They Saved My Family

A couple of years ago, I wrote about The Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars, which paid my grandfather’s salary at the university of Pennsylvania in 1934, making it possible for him to escape Nazi Germany. That Committee was a project of the Institute for international Education Scholar Rescue Fund. This year, the IIE-SRF celebrates its centenary, marking a hundred years of aiding international scholars threatened by conditions in their home countries. As part of the observance, the IIE is publishing stories of some of the scholars they helped over the years. They asked me to write an article about my grandfather. Here is the result.

From the IIE scholar rescue archives: Renowned physiologist Rudolf Höber

For the past 100 years, IIE has led special efforts to rescue academics who face threats to their lives and scholarly work. One of IIE’s most notable efforts was the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars, which from 1933-1945 offered temporary academic homes in colleges and universities in the United States to more than 300 European scholars facing Nazi persecution. One such scholar was Dr. Rudolf Höber, a celebrated physiologist and human rights defender. In the below article, guest author Francis W. Hoeber tells us more about his grandfather’s remarkable life and work.


“My grandfather, Rudolf Höber (1873-1953), was a celebrity in the world of physiology. His pioneering work in biochemistry and biophysics won him worldwide recognition and two nominations for the Nobel prize. From 1911 to 1933, Höber was a professor at the University of Kiel in Germany and head of the prestigious Physiological Institute there.

Höber was more than a brilliant scientist; he was a humanist and social progressive as well. An early feminist, he focused on bringing women into the field of medicine, including his wife, Dr. Josephine M. Höber; 22 of the 24 doctoral dissertations he supervised at the University of Zürich early in his career were prepared by women scholars. When women got the right to vote in 1920, his wife quickly became a leading political activist, especially in public health and women’s rights. In the 1920s, Höber joined with other leading scientists and writers calling for the decriminalization of consensual same-sex relations. From 1930-1931, Höber served a term as Chancellor of the University of Kiel. Twice he had to discipline right wing students who disrupted speakers who were liberal or Jewish. In 1931 he expelled several Nazi students and banned the Nazi student group from the campus.

When Adolf Hitler took power in January 1933, Höber’s anti-Nazi record, plus the fact that one of his grandfathers was Jewish, made him an immediate target. That April, men in uniforms of Hitler’s Stormtroopers and the SS charged into Höber’s classroom. The Nazis threatened to kill him and throw grenades into his classrooms unless he quit his teaching. Höber laid low for a couple of days, but then returned to teaching his students despite the risk.


In the summer of 1933, however, the Nazi Education Ministry fired him from his professor position and expelled him from the university. Desperate to continue his scientific research, Höber applied to IIE’s Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars for help. In a fairly short time, the Committee’s director, Edward R. Murrow, wrote Höber and arranged a teaching position and small lab at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. At UPenn, he continued his research on the molecular structure of cell membranes, with his wife as his laboratory collaborator. They co-authored numerous scientific articles and a new edition of Höber’s celebrated monograph, The Physical Chemistry of Cells and Tissues. This was in addition to lecturing and mentoring graduate students in advanced medical research. Höber’s adult children and their families were eventually able to follow him and his wife to the U.S. His descendants contributed much to their new country as academics, scientists, public servants, and artists.

The work of IIE’s Emergency Committee meant, literally, the survival of our family. In the midst of our current dark times, IIE helps us remember that the world has recovered from dreadful situations before.”

More stories about the Höber  family are in Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939, published by the American Philosophical Society. Information is available hereAlso available at Amazon.com.

German edition, Deutsche auf der Flucht, ein Briefwechsel zwischen Deutschland und Amerika von 1938 bis 1938, available here.

This entire blog is available in book form. Send a note to the author through the comments section below.


A Century-Old Experiment Still Relevant Today

RH 1918 rev

Prof. Rudolf Höber, Kiel, around the time he published his article on measuring electric current inside cells.

THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE IN GERMAN

There are about 75 million cells in a tablespoon of blood.  My grandfather, Rudolf Höber, an early cellular physiologist, spent his whole life studying these microscopic entities, trying to figure out how they work.  He and others knew that electric current is conducted within and between these cells.  How much electric current?  How does it work? How do you measure it?  My grandfather figured it out.  He published the method of measuring conductivity in cells in a German scientific journal, Pflüger’s Archiv für die gesamte Physiologie der Menschen und der Tiere [“Journal of General Physiology of Humans and Animals.”]  In the original, it looked like this:

Rudolf Höber’s article on measuring electrical current inside blood cells, as it originally appeared in “Pflügers Archiv” in 1910.

