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 Gestapo Has No Sense of Humor – Düsseldorf 1933

The National Socialists took control of the German government on January 30, 1933 and consolidated their power with great speed.  Political street violence had been part of German life for a long time, but the Nazis escalated that pattern rapidly and brutally, using terrorist tactics to wipe out political opposition in a matter of weeks.  My father, Johannes (1904-1977), was the first victim in our family, when he was arrested in March and imprisoned for several weeks because of his liberal politics, and my grandfather, Rudolf (1873-1953),was next when he was expelled from his professor’s position the following fall, in part because of actions he took against Nazi students.  The situation with my mother’s brothers was something else entirely.

My mother had three younger brothers who, in 1933, were in their mid-twenties. All three were good looking and charming, with cheerful dispositions and a taste for evenings with friends in the taverns of Düsseldorf’s Altstadt, taverns with names like the Golden Kettle (Im Goldenen Kessel) and Fatty’s Irish Pub, which are still popular today. On the night of Tuesday, November 7, 1933, my uncles Paul Fischer (1909-1947), a recent law graduate still in training, and Herbert Fischer (1907-1992), by day in business with his father, went out for an evening of socializing.   Their father Franz (1868-1937) and older brother Günter (1906-1979) were away on a business trip for several days.

Herbert Fischer (1907-1992). This picture was taken several years after his imprisonment by the Gestapo in 1933.

The social evening lasted until 3 :00 in the morning, when the bars closed.  Paul and Herbert, whose state after a long night of drinking can only be guessed, got into the car of a friend who drove them home.  Still joking as they tumbled out of the car, Herbert spotted a poster that had been pasted on a nearby wall and was partially coming off. Tearing the poster off the wall, Herbert crumpled it into a ball and threw it into the car at his friend saying, “Here! You can use this to clean your windshield!”  It seems that Herbert didn’t recognize the poster as Nazi propaganda, nor did he notice the Stormtrooper watching nearby.  Although lacking legal authority, the hundreds of thousands of brown-shirted Stormtroopers of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung constituted a militia of the Nazi Party and were free to attack and bully citizens  who showed any sign of dissent from the regime.  Although Herbert was non-political, the waiting Stormtrooper saw his petty vandalism as a political act and took him into custody.  Paul went along to be a witness in his brother’s defense, but soon found himself taken into custody as well.

Paul Fischer (1909-1947). This picture was taken a couple of years after his imprisonment by the Gestapo in 1933.

As Paul and Herbert got passed on from the Stormtrooper to a bicycle policeman to an automobile police squad to the police station, the story of the incident grew from a tipsy prank to an organized conspiracy against the state.  By dawn, both Herbert and Paul were arrested and imprisoned and their case turned over to the “political police,”  a part of the recently formed Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei or Gestapo). Apparently the fact that Paul was a lawyer in training (Referendar) increased the Gestapo’s suspicions.  The brothers were held for more than a week without charges and were subject to repeated beatings.

The day after the arrest, my grandmother and my father and mother began agitating with the police for the young men’s release.  It took three days just to identify the official with authority over Paul and Herbert’s case.  My grandmother was so desperate for her sons’ release that she forced herself to mumble “Heil Hitler!” to the police official, the only time in the entire Nazi period that she ever used that hated salutation. As my father wrote at the time, “Endless approaches, endless waiting, walking down endless corridors, daily hopes, daily disappointments, long negotiations and discussions, after the third day with the help of a lawyer.”  After a week, Paul was released with no explanation either for his arrest or his beatings or his release.  He left the city immediately to recuperate from the wounds he received in the beatings. Herbert continued to be held, inexplicably, because, as my father wrote, “He never at any time ever engaged in any political activity whatsoever.” Nevertheless, it took another week to negotiate his release, again without explanation, but, as my mother wrote, he came out “relatively undamaged.”

In the end, it all came to nothing and the brothers returned to their respective occupations.  But the reality of being arrested and beaten and held for many days for no reason was part of the atmosphere of terror that would be part of daily life in Germany for the next 12 years.

Johennes Höber’s letter to his parents telling of the Gestapo’s arrest of his brothers-in-law, Herbert Fischer and Paul Fischer, on November 8, 1933. (Deutschleser: Bitte klicken für ein größeres Bild.)

More stories about the Hoeber and Fischer families are to be found in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, published by the American Philosophical Society. Information is available here. Also available at Amazon.com


My Grandfather’s Pearl Stickpin – 1918

Regular readers of this website may know that, for me, photographs, documents and objects are bridges across time.  In this case, a picture and a pearl connect me to my family as it was nearly a century ago.

