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

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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


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


Beautiful Objects that Survived–1865-1901

 

When my mother and father were forced to leave Germany in 1939, they had to abandon everything they owned. Five years earlier, however, when my father’s parents were expelled by the Nazis, it was still possible for them to bring personal effects with them.    My grandfather, Rudolf Höber and my grandmother, Jospehine Marx Höber, both came from families that were pretty well off. Some of the things they brought with them are still in use in our house today, and we enjoy them particularly around Christmas time.

Linen napkins monogrammed by my great-grandmother Elise Köhlau before her marriage to Anselm Höber n 1865.

Linen napkins monogrammed by my great-grandmother Elise Köhlau before her marriage to Anselm Höber in 1865.

At Christmas dinner we often use white napkins saved for special occasions. Linen napkins in bourgeois households in 19th century Germany were huge, nearly a meter square.  When my great-grandmother, Elise Koehlau, married Anselm Höber in 1865, she brought a supply of such napkins into the marriage.  As was traditional then, she embroidered the monogram of her maiden name in the corner of the napkins with red thread and each napkin was numbered.

Hand painted dessert plates, Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur, Berlin, 1870.

Hand painted dessert plates, Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur, Berlin, 1870.

My grandmother’s father, Jakob Marx, made money as a financier in the Franco-Prussian War.  He and his wife Marie had a home at Pariserplatz 1, next to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.  These plates were theirs.

A hand painted flower from one of my great-grandparents' KPM plates, 1870.

A hand painted flower from one of my great-grandparents’ KPM plates, 1870.

When my grandparents, Rudolf and Josephine, married in 1901 they got a set of silverware with an “RJH” monogram.

The silverware in use in 1901 was larger than the pieces we use today. the soup spoon on the left is ten inches long and feel huge.

The silverware in use in 1901 was larger than the pieces we use today. The soup spoon on the left is ten inches long and feels huge.

The RJH monogram is for Rudolf and Josephine Höber, 1901.

The RJH monogram is for Rudolf and Josephine Höber, 1901.

When my parents and grandparents came to this country over 75 years ago, they rapidly became integrated into the life of their new country, to which they were devoted.  Like so many American families, however, we hang on to some of the ways our family did things generations ago, particularly at holidays.  After all these years, we still roast a goose at Christmas and bring out some of the beautiful things that remind us of our history.

The last remaining Christmas decoration that they brought to America when the Nazis expelled them from Germany in 1934.

The last remaining Christmas decoration that my grandparents brought to America when the Nazis expelled them from Germany in 1934.


Centenary of a Distinction for a Charming Man — Rudolf Höber, February 11, 1915

Rudolf Höber  (right)entertaining students of the medical school on a pleasant summer day near the University of Kiel, 1927.

Rudolf Höber (right) entertaining medical students at lunch on a pleasant summer day, University of Kiel, 1927.

By all accounts, my grandfather, Rudolf Höber, was a man with a sweet disposition.  He had lived through tragedy in his own life, including the suicide of his father and the death of his brother in a mountaineering accident. Rudolf’s best friend, Albrecht Bethe, believed these experiences endowed him with a deep sympathy for the troubles of others.   Although he was a brilliant scientist who explored the biochemistry of cells, he retained a sensitive appreciation for the beauty of the natural world as a whole. At a time when German professors held enormous social status and were known for their imperiousness, Rudolf  was valued by his students and colleagues for his accessibility and camaraderie.

Among other things, Rudolf was a committed feminist.  In an era when educational opportunities for women in science and the professions were limited, Rudolf mentored his new wife, Josephine, through medical school and into her practice as a  physician.  In addition, during his eleven years as an instructor [Privatdozent] at the University of Zürich (1898-1909) he supervised the dissertations of 24 medical students, two-thirds of whom were women.

Rudolf was named Associate Professor of physiology in the medical school at the University of Kiel in 1909  Then, exactly 100 years ago, Rudolf was appointed to the position of full professor and Director of the Physiological Institute.  The title of Professor was then so exalted in Germany that it could only be bestowed by the Emperor himself.  And so it was that Kaiser Wilhelm signed Rudolf’s appointment certificate on February 11, 1915.

Rudolf Höber's professorial appointment signed by Kaiser Wilhelm, February 11, 1915.

Rudolf Höber’s professorial appointment signed by Kaiser Wilhelm, February 11, 1915.

By 1930, Rudolf had become internationally known for his scientific work and for the work of the Physiological Institute he led.  In recognition, the University faculty elected him to the position of Rektor, or Chancellor, of the University.  Still, he retained his charm and good nature.  In May, Professor Hugo Prinz sent Rudolf a memo requesting that the Rektor issue an order directing that students were not permitted to congregate on the steps of the classroom buildings during the interval between classes.  Rudolf responded the next day:

Dear Colleague:

Your request that a notice be posted directing students that they are forbidden to stand on the steps during the interval between classes has been placed before me today.  I should like to recommend to you kindly that you not insist upon this.  It is surely not practical to ensure compliance with the prohibition.  Furthermore, the steps are so particularly alluring as a place to linger in the sunshine that your proposal strikes me as rather cruel.  I hope that your discomfort will not be too great, and that you will understand that I cannot put the requested directive into effect.