Apparatus diagrams as published in “Pflügers Archiv” in 1910.

A couple of years ago, I was surprised to learn that my grandfather’s work on the measurement of electrical current in cells was still considered relevant, sufficiently so that it warranted publication of its own commemorative article.  Ron Pethig, Professor of Bioelectronics and Dr. Ilke Schmueser, Researcher, both at the University of Edinburgh, published “Marking 100 Years Since Rudolf Höber’s Discovery of the Insulating Envelope Surrounding Cells and of the Beta-Dispersion Exhibited by Tissue” (Journal of Electrical Bioimpedence, vol. 3, pp. 74-49, 2012).

THE ARTICLE AS NEWLY TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH BY JAMES C. M. HWANG AND DIETER G. AST, 2020

Recently, I was unexpectedly contacted by James C. M. Hwang, a senior research professor in materials science at Cornell University.  He had just completed an article on “Label-free Noninvasive Cell Characterization by Broadband Impedance Spectroscopy, to be published next year by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers in its IEEE Microwave Magazine .  His article reviews work done by various scientists in the past, including that of my grandfather, and finds that the principles they explored may be adapted to promise advances in science and engineering using today’s technologies.  He found the work of my grandfather sufficiently interesting and relevant today that he enlisted a German-native-speaker colleague, Prof. Dieter G. Ast, to collaborate with him on producing an English translation.  And now I am very pleased to be able to present “A Method to Measure the Electrical Conductivity Inside Cells,” available for the first time in English, thanks to Profs.  Hwang and Ast.  In the continuing documentation of our family’s history, we are grateful to them for this work. The complete translation appears at the end of this post.

HAVING TROUBLE UNDERSTANDING THESE ARTICLES?

I have been told that  my Opa Rudi, the great physiologist, had hopes that I might follow him into a career in the sciences.  Alas, my life took me in different directions.  As a result, I must admit that my understanding of my grandfather’s groundbreaking article is limited, even in English.  Nevertheless, it is a great satisfaction that scientists who do have the necessary knowledge find his work of a century ago to be relevant for further research, discovery and invention in the twenty-first century.

NOTE: The copyright on my grandfather’s original article is arguably still owned by the successor to the original publisher.  Hence the following notice:  Translated by permission of Springer Nature, Rudolf Höber,  Pflüger’s Archiv für die gesamte Physiologie der Menschen und der Tiere, “Eine Methode, die Leitfähigkeit im Innern von Zellen zu messen,” copyright 1910.

Hwang 1 (3)

Hwang 2(3)

Hwang 3(3)

Hwang 4(3)

Hwang 5(3)

Hwang 6(3)

Hwang 7(3)


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


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


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 Special Book Winds its Way through 20th-Century Germany — to America

Privately bound book containing 25 scientific articles by Rudolf Höber on various topics related to cellular physiology, 1904-1913.

Privately bound book containing 25 scientific articles by Rudolf Höber on various topics related to cellular physiology, 1904-1913.

I don’t know what happened to my grandfather’s scientific papers.  I have tons of family papers, but for some reason they don’t include most of Rudolf Höber’s professional writings beyond his books.  A posthumous article says he published over 200 articles in his lifetime, but for a long time I only had a few of them.

Rudolf, a physiologist, published his first article in 1898 arising out of his doctoral dissertation, Observations on Experimental Shock through Stimulation of Serous Membranes.  Thereafter, he would go on to publish three to six articles a year for the next 50 years.  Whenever Rudolf published a new article, he would get a good number of extra copies, or “offprints,” that he would mail to colleagues around the world with whom he wished to share his research.

Bound volume of articles written by Höber, opened to an article entitled

Bound volume of articles written by Rudolf Höber, opened to an article entitled “Observations on the Operations of Neutral Salts,” Braunschweig, 1907

Page of an article on

Page of an article on “Measurements of the Internal Conductivity of Cells” by Rudolf Höber, Bonn, 1913.

