‘To tear down the barbarous colour barrier’: a letter on anti-Semitism and racism

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By Sarah Glover, Archivist and Digitization Projects Liaison


from Kurt H. Hohenemser to James F. Hornback,
leader of the Ethical Society of St. Louis, February 2, 1952

“We immigrated 4 ½
years ago from Germany into this country for the main reason to leave behind us
the sorry scene of racial persecution which, during the Nazi regime, caused the
death of the greater part of my father’s Jewish family including both my parents.
Though I was raised in the Lutheran faith I hesitated to report an interest in
the Lutheran Church when the Religious Census was taken because I feel that the
Lutheran Church in its majority has failed in Germany to defend the idea of the
equality of races against the brutal Nazi claim of the superiority of the “Aryan”…,
and because in this country the Lutheran communities certainly are not among
the leading forces to eliminate the Negro segregation, as they should if they
would take the Christian tradition seriously…

“My special interest of course, would be directed toward the
efforts of the Ethical Society to tear down the barbarous colour barriers in
this area which are such a disgrace to the country.”

Kurt Heinrich Hohenemser was born in Berlin, Germany, on
January 3, 1906, to the musicologist Richard Heinrich
Hohenemser (1870-1942) and Alice Matilda Florence Hohenemser née Salt (1879-1942).
While his father came from a German Jewish family, Kurt’s mother was an English
Protestant, the daughter of a Baptist minister. In 1942, as Richard’s
deportation appeared imminent, Richard and Alice committed suicide in their
Berlin apartment. Despite the fact that he would have been considered Jewish
according to Nazi laws, Kurt, who was an aerospace engineer and pioneer in the
field of helicopter design, survived the war by working as a consultant for a
company that made helicopters for the German Air Force. After the war, Kurt
immigrated to the United States and settled in St. Louis with his wife and two
young children. He worked as chief aerodynamics engineer of McDonnell’s
helicopter division for 18 years before joining the faculty of Washington
University in St. Louis in 1966 as professor of aerospace engineering. Kurt
Heinrich Hohenemser died in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 7, 2001.

From the Kurt
Hohenemser Collection; AR 25643; Box 2; Folder 58; Leo Baeck Institute, New
York, NY

To see more of this collection, go to


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