A German historian contacted me recently and asked for a photograph of my grandfather, Rudolf Höber, around 1915.  That’s when Rudolf became Professor and Director of the Physiological Institute at the University of Kiel.  I don’t have an individual portrait of him in 1915, but I found this great family portrait taken in February 1918.

The Höber Family, February 1918. Rudolf Höber surrounded by, from left, Ursula, Josephine, Johannes, Gabriele.

The Höber Family, Kiel, Germany, February 1918. Rudolf Höber surrounded by, from left, Ursula, Josephine, Johannes, Gabriele.

The parents and their three children all look somewhat gloomy, but serious portraits were the fashion of the day.  At the time the picture was taken, scientists came from as far away as Japan to study with Rudolf at the Physiological Institute, despite the fact that it was the middle of World War I.  The sailor suit my father is wearing in the picture was typical for German school boys then and later. It was particularly appropriate in Kiel, which had a huge naval installation.  A few months after this picture was taken, Johannes, 14, was on his way home from his Gymnasium when he witnessed the shooting that marked the mutiny of the German naval forces, starting the German Revolution of 1918.

When the photograph was cropped to pull out the portrait of Rudolf the historian had requested, I noticed something. In the center of the knot of Rudolf’s tie is a pearl stickpin.

Prof. Rudolf Höber, Kiel, February 1918.

Prof. Rudolf Höber, Kiel, February 1918.

When Rudolf died in 1952, the pearl stickpin passed to my father, Johannes.  And when Johannes died in 1977 the pearl stickpin passed to me.

My grandfather's pearl stickpin.

My grandfather’s pearl stickpin.

Although it is not particularly fashionable today, I still try to find occasion to wear the stickpin once in a while.

Wearing my grandfather's pearl stickpin - 2016.

Wearing my grandfather’s pearl stickpin – 2016.

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


A Story in Some Grains of Sand

Old Delft vase acquired by Jacob Marx around 1870, Berlin.

Old Delft vase acquired by Jacob Marx around 1870, Berlin.

When I went to my late sister Susanne’s Vermont home recently, I spotted this familiar old family vase.  I placed it on a table on the sunny porch to photograph it. Then, with  relatives watching, I turned the vase over and poured out — some ordinary sea sand.

Sand from the Baltic, Kiel 1914, Barnard 2016

Sand from the vase. Baltic Sea, Kiel 1914, Barnard, Vermont 2016

How did I know there would be sand in the vase?  The answer is a story I heard from my father a long time ago.

My great-grandfather, Jacob Marx, was a banker and investor in Berlin in the mid-nineteenth century.  He made some smart investments in the industrial boom before and after the Franco-Prussian War in the early 1870s.  Some of his new wealth he invested in art, including several antique Delft vases.

Jakob Marx, 18XX-18XX

Jakob Marx, 1835-1883

After Jacob died in 1883, the vases were owned by his widow, Marie, and when she died in 1913 they were inherited by my grandparents, Rudolf Höber and Josephine Marx Höber.  At that time, Rudolf and Josephine lived on Hegewischstrasse in Kiel, a university city and naval harbor on the Baltic Sea.

Rudolf and Josephine Höber with their first child, Johannes, around December 1904.

Rudolf and Josephine Höber with their first child, Johannes, around December 1904 (ten years before they inherited the Delft vases).

Josephine displayed the vases atop a tall Schrank, an antique wardrobe cabinet in the family living room. Inconveniently, however, a streetcar line traversed the street in front of the residence, and every time a trolley went past the Delft vases shook and rattled.  The noise annoyed Josephine, who also feared the old pieces would be shaken off the cabinet and break.  To resolve the problem, she gave her ten-year-old son Johannes a metal pail and told him to go down to the shore of the Baltic, fill the bucket with sand and bring it home.  Josephine then filled each  Delft vase with sand.  The extra weight kept them from rattling on top of the Schrank for the next 19 years.

In 1933, the Nazis forced Rudolf out of his position in Kiel and he and Josephine emigrated to Philadelphia.  They took the vases with them — and the sand went along.  Josephine died in 1941 and Rudolf in 1953 and then the vases — and the sand — were inherited by my parents, Johannes and Elfriede.  They moved several times and at each move the vases were carefully packed and the sand with them.

Johannes died in Washington DC in 1977 and Elfriede in Oakland, California in 1999.  When we divided up Elfriede’s possessions among her three children, my sister  Sue expressed a desire to have the Delft vases.  We wrapped them and transported them — and the sand — to the house in Barnard, Vermont, where she and her husband Lloyd worked and wrote in the summers for many years. And there they have remained until now.  The next home for the Delft vases and the sand from the Baltic Sea remains to be seen.

