.)

Johannes and Elfriede Höber on a road outside Düsseldorf, Germany, where they lived for several years before they fled to America. (He’s wearing knickers and long stockings under that coat.)

On Saturday morning, November 12, carrying a single suitcase, Johannes boarded a train in Düsseldorf and headed for Switzerland.  He avoided talking to anyone during the nine-hour train trip, and approached the German-Swiss border toward evening. The station just inside the border, the Basel Badischer Bahnhof, has a peculiar status.  Although the station is several miles inside Switzerland, a 19th century treaty provides that the tracks and arrival platforms are legally German territory.  The train platforms are connected to the station by an underground pedestrian tunnel, and the German-Swiss border is in the tunnel.

The German passport that Johannes Höber used to cross the border from Germany into Switzerland on November 12, 1938.

The German passport that Johannes Höber used to cross the border from Germany into Switzerland on November 12, 1938.

Years later, Johannes described his arrival at the station and his fear as he approached the German exit checkpoint.  Would he be stopped?  Would the Gestapo be looking for him after they interrogated him the previous day?  Would the border authorities check whether he had paid the emigration tax?  Might someone have informed the border authorities about his past activities as a Social Democrat or about his Jewish grandparents?  Would he be arrested as so many were on Kristallnacht two days earlier?  With his anxiety built up, it almost seemed like a trick when he was allowed to pass through the German exit control without a single question.  But the Swiss passport control was some 50 meters away at the opposite end of the tunnel – a kind of no man’s land separated the checkpoints.  Carrying his suitcase, with his head up but with his heart pounding, he walked straight ahead, trying to look confident.  Johannes told his children years later that those 50 meters were the longest walk of his life.  To his immense relief, he quickly swept through the second checkpoint, out of Nazi Germany and into the security of Switzerland.  He got away from the Badischer Bahnhof as quickly as he could, and took a fifteen minute tram ride to the Schweizer Bahnhof, the station for Swiss trains.  There he got the train to Zürich.  He was free.

 


True Friends — 1939

A peaceful picnic in the country a few days after Elfriede and Susanne reached America, November, 1939.  Walter Phillips; Francis Phillips, Walter's brother; Susanne Hoeber; Johannes Hoeber; Elfriede Hoeber.  The photograph was probably taken by Mary Phillips.

A peaceful picnic in the country a few days after Elfriede and Susanne reached America, November, 1939. Walter Phillips; Francis Bird, Walter’s brother-in-law; Susanne Hoeber; Johannes Hoeber; Elfriede Hoeber. The photograph was probably taken by Walter’s wife, Mary Bird Phillips. [Click on image for enlarged view.]

In the spring of 1939, the American Consul in Stuttgart turned down my mother’s application for an Immigration Visa.  At that moment, hundreds of thousands of Germans were trying to escape the Nazi terror and the war that everyone knew was coming.  In one of the shameful episodes in America’s history, our immigration policy — held captive by southern congressman, xenophobes and antisemites —  excluded all but a trickle of the terrified refugees.  In just one year, 325,000 Germans asked for asylum in America, but a statutory quota allowed fewer than 28,000 to immigrate.  In addition, any applicant was excluded if he or she might become a “charge on the government,” that is, if the applicants might not be able to support themselves here.  In the 1930s, when unemployment was at a high point, that meant that most applicants from abroad had to have a sponsor who could support them.

My mother, Elfriede Höber, and my father, Johannes Höber, were counting on Johannes’ father Rudolf to support Elfriede and my sister, Susanne, then nine.  Rudolf had fled Germany five years earlier, in 1933, and was a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.  His stipend from Penn was small, however, and by 1939 he was already supporting six relatives who were unemployed refugees.  Johannes  had arrived in Philadelphia a couple of months earlier, so it was Elfriede who had to file the visa application with the U.S. Consul in Stuttgart.  After weeks of delay, the Consul rejected her application because Rudolf’s income was insufficient to support her on top of the people he was already carrying.

Johannes was crushed when he received Elfriede’s letter with the bad news.  In the few weeks he had been in America, however, he had made a friend at the office where he worked. This friend, Walter Phillips, sensed right away that something serious had happened. He asked Johannes what was wrong.  When Johannes explained, Walter too was distressed that his new friend’s wife and daughter were trapped and might be unable to escape from Germany.

