Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

A Family in America

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

A Family in America

Article excerpt

Johannes and Elfriede and Susanne were reunited in New York City on November 5,1939. They were safe and could begin a new life. But it would not be easy.

Elfriede found it difficult to settle into the communal Höber house on Cresheim Road. She liked Rudolf and got on well with Gri and Manfred, but Elfriede and Josephine were both strong-willed, intelligent women whose very different personal styles were bound to clash. Within a few months Johannes and Elfriede moved into a tiny apartment of their own on Wayne Avenue, not far from Creshiem Road. Susanne was enrolled in the local public school and made the transition with surprising ease. The school started by placing her in first grade and moving her up every couple of months as her English caught up with each grade level. Within a few months she was in the fourth grade, where she belonged. Elfriede was pleased when the teacher told her Susanne's only problem was that she was rather too talkative-in English.

Johannes' fortunes with his work remained bumpy for years. The Charter Committee's role became superfluous when the State Legislature adjourned without taking action on the city charter. Johannes held on as a staff member until November 1939, when the Committee closed its doors. By that time he had succeeded in publishing an article analyzing the failed Philadelphia charter fight in the National Municipal Review, a respected professional journal with a nationwide audience.

When the Charter Committee shut down, Stephen Sweeney took Johannes on at the Fels Institute for Local and State Government at the University of Pennsylvania. He worked there for a year and then secured the position of public affairs director for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the first of several jobs with social service agencies that enabled Johannes to support the family-modestly-through the 1940s. During a sixmonth period of unemployment in 1942, Walter and Mary Phillips lent Johannes and Elfriede enough money to live on. Johannes repaid the loan with a $1,000 prize he won in a newspaper contest for the best essay on "a great American" (Johannes chose President Franklin D. Roosevelt).

In 1941, Johannes and Elfriede had their second child, Thomas Rudolf, and in 1942 a third, Francis Walter (for Walter Phillips). Susanne grew into a brilliant student like her mother. In 1947 she was valedictorian at Cheltenham High School before going off to Sarah Lawrence College on a full scholarship.

Johannes continued his political activities through the 1940s. After the failure of the 1939 Charter campaign, Johannes and Walter joined a cadre of young Roosevelt-inspired liberals intent on bringing modern governance to the city. World War II, however, interrupted any serious possibility of major reform.

America entered the war on December 8,1941. Although at age thirtyseven he was too old to join the Army, Johannes desperately wanted to assist in the war effort against the Nazis. On the day after Pearl Harbor he wrote to the local civilian defense authorities asking to be named a civil defense warden. On nearly the same day, however, the U.S. Congress passed legislation declaring him and countless other anti-Nazi refugees "enemy aliens," and his offer of service was rejected. In 1944, Johannes became an American citizen, in the minimum time legally required. Elfriede followed him in gaining citizenship a few months later.

The one area of the war effort in which Johannes was able to participate was in a pro-American propaganda effort aimed at Germans living in the United States. Before the war, Philadelphia had a German-language radio station, WTEL, with 100,000 listeners, which would regularly broadcast pro-Nazi messages. After the United States entered the war, the government seized the station and turned it over to a group of proAmerican German refugees. Johannes and Elfriede each went on the air to tell the radio audience about their experiences under the Nazis and about how much more secure they felt in the United States. …

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