Sue and Lloyd Rudolph's house in Barnard, Vermont, the last stop so far in the Delft vases ' journey.

Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph’s house in Barnard, Vermont, the last stop so far in the Delft vase’s journey.

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


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. 

 


World War I Begins, as Seen by a Ten-Year-Old – Berlin, August 10, 1914

It was said in my family that my father, Johannes Höber, had a knack for being present at historic events.  I recently discovered such an incident that I had not known about before.  The story is told in a couple of postcards that were found recently among the papers of my sister, Susanne.  The postcards were written by my father as a child, in an old fashioned German script that even some German readers do not know today. As was usual at that time, a grownup drew lines on the card with a ruler and pencil to help the child write straight and evenly.

August 10, 1914, postcards from Johannes Höber, age 10, in Potsdam, to his father in Kiel.

August 10, 1914, postcards from Johannes Höber, age 10, in Potsdam, to his father in Kiel.

Johannes lived with his parents in the northern port city of Kiel, where his father was a professor and his mother a physician.  Johannes’s widowed grandmother, Großmama Mimi, lived in Berlin, a five hour train trip from Kiel. In Late July 1914, Johannes and his younger sister Grilli and their mother made the trip from Kiel to Berlin to stay for a couple of weeks with Großmama Mimi.  Perhaps the occasion for the trip was Johannes’s birthday:  he turned ten on August 7.  While the children were visiting friends in Potsdam, outside Berlin, World War I broke out with Germany’s declaration of war against Russia on August 1, followed promptly by the German invasion of Russia’s ally, France.

1914. At school, Johannes and his classmates played at being soldiers. Johannes is in the front row, third from the left, wearing a spike helmet [Pickelhaube]. Click on image to enlarge.

1914. At school, Johannes and his classmates played at being soldiers. Johannes is in the front row, third from the left, wearing a spiked helmet [Pickelhaube]. Click on image to enlarge.

In the postcards postmarked August 10, Johannes wrote home to his father in Kiel, thanking him for a birthday card and telling him the excitement he had seen in the city.  He probably started with a single card, but his enthusiasm carried the message to a second card.  Here is what he wrote:

Dear Papi,

Your card just arrived and I like it a lot.  Hopefully we will see each other again soon.  Yesterday there was an outdoor church service and a departure parade for the first infantry regiment.  We left here already at 10 and arrived at the Lustgarten [park in front of the Imperial palace] – that’s where the parade was – just as a group of the soldiers were marching in.  We then looked around and found a very nice place to watch the Kaiser arrive.  We had waited barely 5 minutes when we heard “Hurrah!” in the distance and suddenly the Kaiser’s car came around the corner and drove by directly in front of us.  It continued for a while that way and eventually we saw the Kaiser driving back.

It is wonderful here in Potsdam.  Grilli went to school with [her friend] Tutti today and tidied up and then sewed a gusset and a “Nog” [?] on a shirt for a soldier’s uniform.  I spent the whole morning today cutting up wood with a saw.

Your Jonny (now 10)

 

Kaiser Wilhelm II in an open car. This is probably what he looked like when Johannes saw him at the outbreak of World War I.

Kaiser Wilhelm II in an open car. This is probably what he looked like when Johannes saw him.

Thus Johannes was present to see some of the first troops to depart from Germany for the War, under the personal direction of Kaiser Wilhelm II.  Four years later, as the War came to an end, Johannes would also witness the mutiny of German Navy at the Kiel naval base.  He was walking home from school when he encountered sailors firing on their officers in the streets outside the warship facility. This was one of the events leading to Germany’s signing an armistice ending the War, and another in a string of historic events to which Johannes would be an eyewitness.

 

Johannes, summer of 1918 (age 14) near the end of World War I.

Johannes, summer of 1918 (age 14) near the end of World War I.

For more on the Hoeber family, click here


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 Fastidious European Becomes an American Do-It-Yourselfer — 1939

The working mechanism inside an American toilet tank, ca. 1939.

The working mechanism inside an American toilet tank, ca. 1939.

When my father got to America at the age of 35, he had never so much as held a hammer in his hand.  In Germany, educated people like him hired someone to do household repairs.  In Philadelphia, Johannes shared a big old rented house with relatives and money was very tight, so it was a disaster when the toilet in the house developed a leak. Johannes asked one of his new American friends to recommend a plumber who could do the repair cheaply.  The friend told him not to call a plumber.  “Go to the hardware store first,” the friend said, “and see if they can help you.”

