Archive | December, 2020

Missing Links

24 Dec


As promised in my last blog about the publication of my book, Three German Women: Personal Histories of the Twentieth Century, I want to include here an addendum of all those materials I received after the manuscript had been sent to the publishers. It always happens: no matter how long you wait, no matter how many pleas you send out to archivists and individuals, you will never get all your eggs in one literary basket before the publication deadline.

In this case, I finally received some photographs relating to Irmgard Rexroth-Kern’s life from her son Vincent Rexroth, literally the day after I had sent off the manuscript after the final proof reading. I was able to get one of the best images into the book, a shot of Irmgard in 1975–as she looked when I knew her–-by flipping two photos so it did not affect the formatting.

The other photos Herr Rexroth sent were not able to enter the manuscript, so I highlight them here. The first one is that lovely one at the beginning of this text, showing Irmgard’s mother Elisabeth Kleine as she appeared in the year she married Irmgard’s father, Guido Joseph Kern. Elisabeth died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19, so this photo is particularly poignant. Irmgard was only 11 when she died, and her loss affected the little girl that she was for the rest of her life.

Guido Joseph Kern, 1947

As so often happens when writing biographical studies, these late arrivals can add to, or–as happened with the last photo Herr Rexroth sent–revise the story presented in the book’s text. As details about the Kerns’ life in Berlin made clear, Irmgard and her father had a serious rift at the time she married H.G. Rexroth, in 1936. Given her father’s activities in the 1930s involving Nazi collaboration and finding no evidence that she and he had any contact after that time, I assumed their break was permanent. Herr Rexroth found this photo sent to Irmgard and her son in 1947, at which time, according to Herr Rexroth, he apparently visited them in Frankfurt. That he was still in touch with his daughter after the war (he died in 1953) means that her many years of financial struggle and estrangement from her family, even after her husband was killed on the front in 1944, could have been caused by her own stubbornness and determination to be independent of unpleasant ties to the past.

Other latecoming documents related to Anna Spitzmüller’s work with the so-called “Monuments Men” at the end of World War II. Having limited luck digging deeply into the records at the National Archives for information about Spitzi’s work at the Central Collecting Point in Munich (where all the artworks, both plundered by the Nazis and stored by German museums, were brought by the Allies), I wrote to the Monuments Men Foundation’s archivist. While I had been able to find the dates of her stay in Munich, I wanted to know if there were any specific references to Spitzi’s time there. I had written initially in early 2019; I finally received a response, with relevant letters, in July 2020–too late to revise substantially that chapter.

If nothing else, these genial letters substantiate that Fr. Dr. Spitzmüller was a vital presence at this time, when she went to Munich to sort the objects, the national treasures of Austria, that belonged to the Albertina. If I had received them earlier, I could have presented in the book a more detailed picture of Spitzi’s activities at the Collecting Point.

Since I had access via many family members to many details of Maria Steinberg’s life story, that chapter of the book seems to be fairly complete. If I wanted to dig deeper, I would love to see a transcript of her father’s memoirs, which the family does have, but they are still in handwritten Alte Schrift, waiting to be deciphered by better German scholars than I–and, in the end, more appropriate to be presented by other members of Maria’s family.

Finally, one more image that I wanted to include in the book: a newspaper clipping saved by Fr. Kern, showing her beloved Airedale meeting a rabbit at an Easter show in the Odenwald. I remember her dog Terry very well, when I knew her in Darmstadt. Somehow the image seemed a little too frivolous for an academic book, but it pleases me to remember her walking Terry, as she was when I first met her in 1974.

The Book and the process

22 Dec


As many of you know from reading this blog, I have been working on this book as a labor of love for several years now. It is so exciting that I finally have it in my hands! The title is Three German Women: Personal Histories of the Twentieth Century. Published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing (CSP) in the U.K., the book, I now realize, would probably not have found as comfortable a home for publication anywhere else. CSP is known for publishing academic works, but ones that authors would otherwise not have been able to publish because they fill a minority niche. Here’s a great article about how they do it:

As the article points out, CSP is peer-reviewed, but decisions to publish are not based on profitability, but on whether the title fulfills some academic research need. As the article says, “We put our authors at the heart of everything we do.” They keep overhead down, so that their profit margins are small, but they publish so many books that in aggregate, they stay afloat financially. They publish out of Newcastle — not a traditional hub of English publishing! — and all processes are done locally. Their method of printing also contributes to their success, as their Chief Executive explains:

Print on Time works by doing short-run digital print which makes sure we hold a small stockholding, based on our calculations of how many titles are likely to sell. We direct-supply our US distributors, quicker and much more cost-effectively than an on-the-ground US warehouse could supply. That’s not supposition – we tried it, and we disintermediated it, and it worked. We don’t get stock-outs, or pulped stock, or returns, because we fulfill an order the same day, and get it to the distributor faster than a local warehouse can. That means we don’t have to worry about the intersections in the supply chain – which is where things always go wrong – or have a manager managing those intersections, reporting on them, and having meetings about them. Nothing is ever ‘out of print’. If someone buys a book we haven’t sold a copy of since 2013, we will very likely have one or two on the shelf, and if we don’t, we will print and ship it the next day. We don’t have boxes and boxes of books gathering dust on a shelf that we will never sell. If it’s older or slower-moving, we hold them in ones and twos. If it’s newer and quicker-moving, we measure their movement in weeks, not years. We keep the margins that printers and warehousers take. We don’t tie up cash in stock and watch it sit and depreciate every day.”

I have been astonished at how quickly CSP can get a shipment of books to me: within a week from the U.K. to California. I have been pleased with the freedom I was given to write as I wanted to — my book is quirky, a bit memoir, a bit women’s history, a bit German history — and that the process of publishing went so smoothly, much more smoothly than my previous academic books.

That being said: CSP is not a publisher for books requiring much graphic design or elaborate illustrations. Being used to publishing in art history, most of my other publications have required lots of illustrations and thought about pleasing design. While I did include black and white illustrations in this book, all of the “design” — what passed as design! — was my job. (I was thrilled, after much searching, to find the Kirchner painting of three German women for the cover!) The typesetters did aid a bit with formatting, but for the most part, the look of the text and placement of photographs within the text were my responsibility as the author. The final product is clear and clean, but not at all adventurous graphically.

Finally, and most unfortunately to my mind, such a simple publishing philosophy, and one that involves taking some risks on a variety of titles that will not necessarily sell well, means that the prices of the volumes are very high. My book costs in the U.K. £62, which translates to about $US83. This is an enormously high price for the people who I would like to have read the book. I am hoping that people will request orders from their local libraries, so the book will be available for those who want to read it but can’t afford the cost. Currently, the book is offered on at $US100! (It sells for €58 on  There is talk that in a few months, CSP will be able to print the book as a paperback, and it is apparently also now available as an e-book for academics who have access to ProQuest. In the meantime, I have been ordering copies at my author’s discount, then passing on those savings to my friends who really want to read the book now. At the moment, I think it is still possible to order the book on the CSP website with a 25% promotional discount, by using the code PROMO25. Here’s the link to the CSP page:

I am just happy that the book is out there, and hope that anyone interested in stories of intellectual women persevering in the turmoil of 20th-century Central Europe will find it interesting.

My next blog will include some of the research and documents that I received too late to include in the book! This always happens…..