Review of “Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939” from CHOICE, A Publication of the Association of College and Research LibrariesPosted: May 2, 2016
I am delighted that the following review appeared on May 1, 2016, in CHOICE, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries.
AGAINST TIME: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, by Francis W. Hoeber
Francis Hoeber possesses, apparently, decades’ worth of materials from his family’s history. However, he has chosen to publish only letters from 1938 and 1939, because they are truly exceptional in foregrounding human experience in the face of obliterating fascism. His father, Johannes, had emigrated from Germany in 1938, with the idea that Elfriede would follow with their young daughter. Complications arose. Eventually they united, lived in the US, and raised their family. That is a passive, objective summary. In contrast, these letters, written by two literate, gifted writers, construct a deeply experienced history entwined with significant world events. Genuine, emotional, human, rational—the letters exemplify precisely why published history needs such primary material. We can read or view synthesized historical accounts in textbooks or documentaries; we can summarize and categorize, intellectually. However, only by absorbing the personal narratives of people who recount the events they lived through can readers approximate the feelings, the vibrant presence, the individual acts that enliven historical experience. Through self-expressed microhistory, whether routine (running a business) or epochal (Kristallnacht), readers feel the macrohistory viscerally. Hoeber provides relevant context in footnotes and summaries to orient readers.
Summing up: Highly recommended.
–J. B. Wolford, University of Missouri—St. Louis
More information about Against Time is available by clicking here.
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My sister Susanne met her husband, Lloyd Rudolph, at Harvard and they embarked on a unique joint career as political scientists. They wrote and taught together, specializing in political development in the then newly-independent India. They were 32 and 35, respectively when they took their second research trip to India in 1962-63. On this occasion they settled in the capital, and shortly after their arrival asked with intrepid directness for an appointment to interview Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. They were pleased and somewhat amazed when their request was granted. The invitation, in an oversize parchment envelope and typed on impressive stationery, was hand delivered by a uniformed messenger in an elegant car to the Rudolphs’ house at 44 Lucknow Road. The interview was scheduled for Tuesday, February 13, 1963.
Recognizing that this was a rare opportunity, Sue and Lloyd devised a singular scheme for making the most of their time with Nehru: they decided they would take no notes, so that neither he nor they would be distracted by their writing. Sue and Lloyd prepared for days. They read articles and newspapers and began drafting a set of questions for the Prime Minister. These they revised again and again to make them simple and direct, with the intention of being both respectful and provocative. When they were finally satisfied with the questions they had formulated — they memorized them. Their determination was to be with Nehru with no paper or writing instrument visible.
On the appointed day, Sue and Lloyd drove their little green Fiat to the imposing Prime Minister’s Secretariat in New Delhi. There they were ushered into Nehru’s private office, where they were able to question him intently for more than an hour. He was cordial and frank, though guarded on certain issues as Sue and Lloyd had anticipated. In an amusing aside, Sue took out a cigarette at one point (everyone smoked then) and Lloyd and the Prime Minister both lit a match for her at the same time. Sue looked at Lloyd but turned and accepted a light from the handsome Nehru.
Already while driving home, Sue and Lloyd talked rapidly as Sue furiously scribbled down notes of what the Prime Minister had told them As soon as they returned to the house on Lucknow Road, they hastened into their study and closed the door. With the prepared list of questions before them as an aid, they spoke into the microphone of their little tape recorder and dictated Nehru’s responses. Each reminded the other of what they had heard, using their collective memory to recall with precision what Prime Minister Nehru had said during the interview. Sometimes during the dictation, one of them would start a sentence and the other would finish it, a rhetorical characteristic that would become one of their habits in subsequent years. They turned the tape over to their secretary to transcribe and later edited the typed transcript before having it typed into a final version with an original and five carbon copies.
The transcribed interview came to a dozen legal-size pages. The candid responses they had been able to elicit from Nehru were a testament to their methodological inventiveness and unique teamwork. Sue and Lloyd used the information they gleaned in numerous articles and books over the ensuing years, and made the transcript available to other scholars. It was cited as recently as last year in a history of the Indian Army since Independence.
I know the details of this story because I was the secretary who typed the notes of the interview along with many others they conducted with government and political officials that year. In 1962-1963 I took a year off between my second and third years as an undergraduate at Columbia University to work for them in India. It was quite an adventure.
Sue and Lloyd were unique scholarly collaborators. Through decades of writing and teaching they made an indelible imprint on the field of political science and enriched the lives of countless students and scholars around the world. Their emotional, personal, intellectual and professional bonds made them inseparable life partners for 63 thrillingly adventurous years. Susanne died in her sleep on December 23, 2015. Lloyd slipped away equally peacefully on January 16, 2016, just 24 days after Susanne.
For more on the Hoeber Family go to http://againsttimebook.com/.
Like other members of my family about whom I have written on this website, I have spent most of my working life in public service. A few years ago, the local affiliate of National Public Radio asked me to write an essay reflecting on this work for broadcast as part of its “This I Believe” series. Then, last week, the national “This I Believe” organization contacted me to say my essay will be published this fall in an anthology. I was pleased that after the passage of some time my essay is still of interest. It will be a while until the book of essays is released, but for now you can read mine below. In addition, you can hear the audio of the original broadcast archived on the WHYY website by clicking on this link.
I believe in government.
My grandmother, Josephine, was the first in my family to enter government service nearly a century ago. She was a doctor in the women’s health clinic in Kiel, Germany. As a public health physician, she improved the lives of poor young mothers and children who otherwise would have gotten no proper medical care.
My father and mother, who fled Germany to escape the Nazis, made civil service their lifelong work here in America. Each of them built a distinguished career in agencies founded on principles of social and economic justice for all Americans.
As the son and grandson of civil servants, I grew up believing in the capacity of government to ameliorate human suffering and to improve the lot of ordinary people. While I was still in college, I, too, went to work in the public sector. I was thrilled when I landed a job as a summer intern for Senator Hubert Humphrey. I was able to be in the Senate gallery when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, guaranteeing the equal rights under the law that Americans take for granted today.
After college, I got a job with the National Labor Relations Board, where we worked to protect the rights of employees who wanted to be represented by a union. I will never forget the respect I was accorded when I entered a metal factory in Wilkes Barre PA or a nursing home in Millville, New Jersey. I was the government man responsible for setting the rules of fair play between employees and their employers. I will never forget being welcomed into the small town home of a man or a woman who had been fired for union organizing, knowing that these individuals were relying on their government — on me — to save them and their families from economic disaster. It was a huge responsibility, and the long days of hard work were repaid by the conviction that my colleagues and I were making a difference.
Now, 45 years after my first government job, I am a manager for the New Jersey courts. Our Judiciary has created drug courts that save the lives of addicts who were once criminals and turn them into responsible citizens. I have worked on programs to keep kids who went wrong from being locked up in institutions that too often only increase the likelihood that they will offend again. I leave my house at seven in the morning and I don’t get home until seven at night, and in between there’s hardly a minute of down time. But I take very seriously my responsibility to do the most that can be done with the hard-earned tax dollars that pay my salary.
So I believe in government. I believe in the good that government can do. My whole life has taught me to believe in government. No one knows the flaws of government better than those of us who labor under its maddening limitations. But government is still the best institution that we have devised to address the panoply of problems that beset the human condition.