Ten members of the Hoeber family shared this house in 1939 before most of them had jobs in the new country. The house at 6701 Cresheim Road is in better condition today than it was then.

Ten members of the Hoeber family shared this house in 1939 before most of them had jobs in the new country. The house at 6701 Cresheim Road is in better condition today than it was then.

Bellet’s hardware store, around the corner on Germantown Avenue, was packed with tools and screws and nails and parts and housewares in great array.  Johannes asked Mr. Bellet if he could possibly help him with a leaky toilet.  Mr. Bellet walked him to a counter where there was a toilet with the tank partially cut away to show the flush valves and float mechanism and other innards that made the thing work.  Mr. Bellet asked Johannes to show him where the water was leaking, and Johannes pointed to the connection between two brass and copper parts.  “Here’s how you fix it,” said Mr. Bellet, and started unscrewing nuts and disassembling the parts of the mechanism.  After a few moves, Mr. Bellet was able to pull out a small black rubber washer from a connecting joint.  Holding it up triumphantly, he said cheerfully, “Here’s what you need!” Out of the chaos of a cabinet with dozens of small wooden drawers Mr. Bellet pulled a matching washer and handed it to Johannes.  “Do you now know how to put it back together?” he asked.   When Johannes responded with a dubious grimace, Mr. Bellet led him back to the mysterious toilet mechanism on the counter. Deftly but deliberately, Mr. Bellet re-installed the little black washer and patiently instructed Johannes at each step of the way.  “Understand now?” asked Mr. Bellet.  “I think so,” said Johannes.  “How much do I owe you?”  “Five cents,” said Mr. Bellet, beaming.  Johannes was not the first immigrant he had taught to repair a toilet.

Bellet's Hardware closed years ago, but it probably looked a lot like Bruskin's, an ancient hardware store still operating today in South Philadelphia.

Bellet’s Hardware closed years ago, but it probably looked a lot like Bruskin’s, an ancient hardware store still operating in South Philadelphia.

Johannes nearly ran back to the house on Cresheim Road to try out his newly-learned skills and his newly-bought washer on the recalcitrant toilet.  Remembering Mr. Bellet’s instructions pretty accurately, he carefully dismantled the mechanism, located the worn, slimy old washer, replaced it with the sturdy new one and put the thing back together.  He turned the water back on — no leak!  He flushed — it worked!

That evening, with the rest of his relatives gathered around the dinner table, Johannes regaled them with his adventure with Mr. Bellet and the black washer.  “This is a wonderful country,” he said. “Five cents for a washer and five dollars worth of free advice!”  And he later taught his kids that in America you don’t call the plumber, you do it yourself.

Johannes U. Hoeber, when he wasn't repairing a toilet.

Johannes U. Hoeber, when he wasn’t repairing a toilet, 1939.

Johannes and his son Tom repair a door at the family's house at 612 West Cliveden St., Philadelphia, 1953

Johannes and his son Tom repair a door at the family’s house at 612 West Cliveden St., Philadelphia, 1953


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.


Throwing a Pistol in the Rhine — 1933

Arminius "Pirkert" .32 caliber revolver, Germany, 1920s.  This might have been the kind of gun my father might have bought before the Nazis took over Germany in 1933.

Speculation: this Arminius “Pirkert” .32 caliber revolver, Germany, 1920s, might have been the kind of gun my father bought before the Nazis took over Germany in 1933.

When the Nazis took control of the city of Mannheim in March 1933, they arrested the top Social Democratic leaders in the city government, including my father, Johannes Höber.   They kept him in what they called “protective custody” for five weeks, as previously narrated on this website here.  In the months before the takeover, Johannes had been involved in the militia arm of the pro-democracy coalition Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold.  I previously wrote about that anti-Nazi paramilitary force here.  As part of his involvement in the activities of the Reichsbanner, Johannes bought a pistol that he took on forays with other Social Democrats to disrupt Nazi meetings.  My father was a little guy and descended from a well-to-do family of serious intellectuals and scientists.  He never seemed to me the kind of man who would engage in this kind of reckless activity, but my mother’s head-shaking bewilderment when she told me about it made it clear the story was true.

Johannes Höber  with his daughter, Susanne, around the time he bought his pistol.  To me he doesn't look much like a candidate for an armed anti-Nazi militia.

Johannes Höber with his daughter, Susanne, around the time he bought his pistol. In this picture he doesn’t look much like a candidate for an armed anti-Nazi militia.

