In the extensive archive of my family’s papers, I found the University of Heidelberg law degree bestowed on my great-great-grandmother’s brother, Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim. This was in 1839 and he was just 19. Although he taught law for a time, Heinrich was denied a position as a professor of law because he was Jewish. Later, however, his legal training enabled him to become a well-known journalist and commentator for liberal and left radical causes for nearly 40 years.
As a young man, Heinrich was a member of the intellectual and literary circle around Countess Bettina von Arnim in Berlin. Although he was short and had an odd voice and accent, he was known as a great conversationalist and a man of “uncommon wit” (Carl Schurz). His boyish appearance and sparkling talk made him a favorite with women. In the von Arnim salon he befriended some of the leading European thinkers and progressive political figures of the day. For a time he shared rooms with theologian Abraham Geiger, one of the prime founders of Reform Judaism, and he was good friends with the young Karl Marx.
In March 1848, Heinrich participated in the political uprising in Berlin in a failed attempt to wrest a more democratic form of government from King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia. He addressed several of the mass demonstrations in the Tiergarten park in the Prussian capitol. Later in 1848, Heinrich fled to the southern Duchy of Baden where he continued his revolutionary activities with a left extremist wing led by Gustav Struve in Karlsruhe and Lörrach.
In July 1849, the Baden revolution collapsed and Heinrich was driven into an 11-year exile in Switzerland, France, Belgium and England. He was unable to return to Germany until 1861. During his political exile, he continued to publish pro-democracy commentary, much of it in French.
When he was finally able to return to Germany, Heinrich continued his liberal political writing. In 1879-80 he earned recognition for his articulate opposition to a sudden onslaught of antisemitism led by the prominent historian Heinrich von Treitschke. Oppenheim’s articles targeted the attacks as a political strategy of conservatives to discredit governmental reforms being pressed by liberal activists, many of whom were Jews.
On March 29, 1880, a few weeks after publishing his rebuke to the Berlin antisemites, Heinrich died of a chronic lung ailment . His funeral was attended by many representatives of the Berlin news corps as well as liberal political activists from all over Germany. Shortly thereafter, his colleagues published a long pamphlet collecting numerous speeches about him and the obituaries published in the many newspapers in Germany. The pamphlet contains the only known portrait of Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim.
The funeral for Heinrich took place in his home in Berlin and a long procession accompanied his casket to the Schönhauser Allee cemetery. In December of that year, the family arranged for the erection of a grave monument of pink granite. My family’s papers includes the original text of the gravestone inscription, written by the liberal political leader Ludwig Bamberger.
“In memory of Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim, born Frankfurt a/M 20 July 1819, died Berlin 29 March 1880.
True and good of heart, strong and bright in spirit, always a ready fighter, always a helping friend, expert in learning and life, compassionate to the least of men, faithful to the greatest of men, willingly accepting and even more willingly giving all that a man can give, thus he worked for his country, thus he lived for others to his last breath, thus unforgettable, irreplaceable, he lives in the memory of his family and his friends.”
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
Since I started this website two years ago, I have published 41 stories here. To my astonishment, they have been read by hundreds of people in more than 50 countries. I have had just under 10,000 hits, far more than I anticipated when I started. I also did not anticipate that I would become friends with readers previously unknown to me who discovered the stories here: ocarina players in Indonesia who connected to the story of my grandfather Rudolf’s ocarina; a Swiss historian writing about the descendants of Moses Mendelssohn, one of whom was the wife of my great uncle Eduard; members of the medical faculty at the University of Erlangen in Bavaria, who were excited to find the portraits of Isidor Rosenthal and Anna Hoeber Rosenthal, who left their mark on that city; and my now-good-friend Phil White of Olathe, Kansas, who is writing a book about the Truman campaign my father worked on.
All of the stories on this website are made possible because of the Höber/Hoeber family’s mania over several generations for saving letters and other paper records. The earliest letter in the collection was written 174 years ago by Heinrich and August Oppenheim, my great-great grandmother’s brothers, who were congratulating their parents on their sister’s engagement to my great-great grandfather. The collection also includes love letters my great-grandparents exchanged daily in Berlin in the 1860s. The collection includes every income tax return my parents filed from 1939 to 1999. There are my grandparents’ photograph albums from the early 20th century in Zürich and professional papers my parents wrote from 1940 to 1980. The variety of material is dizzying. Together, this archive tells the story of a family that made a mark in business, science and progressive politics in Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and then started all over again in the United States.
Organizing and preserving these family papers has taken years. I had to study German to be able to read some of the complex papers, and I have translated many documents into English so they are accessible to readers here. Physically arranging the papers so things could be found was a substantial task. They are now housed in archival manuscript boxes and filed in acid-free folders so they will be preserved for the future. The papers have been partially indexed, but I still have work to do in this area.
Eventually I will place the collection of these papers with a large historical manuscript archive here in Philadelphia. In the meantime, I will continue to write stories based on these letters for you, my kind readers.
My great-great grandfather Eudard Höber, a merchant from Karlsruhe, married my great-great grandmother Amalie, née Oppenheim, on November 17, 1839. It was his second marriage, her first; he was 34, she was 22. I did a post about their portraits a few weeks ago that you can see here.
I didn’t know much about Amalie (also spelled Amalia), but I did know that her brother, Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim, later became a well known jurist, critic and liberal political activist. In the 1870’s, he was a major opponent of Heinrich von Treitschke, the notorious Antisemite. Researching Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim’s background led to this photograph of his gravestone, and a few feet away from it the gravestone of great-great-grandmother Amalia.
The grave is located in the Schönhauserallee cemetery in the Prenzlauer Berg section of Berlin just a couple of kilometers from the Brandenburg Gate. The photograph here is from a wonderful series showing the elaborate nineteenth-century grave markers and the tranquil beauty of the cemetery today. Although heavily damaged, this Jewish cemetery was not obliterated either by the Nazis nor by the Allied bombing of Berlin in 1945 and much of it has been restored since 1990. We stayed near here in the past, but had no idea this grave existed — another reason to return to this reborn city.
The inscription on the grave stone reads: “Here lies our dearly loved mother and grandmother Amalie Hoeber née Oppenheim, born in Frankfurt on the Main on the 19th of November 1817, died in Berlin on the 15th of January 1895. Her religion was that of conscientious action and of faithful trust. Her life was true devotion. Our gratitude is perpetual love.” [“Hier ruht unsere heissgeliebte Mutter und Großmutter AMALIA HOEBER geb. OPPENHEIM geboren zu Frankfurt am Main am 19. November 1817 gestorben zu Berlin am 15. Januar 1895. Ihre Religion war die des gewissenhaften Handelns und des glaubigen Vertrauens. Ihr Leben war treue Hingebung , unwandelbare Liebe ist unser Dank.”]