Tag Archives: Maria Weber Steinberg

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 Amazon.com at $US100! (It sells for €58 on amazon.de).  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…..

The book is here!

25 Nov

As many of you now know, the book that I began as blog entries on this site, and where I have posted numerous updates as I did the writing (https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2018/03/14/book-proposal-accepted/), has now arrived! I am glad that I continued to search for the cover image until I found the one that looks right. I’m really pleased with how zappy it looks. The contents look better than I had expected, and now I wish I had included more images than I have.

What can I say? This book was a real labor of love, about women I knew, who lived through the most turbulent times in Central Europe, and managed to persevere and survive. This is my most personal work, not at all like the academic books and articles I’ve written in the past: a bit memoir, a bit women’s studies, a bit German history, it’s very hard to decide where it fits in book publishing categories. I do think it is important in recovering from obscurity the lives of intelligent, professionally active women who made contributions to their culture. Personally, I’m proudest of my translation (after transcribing, with the help of Adobe, from German Fraktur) of the marvelously evocative “Autobiografie einer jungen Frau” that Irmgard Kern wrote in 1934 (Appendix I). This series, presented over several weeks in the renowned Frankfurter Zeitung, was perhaps Kern’s finest writing, and presents such a vivid picture of the life of a privileged Catholic girl growing up in early 20th-century Berlin. I’m grateful as well that Maria Steinberg’s family allowed me to include some of the writings of Maria’s brother Jan, describing in fascinating detail their life on a farm estate outside of Berlin (Appendix II). A world now completely gone.

As happens with small publishing houses now, the book price is outrageously high, in my opinion, but it can’t be helped. While it is now available on Amazon.com, I have found that it is cheaper and faster to order directly from the British publishers, at this site: https://www.cambridgescholars.com/products/978-1-5275-5697-3

For the moment, I think you can still get a 25% discount using this code PROMO25. I have also been assured that in six months, they will publish a paperback and e-Book at a lower price. My other suggestion for those who would like to read it but don’t want to buy it is that you request that your library purchase a copy! Most libraries, if they have any funding at all, are pretty amenable to patrons’ requests.

I would be most grateful to anyone who could suggest possible publications that might review such a book. There are tales here of those who had to flee the Nazis, stories about a woman who worked with The Monuments Men to save European art treasures, and rediscoveries of forgotten writers who got lost in the aftermath of World War II. The book is dedicated to the late film historian Thomas Elsaesser, whose own discoveries about his family’s history overlapped with the biography of one of “my” women. He was immensely helpful and enthusiastic about this project. I hope I have done justice to these women, who were such inspirations for this American.

Update: Three German Women

13 Aug


Maria & Bobby, ca. 1954


As I am just completing the first chapter for my Three German Women book (Maria’s chapter), I thought it would be a good time to recap where I’ve come to on this project, and where it’s going. This has been such a tumultuous year for us, so my writing regimen has been no regimen at all. But I have been making progress. Good news: I have made contact with Maria’s relatives, the children of her twin Gusti. They have given me lots of personal information about Maria and Bobby’s life together (and photos, like the one above).  The narrative has expanded exponentially, as I have learned of Maria’s connection to several other prominent people, most notably the historian George L. Mosse, who became a close personal friend of her family. I have also received permission to publish parts of Maria’s brother’s memoirs, in which he describes in great detail their lives on their country property at Löpten, outside of Berlin. This recounting captures very vividly a rural German lifestyle–prosperous country squire and family improving the lives of impoverished villagers–now completely gone, for better or for worse.  Maria’s story has been the happiest of my trio, and the easiest to write.

Of the other subjects:  Irmgard Kern’s story is the most complicated and harrowing, and has many gaps. Unfortunately, I was unable to visit with her son Vincent Rexroth as I had hoped to in May, and he has not been at all forthcoming with any responses to my queries. (What was the name of her beloved dog in the 1970s?) Thomas Elsaesser, who is hoping to republish Irmgard’s husband’s magnificent book (H.G. Rexroth’s Der Wermuthstrauch), is also waiting for further information, and has had to put his plans for that book on hold. I will try to tackle the writing of Irmgard’s chapter next, and hope that I can pull together what I already have accumulated about her fascinating life.  Her amazingly insightful “Autobiografie,” published in 1934 in the liberal newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung, is really my main motivation for wanting to see this book materialize. I have transcribed and translated the segments, and think this will be a major contribution to literature about the life of women in Germany.