My mother, Elfriede Höber, was a committed pacifist and disapproved of my father’s heroics with the Reichsbanner and especially disliked his keeping a gun in the house.  Even decades later, in America, there was a notable tension between them on the one or two occasions when the story came up.

Elfriede Höber around the Nazis arrested  Johannes.

Elfriede Höber around the time the Nazis arrested Johannes.

When Johannes was jailed by the Nazis, Elfriede was left at home alone with their little girl, Susanne, then 3.  The pistol was hidden in a stack of bed sheets in the linen closet of their apartment.  In the early days of the new regime, no one knew what to expect of the Nazis, but Elfriede feared they might come and search the house for contraband after Johannes’ arrest.  Terrified that the Nazis would consider the gun proof that Johannes was an enemy of  the regime, Elfriede decided  she must get rid of it. But how?  The solution that came to her was the bridge across the Rhine River, which had been rebuilt and dedicated in a ceremony just a few months earlier.

The bridge over teh Rhine at Mannheim around 1934.  Elfriede probably used the walkway at the far right to carry Johannes' pistol onto the bridge.

The bridge over the Rhine at Mannheim around 1934. Elfriede probably used the walkway at the far right to carry Johannes’ pistol onto the bridge.

To support her, Elfriede asked her best friend, Marianne Daniels, to go with her to get rid of Johannes’ gun.  The two young women retrieved the pistol from its hiding place in the linen closet and placed it in a plain paper bag.  At night, the two walked out into the dark city, anxious that they might be stopped by a roving squad of storm troopers.  After walking for half an hour along the bank of the Rhine, however, they reached the dark bridge unmolested.  Hearts pounding, they walked out to the middle of the span and dropped the bag with the gun over the railing.  It disappeared into the black waters of the Rhine.  For the moment, that peril was out of the picture.

Postscript:  Readers of this blog may remember that my dear friend Achim in Dresden has shown astonishing skill in recovering rare items related to my family’s history.  This year Achim found an extremely rare copy of the program  from the ceremony on November 19, 1932 dedicating the newly reconstructed bridge at Mannheim, where Elfriede later got rid of the pistol.  The program book was produced by the Press Office of the City of Mannheim, which Johannes headed at the time.

Program for the dedication of the ne bridge across the Rhine at Mannheim, November 19, 1932.

Program for the dedication of the new bridge across the Rhine at Mannheim, November 19, 1932.


A Gift Over Four Generations

Set of fish knives and forks given to Rudolf and Josephine Marx Höber at the time of their wedding, Berlin,  August 10, 1901.

Set of fish knives and forks given to Josephine Marx and Rudolf Höber at the time of their wedding, Berlin, August 10, 1901.

Special sets of knives and forks for eating fish became popular in Europe in the late 19th century.  The steel blades used at that time in ordinary silverware would react with  fish in a way that imparted an unpleasant metallic taste.  Fish sets had silver-plated brass blades and tines that did not interfere with the delicate taste of fish.  The set pictured here was given to my grandparents, Rudolf and Josephine Marx Höber, as a wedding present at the time of their marriage on August 10, 1901.

Josephine Marx on the day of her wedding to Rudolf Höber, August 10, 1901 at her mother's apartment in Berlin.

Josephine Marx on the day of her wedding to Rudolf Höber, August 10, 1901, at her mother’s apartment in Berlin.

Rudolf and Josephine Höber with their first child, Johannes, around December 1904.

Rudolf and Josephine Höber with their first child, Johannes, around December 1904.

 Rudolf and Jospehine were fortunate in being able to bring the fish set with them when they were driven out of Nazi Germany and fled to America in 1934.

Fischbesteck 2

After Rudolf and Josephine died, the fish set was passed on to my parents, Johannes and Elfriede Hoeber.

Johannes and Elfriede Höber at the time of their marriage, December 22, 1928

Elfriede Fischer and Johannes U. Höber at the time of their marriage, Düsseldorf, December 22, 1928.

 After my parents’ deaths, the fish set came to me and my wife, Ditta.

F and D wedding

Ditta Baron and Francis W. Hoeber at their wedding, Philadelphia, July 1, 1967.

On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2014, our younger son Julian married Heather Rasmussen, at the Maritime Hotel in New York City.  We decided that this was the time to pass the fish set on to a fourth generation.  We made a new silvercloth wrapper for the forks and knives and a new box.

Fischbesteck 4

Fischbesteck 1

The  silver set, newly polished after a century of use, is now with Julian and Heather in Los Angeles.

Julian Hoeber and Heather Rasmussen, Los Angeles, December 2014.

Julian Hoeber and Heather Rasmussen, Los Angeles, December 2014.


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.