For years, Rudolf sent copies of his articles to his friend Max Cremer, professor of physiology at the Royal Veterinary Technical Institute in Berlin.  He wrote greetings on the cover, such as, “Sent with the sincere thanks of the author,” or, “With best wishes from R.H.”  By 1913, Cremer had received 25 articles from Rudolf, making quite a nice stack, and he decided to have them bound by a local stationer and bookbinder, Adolf Liese. Herr Liese and Prof. Cremer selected boards with green and black marbling for the front and back covers, and dark green buckram for the spine.  On Cremer’s instructions, Liese added gold lettering to the spine reading R. Höber, Separat-Abdrücke [Offprints], 1904-1913.

The spine of Prof. Cremer's book of bound articles by Rudolf Höber

The spine of Prof. Cremer’s book of bound articles by Rudolf Höber

When Cremer got the newly bound volume home, he stamped his own identification on the flyleaf:  Dr. med. Max Cremer, Professor für Physiologie an der Kgl. Tierartzlichen Hochschule, Berlin.

After Prof. Cremer’s death in a Nazi-dominated Germany in 1935, the volume made its way into the library of the Institute for Veterinary Physiology at Humboldt University in Berlin.  A librarian dutifully added the library’s stamp to the flyleaf .  A library label was glued to the spine and it was shelved with the other scientific books in the library. And there it stayed for another 50 years.

Labels in Prof. Cremer's bound copy of Rudolf Höber's articles:  stamp of Adolf Liese, stationer and bookbinder; stamp of Prof. Max Cremer; stamp of the library of the Institute for Veterinary Physiology, Humboldt Univrsity, Berlin.

Labels in Prof. Cremer’s bound copy of Rudolf Höber’s articles: stamp of Adolf Liese, stationer and bookbinder; stamp of Prof. Max Cremer; stamp of the library of the Institute for Veterinary Physiology, Humboldt Univrsity, Berlin.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Humboldt University, in previously-Communist East Berlin, experienced a crash modernization effort, as the government of a reunited Germany moved the locus of the nation to the historic capitol of Berlin.  As modern text books and research materials flooded into Humboldt’s library, tens of thousands of outdated and obsolete volumes were deaccessioned. One of the books deaccessioned was Cremer’s volume of Rudolf Höber’s articles.  The University library added an additional stamp, “ausgeschieden”, or “deaccessioned,” and sent the book off to a huge outlet in Leipzig that had been the Communist government’s principal depository for used books for decades before the fall of the Wall.  There it would sit until someone, anyone, showed an interest in buying it.

I am in the habit of checking out used book websites to see what’s around.  One night, I typed in Rudolf’s name.  As I had come to expect, dozens of copies of his two books, in several languages, popped up on the site.  But at the end of the very long list, this item caught my eye:  R. Höber, Konvolut von 25 Sonderabdr. z. Physiologie, Zentralantiquariat Leipzig [“A Collection of 25 Offprint Copies on the Subject of Physiology,” Central Used Book Depository, Leipzig].  A few keystrokes, a credit card number, and 36 Euros later, and the book was on its way to me, perhaps the one person in the entire world who wanted it most.

Invoice from the Central Used Book Depository (Zentralantiquariat) in Leipzig.

Invoice from the Central Used Book Depository (Zentralantiquariat) in Leipzig.

It was a revelation to open the package from Leipzig, the see the stamps inside the cover, and then to see my grandfather’s distinctive handwriting on each article, bold but delicate, that has become so familiar to me as I have worked with his papers.  And when I read Mit den besten Grüssen vom Verfasser – “With the best wishes of the author” – I fancied for a brief moment that he had addressed those words to me, and that it was he who had sent me this volume from across the Atlantic and over a century in time.


1933: The Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars

When the Nazis took over Germany in 1933, one of their first acts was to fire thousands of the nation’s most brilliant scientists and academics from their university positions, either because they were Jewish or because they were deemed “politically unreliable.”   Those expelled included Albert Einstein, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, Edward Teller and countless others.   My grandfather, Rudolf Höber, a professor of physiology at the University of Kiel, was also one of them.  I previously wrote about his last months at Kiel  here.  All of these fired individuals faced the difficult problem of finding a new place to teach and continue their research.

