CHOICE, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries, A Division of the American Library Association, May 2016 Vol. 53 No. 9
… These letters, written by two literate, gifted writers, construct a deeply experienced history entwined with significant world events. Genuine, emotional, human, rational—the letters exemplify precisely why published history needs such primary material. … Only by absorbing the personal narratives of people who recount the events they lived through can readers approximate the feelings, the vibrant presence, the individual acts that enliven historical experience. Through self-expressed microhistory, whether routine (running a business) or epochal (Kristallnacht), readers feel the macrohistory viscerally.
Summing Up: Highly recommended.
Hear Francis W. Hoeber discuss Against Time with Loraine Ballard Morrill here.
Philadelphia JEWISH EXPONENT, OCTOBER 22, 2015, Article by Jason Cohen: “Across an Ocean of War and Time, Translated Letters Bring Life During Holocaust Into Terrifying Focus.” Click here to read.
Robert Joe Lee, Director of Interpreting Services, New Jersey Judiciary
Marjorie Perloff, Sadie D. Patek Professor Emerita of English, Stanford University
I am very much impressed with Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany, 1938-1939. The background chapters that Francis Hoeber provides are beautifully done, and provide major historical background for the letters that follow. As for the letters themselves, they are especially fascinating. The reader leans what the Nazi era really was like, day by day. The letters on Kristallnacht, for instance, describe specific attacks on Jewish friends and neighbors that are astonishing. The fools’ paradise of pre-1939 Germany comes through very clearly.
Herbert Lindenberger, Avalon Foundation Professor Emeritus of Humanities, Stanford University
Against Time: Letters from Nazi Germany 1938-1939 is a thoroughly absorbing experience that will be shared by all readers interested in modern European history, and in the Nazi period specifically. The occasion for these letters was that Johannes Hoeber reached the United States as a refugee a year before his wife Elfriede (and his daughter) emigrated. What sustains the reader’s attention is the way the two correspondents move at ease between the events of their daily lives and the horrendous political events happening around them, the concreteness with which the two express the anxieties created by the situation in which they find themselves, the sheer human interest aroused by Elfriede and her daughter’s struggle to get out of Germany, and Johannes’ struggle to find adequate employment in a new country and a new language. Each correspondent writes in a different style; each writes with a winning frankness. The result is a book that holds much of the fascination we associate with reading novels, but here we are reading an epistolary narrative that not only rings true, but is true. A reader finds himself deeply involved in the details surrounding the two correspondents’ day-to-day- struggles.
Harry Liebersohn, Professor of History, University of Illinois
This is a fascinating book. The introduction clearly lays out the family history and sets it in the context of German history from the late nineteenth century to the late 1930s; the writing throughout is clear and engaging. This is a rather distinguished family whose story leads into the history of Germany’s liberal, educated elite. Elfriede is a fascinating figure who belongs to an early generation of German women to receive advanced degrees; in addition she studied with Alfred Weber, older brother of Max Weber and a well-known social scientist in his own right. We receive a valuable portrait here of a liberal milieu in Mannheim and Heidelberg. While there are many recollections of elite German-Jewish life before 1933, I find the anecdotes collected here to be satisfyingly detailed and historically valuable. Much of the book is taken up with the history of emigration and resettlement. The latter makes for particularly interesting reading: too often, narrative histories focus on the dramas of persecution and exit (important in their own right, of course) to the neglect or exclusion of reorientation in a new world. The letters build up a picture of the challenges of resettlement even in the case of a successful new beginning; and at least as important, we see how the Social Democratic engagement of the family persisted in the next generation’s interest in politics and dedication to public service. The details are delightfully vivid – one can imagine just where and how the family lived.
Michael Zuckerman, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Pennsylvania
Separated by the American immigration bureaucracy – he in Philadelphia, she and their little daughter in Dusseldorf – Johannes and Elfriede wrote longingly to each other for the better part of the terrifying year before the Holocaust began in earnest. Their remarkable letters allow us as vivid a view as we will ever have of the breath and pulse of everyday life in Germany as the men, women, and children destined for annihilation raced desperately against time to flee their fate. And as the letters succeed one another, day after daunting day, cerebral and scared, brave and buoyant and worried and weary, a second story emerges, as vivid as the first: a story of two young people of uncommon intelligence, honesty , and deeply moving devotion to one another. Their correspondence opens windows on chilling moments of world-historical significance and, no less, on thrilling movements of the human heart.
Sam Benjamin, Author, Portland Oregon
I found “Against Time” a fascinating document of a historical epoch which has long been of great interest, not only to myself but, I think, to the populace at large. What really stands out about this book is that it enabled me to view the years of 1938-39 through a much finer and more personal lens than I’d ever previously been able. While I’d seen so many movies and television shows about Nazi Germany, they’d always shown it as a large and somehow inaccessible event. Reading the letters contained in “Against Time,” I was able to experience and process the period in a way that felt familiar, approachable, and realistic.
There’s a lot of humor in this book, surprisingly, and a lot of humanity. Most of all, I found this book to be characterized by a rigorous honesty. This epistolary document felt somewhat reminiscent of a photograph, in that it was a real, unflinching portrait of its two main characters; the truth, no more and no less. The depth of character revealed in “Against Time” is striking and meaningful. I felt honored to have read it, and feel quite sure I will return for another perusal in the near future.