The next day, Walter did something totally unexpected.  Although he was a young recent law school graduate with a limited income, both he and his wife Mary had inherited some money from their respective families. Without my father even asking, Walter and Mary volunteered to be guarantors for the support of my mother and sister, whom they had never met.  Within days, Walter got an affidavit from his bank confirming his and Mary’s deposits and secured endorsements from leading lawyers in Philadelphia.  He wrote his own extraordinary letter of support to the American Consul in Stuttgart:

Honorable Sir,

            I am informed that Mrs. Elfriede Höber, a Ph.D. of Heidelberg University, and Susanne Höber, Düsseldorf (Germany), Pempelforterstr. 11, have applied at your consulate for permanent residence.  Mrs. Elfriede Höber and her daughter wish to come to Philadelphia to join their husband and father and his family who were admitted to the United States for permanent residence some time ago.  Dr. Johannes Höber, the husband, also a Ph.D. of Heidelberg, has been working for me for about three months as a research assistant.  He has proved himself to be an extraordinarily bright, intellectually honest, public spirited and able person.  I am so much interested in keeping him in Philadelphia that I am willing to give my personal guarantee that his wife, after being admitted to the United States, will never become a public charge.

            For my own identification you may be interested in the following facts:   My family on all branches have lived in the United States since before the Revolutionary War.  I am a graduate of Princeton University and also the Harvard Law School.  …  At present I am volunteering my time to the Philadelphia City Charter Committee in the interest of good local government.  … As shown by a separate affidavit the financial responsibility of my wife and me together – we are giving a joint affidavit – should be sufficient to give the necessary guarantee required by law.

            May I say again that Dr. Johannes Höber has in my opinion the makings of a fine American citizen and that to have his wife here would help him to be even more of an asset.  She too, I have every reason to believe, would contribute much to America. …

Very sincerely yours,

Walter M. Phillips

Draft of a letter from Walter Phillips to the American Consul in Stuttgart, Germany, urging that he grant immigration visas to Elfriede Höber and her daughter Susanne, May 8, 1939.

Draft of a letter from Walter Phillips to the American Consul in Stuttgart, Germany, urging that he grant immigration visas to Elfriede Höber and her daughter Susanne, May 8, 1939.

Making copies wasn't easy in 1939.  This is a "photostat" of a letter from Walter and Mary Phillips' bank establishing that they had the wherewithal to support Elfriede and Susanne. May 5, 1939.

This is a “photostat” of a letter from Walter and Mary Phillips’ bank establishing that they had the wherewithal to support Elfriede and Susanne. May 5, 1939.

The impressive stack of documents did the trick.  Although it took several more weeks, the Consul in Stuttgart accepted Walter and Mary’s assurances and granted the Elfriede and Susanne visas on July 12, 1939.  Without Walter and Mary’s selfless generosity, my mother and sister would never have gotten out of Germany and I would probably not be alive today.  When I was born three years later my parents gave me “Walter” as a middle name.  It is a name I carry with great pride and gratitude.


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.


Proud Memento of Resistance to Tyranny

Membership Pin, Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold, before 1933

Membership Pin, Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold, before 1933

The lapel pin pictured above was worn by those who supported democracy and representative government in Germany before 1933.

With the defeat of Kaiser Wilhelm’s forces at the end of World War I in 1918, Germany became a parliamentary democracy for the first time.  Not everyone supported the Weimar Republic, however, which was subject to continuous attacks from both the left and the right.  In 1923, there were two failed coups, one  on the left by the Communists in Hamburg and another by the Nazis on the right in the attempted Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.  In response to these attacks, the Social Democrats and centrist parties formed  a non-partisan organization devoted to protecting the Republic.  They called the organization Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold , or Black, Red and Gold National Flag, the colors of the flag of the democratic Republic.  There was a civilian political wing of the Reichsbanner as well as a paramilitary wing.  The latter was able to provide resistance to the Stahlhelm (Steel Helmet) of the aristocrats and military, the Sturmabteilung (SA or Stormtroopers) of the National Socialists and the Rotfrontkämpferbund (Red Front Fighters Brigade) of the Communist Party.  