Rudolf Höber, Professor of Physiology, University of Kiel, around the time of his expulsion in 1934.

Rudolf Höber, Professor of Physiology, University of Kiel, around the time of his expulsion in 1934.

Some American educators quickly recognized that Germany’s loss might well be America’s gain.  The Institute of International Education, a foundation established in 1919 in the aftermath of World War I, quickly decided to establish a program to place exiled German academics in American universities.  To head the new Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars, the IIE hired a recent graduate of Columbia University, a young man named Edward R. Murrow.  A few years later, Murrow would become America’s most famous broadcast journalist, but in 1933 he led the effort to provide new careers for scientists and other scholars victimized by Hitler.  His job was particularly difficult because the United States was in the depths of the Depression and money was tight everywhere. The Emergency Committee’s method was to match up a scientist with an appropriate university and have the university provide the scientist with a position.  Then, using funds provided by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Emergency Committee would reimburse the university for all or part of the new faculty member’s salary.  Once the word got around the scientific community that Rudolf Höber was interested in coming to the United States, a bit of competition arose to get him because of his prominence in cutting edge cellular biochemistry and biophysics.  The Emergency Committee received offers from the University of Chicago, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Tennessee and the University of Pennsylvania to create a visiting professorship for Rudolf.  Ultimately the University of Pennsylvania won out in obtaining Rudolf for its medical faculty.  The following is the offer extended to Rudolf by the University’s Vice president in charge of the School of Medicine:

University of Pennsylvania's   appointment of Rudolf Höber as Visiting Professor, december 12, 1933. click for larger image.

University of Pennsylvania’s appointment of Rudolf Höber as Visiting Professor, December 12, 1933.

Upon his arrival in the United States, Rudolf wrote to Murrow and expressed his appreciation for the work of the Emergency Committee in finding a place for him to continue his work in America.  Murrow responded cordially.

Edward R. Murrow around the time he ran the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars, 1933-35.

Edward R. Murrow around the time he ran the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars, 1933-35.

Edward R. Murrow's letter acknowledging Rudolf Höber's placement at the University of Pennsylvania, May 12, 1934. 9click for larger image)

Edward R. Murrow’s letter acknowledging Rudolf Höber’s placement at the University of Pennsylvania, May 12, 1934.

Within a few months of receiving the offer from the University of Pennsylvania, Rudolf and his wife, Josephine, were on their way to America.  They had escaped the Nazis and would live and work in Philadelphia for the rest of their lives.

Rudolf and Josephine Höber  on the boat to the United States.  Both were workaholics, so their relaxation in this picutre is uncharacteristic for both of them.

Rudolf and Josephine Höber on the boat to the United States, May 1934. Both were workaholics, so their relaxed pose in this picture is totally uncharacteristic .


Confronted by the Nazis — 1930 – 1933

Rudolf Höber (1873-1952).  Picture taken around the time he served as Chancellor of the University of Kiel.

Rudolf Höber (1873-1952). Picture taken around the time he served as Chancellor of the University of Kiel.

My grandfather, Rudolf  Höber, was a gentle soul.  Although he was a hard-driving, extremely serious scientist, he was much beloved by his students in the Physiological Institute at the University of Kiel, in northern Germany.  They admired his sweet disposition and his passion for the exquisite objects of study in the world of natural science.     But my Opa Rudi could also be a fighter when someone tried to interfere with teaching or research.

In 1930, three years before Hitler took over Germany, Rudolf  Höber served a term as Chancellor of the University of Kiel.  In October of that year, a group of Nazi students tried to prevent liberal theologian Otto Baumgarten from lecturing at Kiel because he was a “pacifist” and “Jew-lover.”  Rudolf expelled the Nazi ringleaders from the University for their interference with academic freedom.  These expulsions led to nationwide demonstrations by right wing students calling for Rudolf’s ouster from from the University — but he persevered in his teaching.

“Baumgarten and the National Socialists,” a report containing Rudolf Höber’s order expelling Nazi students from the University of Kiel, 1930.

A little over two years after this incident, in January 1933, the Nazis took complete control of Germany.  One of Hitler’s first assaults was against thousands of the most prominent professors at the country’s vast university system on the ground that they were either Jews or political opponents of the Nazis.  Rudolf was one of the early targets of Hitler’s thugs.