With best wishes,

Respectfully,

Höber

Letter from Rudolf Höber  to Professor Prinz declining to restrict students from congregating outdoors.  I am indebted to Dagmar Bickelmann of the Landesarchiv (State Archives) of the state of Schleswig-Holstein for unearthing this letter.

Letter from Rudolf Höber to Professor Prinz declining to restrict students from congregating outdoors. I am indebted to Dagmar Bickelmann of the Landesarchiv (State Archives) of the state of Schleswig-Holstein for unearthing this letter for me.

In 1933, Rudolf emigrated to Philadelphia, where he received an appointment at the University of Pennsylvania.  He continued to be popular among his students and continued to mentor women students in particular until his retirement in 1947.

Rudolf Höber late in his career (in the U.S.) with his research associate, Dr. Priscilla Briscoe, May 1939


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.


Two Centuries of Women’s Equality in the Family

Copy of the Will of Sophie Gumpel dated February 12, 1844.  Click on image to enlarge.

Copy of the Will of Sophie Gumpel dated February 12, 1844. Click on image to enlarge.

I am descended from a long line of women for whom nontraditional roles were a tradition.  My mother was a PhD economist.  My grandmother was a physician an biochemical research scientist.  My great grandmother was a portrait artist of more than usual accomplishment, and apparently so was my great-great grandmother.  The earliest proponent of of women’s equality I have found so far in my family, however, is my great-great-great-grandmother, Sophie Gumpel (died 1846).

Sophie Gumpel (née Meyer) was the wife of the Hamburg businessman, banker and philanthropist Lazarus Gumpel (1770-1843).  Although the records are incomplete, Sophie and Lazarus had at least five children, three daughters and two sons. Lazarus was himself a progressive and charitable man, devoting a good portion of his fortune to building a large apartment house in Hamburg to provide subsidized housing for poor families in the city.  He was also one of the founders of the first Reformed Jewish congregation in Hamburg, significantly leading in modernizing Jewish religious practice, including greater participation for women in the liturgy.  When Lazarus died, he was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Hamburg-Ohlsdorf.  A modern gravestone replaces the original .

Modern grave marker of Lazarus Gumpel (1770-1843), husband of Sophie Gumpel, in the Jewish cemetery in Hamburg.

Modern grave marker of Lazarus Gumpel (1770-1843), husband of Sophie Gumpel, in the Jewish cemetery in Hamburg.

After Lazaruz died in 1843, Sophie prepared a new will to dispose of the considerable fortune she inherited from Lazarus.  A legal transcription of the will appears at the top of this post.  Sophie included one paragraph that was most unusual for the time:

Since the rules of Jewish law, which give preferred status to sons over daughters, are not acceptable to me, who always loved all of my children equally, I declare herewith, as I am legally authorized to do, that I constitute all of my children my heirs, and in the case that one should have predeceased me then his or her marital offspring shall take his or her place per stirpes. To all these my heirs I leave my entire estate in equal parts without exception, including furniture, household inventory, linen, gold and silver.

Interestingly, Sophie anticipated that not all of her heirs or their children would agree with her egalitarian approach to the disposition of her estate, and included the following additional paragraph:

Should any of my designated heirs, for whatever reason, not recognize this will or contest its validity, he shall be totally excluded from any right in my estate, and the share left to him shall go to the other heirs who will honor and recognize my will.

The value of the estate, by the way, came to some 52,000 Taler, the equivalent of an estate of millions of dollars today, providing plenty for everyone.


Thousands of Letters, 1839-2013

Berlin, August 14, 1839.  Letter from brothers Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim and August Oppenheim to their parents in Frankfurt, congratulating them on my great-great grandparents' engagement.

Berlin, August 14, 1839. Letter from brothers Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim and August Oppenheim to their parents in Frankfurt, congratulating them on my great-great grandparents’ engagement. (Click for a larger image.)

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.

Berlin , 1867-1880, letters from my great-grandmother, Marie Marx, to her husband, Jakob.

Berlin , 1867-1880, letters from my great-grandmother, Marie Marx, to her husband, Jakob. (Click for a larger image.)

Johannes Hoeber's income tax return, 1942.

Johannes Hoeber’s income tax return, 1942. (Click for a larger image.)

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.

One of more than 60 archive boxes in which the Hoeber papers are housed.

One of more than 60 archive boxes in which the Hoeber papers are housed.

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.