Both my grandfather Rudolf Höber , a Liberal, and my father Johannes, a Social Democrat, became members of the Reichsbanner.   They undoubtedly wore the pin of the organization, publicly declaring their support for democracy and against dictatorship.  My father later became a member of the paramilitary wing and was more than once involved in violent conflicts with Nazis in the months before they took over the government.

After the Nazis were given control of Germany in January 1933, the Reichsbanner was quickly suppressed and past membership became a basis for persecution.  My grandfather’s membership in the Reichsbanner was one reason cited by the Nazis in expelling him from his position as Professor of Physiology at the University of Kiel.  My father was dismissed from his job in the government of the city of Mannheim and arrested.  With experiences like these, all evidence of the Reichsbanner quickly vanished.  Although there had been hundreds of thousands of members in 1931 and 1932, anyone associated with the organization quickly divested themselves of any evidence of their membership, including their membership pins.  As a result, the pins, these symbols of freedom and democracy, nearly disappeared.

But I have one.  My Dresden friend Achim, who has appeared in these posts several times, is a researcher and archivist of exceptional skill.  He recently found one of the few surviving Reichsbanner pins, 80 years after the organization was crushed by the Nazis.  Knowing that I would value this memento more than almost anyone, Achim sent it to me for Christmas.  It is a rare gift in every sense.


Witness to Kristallnacht — November 9, 1938

Johannes U. Hoeber's eyewitness account of Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938.

Johannes U. Hoeber’s eyewitness account of Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938. (Click image for larger view.)

JUH account scan part 2

The following is the unedited account by my father, Johannes U. Hoeber, of what he experienced on the night of November 9-10, 1938 in the large north German city of Düsseldorf . 

Wednesday November 9, 1938.  The Nazis had been celebrating that day, as every year, the anniversary of Hitler’s 1923 putsch.  That night an old friend of ours had come to see us.  We had been associated in the early days of the Third Reich in some underground activities, trying to build out of the remainders of the Catholic, liberal, Socialist and Communist opposition a group of resistance against the rising tide of Fascist tyranny.  He had been caught in 1934 circulating illegal leaflets and sentenced to 18 months hard labor.  He had served his term and now lived in a small village far remote from his former center of activities.  He rarely could risk to come to see us, because no Gestapo agent would have believed either him or us that we would talk anything but politics.  Only a few weeks before he and we had again been subject to a Gestapo investigation and therefore had to be more on our guard than ever before.

The conversation had centered around the recent political events, Chamberlain’s Munich surrender and its repercussions on Germany’s internal policy.  Munich undoubtedly had bolstered the regime’s declining morale and everybody viewed with alarm the reviving arrogance of the Nazis after a period of relative moderation.  Incidentally our friend told us that he had heard on his way to our house that Herr vom Rath, secretary of the Paris German embassy, who had been shot by a young Polish Jew, driven to despair by the treatment of his parents by the Nazis, had died that afternoon.  We did not discuss the implications of this news item.  Not because we did not fear them.  But in the past six years of our life under the Nazi government we had developed a habit that might be called a technique of mental self defense:  not to speculate on the possibilities of disaster implied in any news, before we were confronted with this disaster and could cope with the concrete emergency by concrete maneuvers.  No one of our company that night was Jewish but we all had some very close Jewish friends.  I myself have some Jewish ancestors, not enough to make me subject to the humiliating clauses of the infamous Nüremberg laws, yet enough to brand me as a second class citizen in the Germany of today, the Germany of the Bohemian born Hitler, the Egyptian born Hess and the Baltic born Rosenberg.

