How Tyranny Begins

Seeburg Student Center, University of Kiel, where Nazi students prevented the lecture of Prof. Walther Schuecking, May 26, 1930.

Seeburg Student Center, University of Kiel, where Nazi students prevented the lecture of Prof. Walther Schücking , May 26, 1930.

The following account is based on documents I recently received from the Schleswig-Holstein State Archives in Schleswig, Germany.  I am indebted to my friend, archivist Dagmar Bickelmann, who  has been endlessly helpful in locating records relating to my grandfather’s time at the University of Kiel.

My grandfather, Rudolf Höber (1873-1953), was elected Rektor (Chancellor) by the faculty of the University of Kiel in March 1930.  Shortly after his installation, the university community  was shaken when the local chapter of the National Socialist German Student Association forcibly disrupted a lecture by the distinguished professor of international law, Walther Schücking (1875-1935).

Schücking had served in 1918 as a German delegate to the Versailles peace conference that ended World War I.  Thereafter, he became a strong advocate for the League of Nations, the international organization dedicated to ending war, and spoke often on the struggle for world peace.  On Monday, May 26, 1930 he was scheduled to speak in the ceremonial hall of the Seeburg, the student center on  Kiel Harbor. His lecture was entitled “The Moral Idea of the League of Nations.”  The Nazis opposed the League of Nations, just as they opposed “pacifism.” They claimed that ending war and supporting the League would cause Germany to live for decades under the onerous terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which they believed could be reversed only by a new war.

Prof. Schücking’s lecture meeting was chaired by a distinguished panel of academics and jurists.  The Nazis packed the hall early, making it difficult for anyone else to find a seat.  When Schücking began to speak, the Nazis interrupted his presentation, shouting insults and catcalls. His discussion of the accomplishments of the League of Nations was derided by the audience and met with raucous laughter. As Schücking continued his lecture, the disruptions got louder.  During a discussion that followed Prof. Schücking’s talk, a Nazi party member, Schalow, screamed that the League was a fraud and that leaders who preached the “emasculating” doctrine of pacifism were cowards.  He claimed that the presiding panel was nothing but a bunch of Jews.  The panelists intervened vigorously in the debate.  A jurist condemned the “murderous activities of the SA,” the Sturmabteilung or Nazi Stormtroopers who often physically assaulted their opponents. Nazis screamed that one of the panelists was a member of the Reichsbanner, a pro-democracy militia of the Social Democratic party. When it became apparent that the most disruptive speaker, Schalow, was a student, one of the professors threatened to bring him before the university disciplinary tribunal for violation of the university’s code of behavior. This temporarily brought the meeting back under control.

Near the end of his talk, Prof. Schücking spoke critically of the political ineptness and rudeness of German political fanatics. The Nazis showed their displeasure by stamping their feet so loudly that the meeting had to be brought to a close.  Triumphant at having  prevented Prof Schücking from finishing his lecture, the Nazi students launched into a chorus of the Horst Wessel Lied, an anthem of the Nazi Party.  They finished the evening by standing, giving the Nazi salute, and shouting “Heil Hitler!” in unison.  In response, someone in the audience, possibly another professor, shouted “Pfui!,” in those days roughly the equivalent of yelling “Disgusting!” Someone else in the audience – according to the Nazis, an angry “German worker,” not a student – responded by punching that person in the face. The meeting thus came to a tumultuous end.

Clipping from Nazi newspaper boasting about suppressing academic freedom by disrupting Prof. Schücking's speech. Schleswig-Holsteinische Tageszeitung, 31 May 1930.

Clipping from Nazi newspaper boasting about suppressing academic freedom by disrupting Prof. Schücking’s speech. Schleswig-Holsteinische Tageszeitung, 31 May 1930.

As it happened, the Nazi student group had reserved the same room in the Seeburg student center for a meeting of their own two days later, on Wednesday, May 28.  On the afternoon of the scheduled Nazi meeting, however, a notice was posted from Rektor Höber that read, “Because of the events on Monday evening … we hereby withdraw the permission previously granted for the use of the large hall for a National Socialist meeting.”

Rudolf Höber, Professor of Physiology, University of Kiel. He was actually a more cheerful and charming person than this rather serious picture shows him to be.

Rudolf Höber, Professor of Physiology and Rektor of the University of Kiel, around the time he banned the Nazi party from the University because of its disruption of free speech.

The president of the National Socialist Student Association, a student named Münske, went to the office the Rektor, who agreed to meet with him. Rektor Höber, however, refused to allow the Nazi meeting, in order to ensure there was no repetition of the violence of March 26.  In a letter to Rektor Höber three days later, Münske renewed his claim that the Nazis should not be held responsible for disrupting Prof. Schücking’s lecture and should not be excluded from use of the hall in the future.  Rektor Höber dictated a file memorandum noting that he would not respond to Münske’s letter, since he had discussed the matter with him  on May 28.  The memo included evidence showing the Nazis as a group to be responsible for breaking up the Schücking meeting.