A group of Stormtroopers, Hitler's jackbooted paramilitaries.  They were also called Brownshirts because of their uniforms.  In German they were known as the Sturmabteilung or SA.

A group of Stormtroopers, Hitler’s jackbooted paramilitaries.
They were also called Brownshirts because of their uniforms. In German they were known as the Sturmabteilung or SA.

Troops of the SS or Schutzstafel.  They were much more disciplined and much more dangerous than the Stormtroopers of the SA.

Troops of the SS or Schutzstafel. They were more disciplined and dangerous than the Stormtroopers of the SA.

On April 24, 1933, Rudolf was administering examinations to a group of premedical students in the Anatomy Building at the University of Kiel.  During a break, he was returning to his residence when he was accosted by a group of Nazis who threatened to kill him unless he abandoned his post as a teacher.  Here is his report to the Provost of the University:

Kiel, April 24, 1933

To His Excellency the Provost of the University of Kiel.

Your Excellency:

In accordance with our discussion, I am submitting this report to you concerning the events of this morning.  This morning, as chairman of the Examination Commission for the premedical examination, I was present in the Anatomy Building as proctor for a makeup examination.  On my way home I was accosted on Hegewisch Street [where I live] by five SS and SA men and two civilians who told me in the coarsest possible terms that if I did not want to endanger my life I had to keep out of the classrooms and laboratories of the Institute and that I no longer had the right to administer examinations.  They talked about the use of hand grenades, about the need to comply with their demands, about the use of force and things like that.  When I replied that as chair [of the Examination Commission] I also had to participate in other examinations, I was forced to return to the Anatomy Building, escorted by the troops, in order to share the prohibition orally with Professor Benninghoff and the remaining four examinees in the remaining four institutes.

In the Anatomy Building the people around Professor Benninghoff realized gradually that this oral announcement was meaningless, and therefore accompanied me to the Physiological Institute and left me at my residence.  In the meantime, the following had taken place in the Institute:  about 30 SS people filled the corridor.  They accused Assistant Professor Dr. Netter of being a Jew; the same thing happened shortly after that with Professor Mond.  In addition, they issued an order that these men were no longer allowed to administer any examinations either.

          I immediately notified Police Chief Count Rantzau by telephone, who promised me to pursue the matter and inform me of the result this afternoon.

                                                  s/ Höber

Copy of Rudolf Höber's report to the Provost of the University of Kiel, April 24, 1933. Obtained from Rudolf's personnel file in the Prussian Secret State ARchives in Berlin.

Copy of Rudolf Höber’s report to the Provost of the University of Kiel, April 24, 1933. Obtained from Rudolf’s personnel file in the Prussian Secret State Archives in Berlin.

There is no record of what action, if any Count Rantzau took, but Rudolf defied the threats of the SA and the SS and returned to his classroom and laboratory within a matter of days.  He continued teaching for several months more, and his students loyally attended his lectures despite the threats.  This situation couldn’t last, however, as the Nazis tightened their grip on the nation and the German people.  In November 1933, Rudolf was permanently dismissed from his professorship.  Unable to continue his research and teaching in Germany, he, like so many other brilliant scientists, emigrated, first to England and then to the United States.  In 1934 he was appointed Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he continued his pioneering work in physiology until a few years before his death in 1952.

Rudolf Höber in his laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1934

Rudolf Höber in his laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1934

After World War II and the defeat of the Nazis, the Physiological Institute at the University of Kiel was renamed the Rudolf Höber House and a street through the University campus still bears his name.


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


We, Wilhelm, by God’s Grace King of Prussia …

Rudolf Höber's Professorial Appointment Signed by Kaiser Wilhelm, 11 February 1915

Rudolf Höber was appointed professor of physiology on the medical faculty at the University of Kiel on 11 February 1915.  All German universities were governmental institutions at the time; there was no such thing as an American-style private university.  Appointments to the exalted position of professor could only be made by the German Kaiser, at the time Kaiser Wilhelm.  Although World War I had been under way for six months, teaching at European universities continued, particularly at medical schools like that at Kiel.  The fabulous document shown here was signed by Kaiser Wilhelm himself, in pencil, and embossed with his raised seal.  This appointment certificate is one of the wonderful pieces in the Hoeber family papers collection.