Elfriede Regina Knauer

By Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo | Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Elfriede Regina Knauer


Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society


3 JULY 1926 * 7 JUNE 2010

ELFRIEDE KNAUER, affectionately known to her friends and colleagues as Kezia, so appreciated being a member of the 1 American Philosophical Society that she attended the April 2010 Meetings despite being in a wheelchair, suffering from an ulcerated wound on one leg that may ultimately have led to her premature death about a month later. Personally reserved, albeit most generous in sharing her vast knowledge, Kezia seldom mentioned her complex background or her many vicissitudes. I had known her as a treasured and admired friend for more than forty years, yet I could not have produced a coherent narrative of her life without considerable help. Luckily, in 2009 a publication by the Akanthus Press (Kilchberg, Canton of Zürich) promoted by Adrienne Lezzi (Coats, Queens, and Cormorants: Selected Studies in Cultural Contacts between East and West), prefaced a collection of fifteen studies by Kezia with a biographical sketch and a bibliography by the author. I have quoted extensively from that source, as well as from additional material kindly provided by Kezia's husband, Professor Georg Nicolaus Knauer. Such papers included an autobiographical essay for the APS started in 2005 but never finished; it covers Kezia's family background and her life until the end of World War II, thus supplementing the preface in the Akanthus volume.

Kezia's family was originally Austrian, but became officially German after the Anschluss of 1938. She was born (a twin) in the house of her maternal grandfather, Professor Dr. jur. Edmund Kloeppel, in Wiesdorf - a small village whose name was changed to Leverkusen with the growth of the Bayer firm, of which her grandfather was a board member. Kezia's father, Dr. jur. Julius Overhoff, a businessman, was from Vienna but began working for Bayer in Cologne, where he met and married Edith Kloeppel. The union produced five children: a son, Julius, the twins, Kezia and Sybille, a second son, Martin, and one more daughter, Konstanze. Julius was killed in action during World War II (1944); Sybille, who married Denys Haynes, keeper of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum, is now a noted Etruscologist and lives in Oxford. The two remaining siblings are in Germany.

Kezia's father was a learned man who wrote lyrics, essays, and travel accounts. Because he had learned the respective languages, he worked for IG Farben in Poland and (in the 1920s) in the young USSR. There he became friends with two families who had to leave Russia, settled briefly in Berlin, and were eventually forced to repair to the United States. Their generous friendship (across two generations) was to prove important to the twins after the war. Later, Dr. Overhoff's work occasionally demanded lengthy stays in South America, and Kezia's mother had to cope with her family alone for months at a time. She had studied architecture, but could not complete her dissertation because of her teachers' forced departure from Germany; she learned Arabic, Persian, and Turkish while bringing up her children and was a major force behind their education. The family had settled first in Berlin, then in Frankfurt, where the twins began their formal schooling. Although primary instruction under Hitler's regime was intellectually "less than stimulating," the O verhoff children profited from the extensive library assembled by their parents and from their interesting discussions "especially at meals." Before the war broke out, moreover, despite restrictions on traveling, they were taken on a short trip to Northern Italy and to vacation places in Austria where "collecting, drawing and analyzing flowers" were encouraged activities. The seeds of Kezia's uncanny skill for observation were planted.

In 1936 the twins joined the Ziehen Oberrealschule, a coeducational institution in Frankfurt-Eschersheim that offered also French, English, and three years of Latin. But in 1938 their mother decided that they should supplement their lessons with drawing and painting, and they were sent to learn the various techniques at the studio of Frieda Bianca von Joeden in Frankfurt. …

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