Rektor Rudolf Höber's memo concerning the Nazi attack on Prof. Schuecking, 7 June 1930.

Rektor Rudolf Höber’s memo concerning the Nazi attack on Prof. Schücking, 7 June 1930.

The Schücking affair was a marker in the advance of the Nazi assault on liberalism, internationalism and academic freedom of speech.  It was a precursor to  the Baumgarten affair five months later, when Nazi students disrupted a sermon of the liberal theologian Otto Baumgarten, branding him a pacifist, “Jew-lover” and traitor to the nation.  In response, Rektor Höber expelled the students involved and permanently banned the National Socialist German Student Group from the University campus.  This action was one of the factors held against Höber when the Nazis took control of the country in 1933, leading to his expulsion from the faculty and emigration to the United States.

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

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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


Before the EKG: Making the Electricity in Nerves and Muscles Audible — 1919

Man wired to a device of vacuum tubes, transformer and speaker, 1919.  This was an experiment by Rudolf Höber to make audible variations electricity in human cells. Physiological Institute, University of Kiel, Germany.

Man wired to a device of vacuum tubes, transformer and speaker, 1927. This followed up on an experiment by Rudolf Höber in 1919 to make audible variations in electrical current in human cells. Physiological Institute, University of Kiel, Germany.

I love this picture.  A balding man in a brown work coat lies on a wooden garden lounge chair incongruously brought into the paneled rooms of the Physiological Institute at the University of Kiel, Germany in 1927.  The experimental subject is wired to an electrical apparatus on a table that is in turn wired to a morning-glory-shaped loudspeaker horn.  We are standing with a group of medical students waiting intently for the sound of the subject’s heart muscles and nerves to emerge from the horn (and perhaps hoping that the 100-volt battery that powers the apparatus doesn’t do him any harm).  The device emitted rhythmic notes of varying tones and intensity as the electrical impulses in the muscles and nerves varied with the heartbeat.  Sometimes called the “electric stethoscope,” this instrument was adapted as a teaching tool to train doctors to diagnose the condition of the heart through sound.

Rudolf Höber, Professor of Physiology, University of Kiel.  He was actually a more cheerful and charming person than this rather serious picture shows him to be.

Rudolf Höber, Professor of Physiology, University of Kiel.

One of the first persons to use the amplified sound of the heart to teach use of the stethoscope was my grandfather, Rudolf Höber (1873-1953).  He was a pioneering physiologist at the Universities of Zürich, Kiel and Pennsylvania who has been remembered for discoveries in biochemistry and biophysics at the cellular level. A couple of years ago, The Journal of Electrical Bioimpedence noted the 100th anniversary of Rudolf’s discoveries related to the variability of electrical charges across cell membranes.  Among other things, Rudolf was an inventor who devised instruments for measuring electrical characteristics at the cellular level; he even had a glass blower working for him to fabricate apparatus.  Here is his diagram of a bioelectric device he created around 1910:

Ronald Pethig's labeling of Rudolf's  diagram for his device.

Ronald Pethig’s labeling of Rudolf’s diagram for his bioelectric measurement device, 2012.

During World War I, the technology of vacuum tubes was developed that enabled the amplification of electrical waves for use in telephones.  Rudolf adapted this technology to use in combination with his earlier bioelectric measurement devices — resulting in the mechanism at the top of this page.

Vacuum Tubes

Early vacuum tubes similar to those used by Rudolf Höber to amplify the electrical impulses generated in nerve and muscle cells.

This year the University of Kiel is marking its 350th anniversary with a series of events, including the medical school’s exhibition on prominent scientists who worked there.  You can get information about the overall exhibition by clicking here and about Rudolf in particular here.

The street adjacent to the Physiological Institute at the University of Kiel is named for my grandfather. Photograph by my friend Nancy Greenspan.

The street adjacent to the Physiological Institute at the University of Kiel is named for my grandfather. Photograph by my friend Nancy Greenspan.


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


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 Young Physiologist, 1890

Rudolf Höber, page from microorganism notebook, c. 1890

Drawings of Hydra viridis and Podocoryne carnea by Rudolf Höber, age 17. [Click image to view full size.]

Rudolf Höber (1873-1953) was a prominent physiologist who conducted pioneering research into the electro-chemical properties of cell membranes. As an instructor at the University of Zurich, later a professor at the University of Kiel and head of the Physiological Institute there, and finally as a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, he introduced many young doctors to the science of physiology.

Rudolf already became interested in biological science as a child, and started the serious study of microorganisms as a teenager. His notebook contains 83 meticulously detailed drawings of amoebae, paramecia, hydrae and the like.  This notebook is a beautiful art object as well as a record of his studies. The image above is of one double page of that notebook, which Rudolf drew at the age of about seventeen.

Rudolf Höber's Notebook, "Die Niederen Tiere" (The Lower Animals), ca. 1890

Rudolf Höber, 1890, about the time he made his drawings of microorganisms