Finally, Anna Spitzmüller, my AUSTRIAN German Woman, will shift my story from Berlin to Vienna. Here, too, I had hoped to fill in many gaps (what was her aristocratic mother’s name???) when we were in Vienna. While we had to cancel that planned trip, I am now hoping that I might be able to travel there for 10 days in October to complete some necessary research. Fingers crossed that my recovery from surgery is complete, and we can afford for me to take the trip.  I am also finding that my research skills are failing me somewhat: Spitzi had great interaction with the Monuments Men at the end of the War, but I have been lax in trying to wade through the daunting layers of official documentation at the National Archives and elsewhere to get any substantiation of her claims about these events. I need to be more dogged in figuring out how to tackle online these documents, not all of which are available digitally.

My biggest concern now, however, is the tone of the book, and what to include in the introductory chapter.  As my blog essays show, I wrote about these women who I had known purely for personal interest, and then, for reasons that I can no longer really clarify, decided that I should expand their stories into a book.  I chose to submit the book proposal to Cambridge Scholars Press simply because I knew the people there, and was pretty certain they would accept the book for publication.  Now I find that this very academic press may not have been the best choice for presenting these stories. Their formats are extremely boring, geared for densely textual manuscripts, with little interest in any kind of graphic design.  For the first time in my writing career, I am writing something that is meant to be presented in a more readable, less academic, format. I have spent my life avoiding the inclusion of “I” and “my” in my writing, and now have to figure out how to be more personal while still including all the information.  And I do want photos, which does not appear to be that desirable for this publisher’s rigid format instructions.

As for my introductory chapter, I have also had to remember that I am not obliged to be comprehensive–I’m not writing a dissertation, or trying to get tenure!  Since the literature on German history of the 20th century is vast, I have decided that I am going to write this chapter as a kind of bibliographic essay, referring only to the themes I want highlighted–the history of German women, women’s education, German responses to modernity and their relationship to the tumultuous events of their history. By emphasizing what I was looking for in the sources that I used to verify my opinions and themes, I don’t have to justify why I did not look at whatever materials others feel I “should” have included, if this were an academic exercise. As my first attempt at writing in a more intimate, journalistic style, and not about art historical topics per se, I am still grappling with how to divest myself of all those years of academic training!

So that’s where I am now, two weeks after major surgery, and with a new deadline from the publisher for the end of January 2020.  Wish me luck!  And please send any information you have about “my” women!


Book proposal accepted!

14 Mar


So my book proposal, Three German Women:  Personal Histories from the Twentieth Century, has been accepted by the press to whom I sent the proposal!  EEEK!  Now I really have write it!  I am excited, and not yet daunted.

Here’s the blog I wrote about the topic:  https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2018/01/16/a-book-proposal/

I have changed the deadline to September 2019, just to be safe, but I hope I will have it finished by next Spring at the latest.

And here’s the “blurb”, as the publishers call it, that I just sent back with the contract:




This book presents the life stories of three women of the German-speaking realm whose lives inspired the author directly: mathematician Maria Weber Steinberg (1920-2013);  journalist Irmgard Rexroth-Kern (1907-1983) ; and Viennese art historian Fr. Dr. Anna von Spitzmüller (1903-2001).  The lives of these three women serve as emotional mirrors to the cultural transformations and tumultuous history of the 20th century. Their stories tell of the hardships, struggles, and victories of intellectual European women in this era. Each was related to men who played a role in European cultural life, men who received some prominence in history books; these women, in contrast, received very few public accolades for their important achievements. Placing them in the cultural context of the times in Germany and Austria, the author  highlights the traumatic choices imposed on ordinary people by political and social circumstances over which they had no control. Along with the women’s individual stories, the chapters focus on overarching themes: intellectual women’s roles in European society , the fate of Jewish culture in Germany and Austria, and specific historical background describing the incidents affecting their life trajectories (e.g., Irmgard Kern’s involvement in Berlin’s literary world,  Dr. Spitzmüller’s work with the Monuments Men, and Maria Steinberg’s father’s position in the Reichstag of the Weimar era).