The Hoeber Papers, 2013

The Hoeber Papers, 2013


The Most Precious Documents

In Nazi Germany, labels could be deadly.  If a person was labeled as Roma (Gypsy), Communist, homosexual, mentally retarded or Jew,  it could be a death sentence.   It is not surprising, then, that those who escaped sought a brand new label, the most secure in the world:  American Citizen.  It is hard for people born here to appreciate what a treasure an American naturalization certificate was for those who came here from that most brutal regime.   When I was very young, my father taught me that if there was ever a fire in the house, the first thing I should grab was a certain red leather folder — the folder that contained his and my mother’s citizenship certificates — and then get out of the house. You have to be a resident of the United States for five years before you’re even allowed to apply for citizenship.  My father’s parents, Rudolf and Josephine came to the United States in 1934, shortly after the Nazi takeover,  and applied for American citizenship as soon as they could.  My grandfather Rudolf’s citizenship certificate is missing from our large family archive, but that of my grandmother, Josephine, shows  she received hers just over five years after her arrival.

My grandmother Josephine Hober's  Citizenship Certificate, February 28, 1940.  To me, she has the proud, self-confident expression of a new American.

My grandmother Josephine Hober’s Citizenship Certificate, February 28, 1940.

My father, Johannes, didn’t leave Germany until November 1938, and my mother, Elfriede, was not able to get here until November 1939.  Both of them, however, applied for and obtained their Citizenship Certificates in the minimum time allowed.

Citizenship Certificate of my father, Johannes U. Hoeber,  April 5, 1944.

Citizenship Certificate of my father, Johannes U. Hoeber, April 5, 1944.

Citizenship Certificate of my mother, Elfriede Fischer Hoeber, September 6, 1944.

Citizenship Certificate of my mother, Elfriede Fischer Hoeber, September 6, 1944.

A cherished privilege of citizenship was the right to vote.  My father registered for the November elections in 1944.  Neither he nor my mother ever missed an election from  the day they obtained their citizenship until the day they died.   I, too,  have never missed an election since the time I was old enough to vote.

Johannes' voter registration card, September 22, 1944.

Johannes’ voter registration card, September 22, 1944.


Partners in Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COLLABORATION BETWEEN RUDOLF HOEBER AND JOSEPHINE MARX HOEBER

To read the complete article, click here

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A First American Christmas, 1938

6701 Cresheim Road, Philadelphia, Christmas 1938

Hoeber House, 6701 Cresheim Road, Philadelphia, Christmas 1938

Johannes Hoeber (1904-1977) arrived in Philadelphia from Nazi Germany on December 22, 1938.  His parents, Rudolf and Josephine, had been in Philadelphia for five years, and had rented a large house in the Germantown section of the city in anticipation of the arrival of their adult children and their grandchildren.    The plan was for seven adults and three children to live there together until everyone got settled into jobs in the new country.

Johannes Hoeber, 1938

Johannes Hoeber, German Passport Photo, 1938

Johannes  had slipped across the German border into Switzerland seven weeks earlier and had succeeded in getting an American visa in Zurich.  From there he traveled across Europe and in England boarded the SS Manhattan for New York.  The winter crossing was stormy, and Johannes was tormented by an abscessed tooth.  His first day in America was spent with dentists getting x-rayed and getting the tooth pulled.

6701 Cresheim Road, Philadelphia, Christmas 1938

Christmas 1938, Philadelphia

Johannes had left his wife Elfriede and eight-year-old daughter Susanne in Germany, with a plan for them to join him later.  But they were not to be reunited for many more months.  Christmas eve was two days after Johannes arrived, and he joined his parents and sisters around the modest tree in the newly rented house.  Money was tight and what little there was had to be saved to pay for Elfriede and Susanne’s eventual passage to the United States, so the adults agreed to forego giving each other Christmas presents.  But they gathered around the Christmas tree — lit with real candles — and sang carols and recited old poems to one another, and were happy that, for a few hours, they could be at peace.

Decoration Rudi-Sepp 1934

A German Christmas decoration brought to the United States by my grandparents more than 80 years ago.  We still hang it on our tree today.

NOTE: Flash cameras were rare in 1938, so Johannes had to take the indoor pictures of the family Christmas tree in natural light with a long exposure.  He probably set his camera on a table or window sill to make these pictures without blurring them.  The long exposure also explains why he placed no people in the pictures.

6701 Cresheim Road, Philadelphia, March 2011

The Höbers’ Cresheim Road House as it Looks Today

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


Taking a Break from the Lab, Woods Hole, 1937

Rudolf and Josephine Höber with Ursula Höber at the wheel, Nobska Point Lighthouse, 1937

The Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory on Cape Cod, MA is one of the world’s preeminent research facilities.  Even before his expulsion by the Nazis in 1934, Rudolf Höber traveled several times from the University of Kiel in Germany to Woods Hole to conduct experimental research in cellular physiology there.  After joining the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1934, he received regular grants to work at the Woods Hole labs  in the summers.  Josephine Höber, a medical doctor by training, collaborated in the laboratory work and in writing up the results.  Rudolf and Josephine’s joint articles were published in the major scientific journals in the field.

In this 1937 photograph, Rudolf stands next to Blue Boy, the Höbers’ eight-cylinder Model B Ford sedan.  Josephine is in the back seat and their daughter Ursula, then 25 and a recent graduate of the Penn Medical School, is in the driver’s seat.  The picture was taken at the Nobska Point Lighthouse, a few miles from Woods Hole.