The possible consequences of vom Rath’s death were uppermost in my mind, when I drove to the station at about 11 p.m. to mail some letters.  [Illegible] in the streets I noticed an unusually large number of brownshirts.  First I thought they were on their way home from some of the day’s celebrations.  Then I noticed that they did not go in the direction of the residential quarters but hurried towards the center of the city.  So, on my way home, I drove through some of the main thoroughfares of the downtown business section and found on two different places brownshirts gathering quietly in front of Jewish business establishments.  I went home and without telling my wife what I had seen offered our friend who had to leave at midnight to drive him to the station and asked my brother in law to accompany us.  After having dropped our friend at the station we hastily drove downtown.  We had not to drive very far to find what we had anticipated.  In front of a large shoe-store, owned by a Jewish woman whose husband had been killed in action in the world war and who therefore, despite of six years of Nazi boycott, had still one of the largest businesses in the field, a detachment of brown shirts had assembled.  We just came in time to see two of them starting – on a given signal – to break the shop windows.  This done they forced the entrance and the whole group rushed into the store.  It was one of those modern outfits with plenty of glass, attractive wood paneling on the walls, every shelf full of shoe-boxes.  Twenty minutes later it was so completely devastated that no bombshell could have done a more thorough job.  No piece of glass, no piece of wood was unbroken.  The carpets were cut up, the lamps torn from ceiling and walls, shelves, tables, chairs smashed to pieces.  The problem to destroy thousands of shoes in a hurry otherwise than by fire had been solved in an ingenious way:  they had been strewn all over the place and then oil paint had been poured over and into them.  When they had finished their job the wrecking crew on the blow of a whistle assembled in front of the store, in a line two deep, stood at attention in perfect military discipline, drilled into them by endless training, and marched off.

We got into our car and drove on.  A few blocks away we encountered another group of stormtroopers looting a fashionable lady’s outfit store.  This was on our city’s “Fifth Avenue” and the wrecking crew corresponded to the distinction of the district.  Our city is the seat of a higher district leader of the Nazi party.  Every such district leader has a staff of his own and a body guard of his own whose members are easily recognized by red squares on the lapels of their brown uniform coats.  The squad that wrecked this store was composed almost entirely out of members of the district leader’s staff and body guard under the personal command of a well known Nazi-Lawyer and S.A. officer.  A few yards away a police car with two higher police officers was parked at the curb.  The two officers watched with apparent interest the work of destruction carried out under the leadership of the chief aide of their superior.

The next time we stopped in front of a tailor’s workshop.  Here a particular problem presented itself to the wrecking crew:  how to destroy the stock of bolts of cloth.  It was solved no less efficiently than the shoe problem had been solved:  one man unrolled the bale and another poured ink over it from one end to the other.  Then they left it lying in the street.

After an hour of driving around town we were convinced that not one single Jewish business in [Düsseldorf ] would survive that night and that more than a hundred thousand people would have to pay for one man’s act of despair with the destruction of their lives’ work and their basis of existence.

What happened during the next hour, however, outgrew the wildest anticipations any one of us, trained by six years’ lessons of terror and used to incredible brutalities, had ever entertained.  At 1.30 A.M. we stopped in front of an apartment house, because we noticed two SA sentries guarding the house-door.  On the opposite pavement stood a small group of civilians looking at a brightly lighted apartment on the fourth floor.  We joined them and asked one of them what were going on.  “They are revenging von Rath” he said.  “Which firm has its offices up there?” I asked.  “That is no office, that is a private apartment occupied by a Jewish tenant.”  Before we could continue our conversation one of the S.A. sentries came across the street and ordered us to move on.  A few seconds later the windows of the apartment came down in splinters and one after the other the lights went out in the apartment, the last one being a large crystal lamp that we saw wildly swinging up and down before we heard it crashing to the ground.

Then panic gripped us. …

The account ends here. Johannes and my mother, Elfriede, spent the rest of the night and the next day helping rescue friends and neighbors whose homes had been attacked.  Then, three days later, Johannes fled to Switzerland and from there to America.

November 9th this year [2013] marks the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, when the Nazis launched the most vicious attacks to that point against Germany’s Jews and their businesses, homes and synagogues.   This account, written in English in a tiny, painstaking script on small sheets of tablet paper, was discovered among Johannes’ papers in May 1989, 22 years after he died and some 50 years after he wrote it.  

Johannes U. Hoeber, 1938

Johannes U. Hoeber, 1938

NOTE ON THE TERM “KRISTALLNACHT”: In Germany, the events described here are known as Reichspogromnacht, or the night of the pogrom of the Third Reich.  The term Kristallnacht suggested the breaking of crystal, implying that the Jewish victims that night were wealthy.  The current usage in Germany avoids that derogatory stereotype.  I have nevertheless used the term “Kristallnacht” in this English version because the events are still known by that term in the United States.

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


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 .