As you can see, I simply cobbled together aspects of my original proposal.

And now I put out the call:  anyone who has any information about any of these women and their families–photographs, too!–please contact me, either here in the comments or through email at esauboeck@gmail.com.

Now back to work!  Right now I’m converting Fr. Kern’s “Autobiografie einer jungen Frau,” published in 1932 in a German newspaper in Fraktur, into readable text; then I will translate it.






A side. Maria’s story

5 Nov


Maria in a typically relaxed pose, 2012.


Maria, in 1996. Taken by Margaret A.M. Murray, for her book, Women Becoming Mathematicians.

I’m ready to give a first go at telling the first story of  the three German women who inspired me and whose life stories serve as remarkable documents of the tumultuous history of the 20th century in Europe.  I was hoping to get some better pictures of Maria–this is the only one I can find–and more anecdotes of her life, but I’m going to begin by compiling what I have already accumulated, and include my own memories of her, too.

Maria was born Maria Alice Weber on August 19, 1919, in Berlin; she had a twin sister,and one older sister and a brother.  Her father, Carl Wilhelm August Weber (1871-1957), was a prominent banker and politician in the Deutsche Demokratischen Partei (DDP), the progressive party of the time, and was a member of the Reichstag in various positions from 1907 until he was forced to resign by the Nazis in 1933:



Maria’s father, August Weber, painted by Max Liebermann, 1926. Mesdag Museum, The Hague.

(I was astonished when I learned that this dear woman who was working for me was born at the end of WWI, had a father who was born right after the Franco-Prussian War, and a grandfather that she had known as a small child who was born in 1834!!! In 1834, Charles Darwin was on board The Beagle, and Andrew Jackson was President of the United States! ) For more about this portrait and Weber and especially about their mother’s family, here is a link to an article written by Maria’s brother Jan Webber (he anglicized his name when he moved to England):


Her father married quite late, and Maria’s mother was much younger. She, too, was from a very prominent, and in her case Jewish, Berlin family. Marrying outside one’s religion was unusual at the time, and initially Maria’s cultivated family objected to the match, despite August Weber’s achievements. I’ll explain this link about her below:


Maria’s mother was Marie Cohn (1887-1967), the eldest daughter of Dr. Heinrich Cohn, director of a private Berlin bank founded by one of the most established Jewish families, the Meyer-Cohns, in Berlin. She grew up in privilege with private art lessons along with the niece of the famous Berlin artist Max Liebermann. As a 13-year-old, she had her portrait painted by the Swedish artist Anders Zorn (the topic of the article above); the painting hung in her parents’  Berlin apartment until 1933, when Marie’s parents fled from the Nazis to Switzerland. They sold the painting (through the connections of the famous art dealer Paul Cassirer) before they left Berlin. It somehow ended up in Sweden in a private collection, and has been shown in several exhibitions.

Zorn - Marie Cohn 65.7x52cm

Maria’s mother, Marie Cohn, painted as a 13-year-old by Anders Zorn, 1900.

Maria’s mother was not only a great beauty, but a remarkably well-educated and  artistic person. She was privately tutored as a child (I think Maria told me her tutors were English, so she always had a fondness for England)  until she went to university and received a Ph.D. in history, as one of the first women to receive her doctorate.  According to an interview Maria gave many years later, her mother was a tremendous influence on her. She married in 1914, and their household hosted many distinguished guests, artists and politicians alike. Maria remembered that the Expressionist sculptor Ernst Barlach was a frequent guest, and her mother’s family were certainly part of the same circles in which Max Liebermann worked.  The Weber family also renovated a large country house in Löpten bei Groß Köris, a small village south of Berlin, where their father built several workers’ houses, brought electricity to the village, and worked the land. There is still a Weberweg in the town today. Maria remembered her parents having many summer parties–one at which her father had to remove a relative who arrived in Nazi uniform. Maria recounted to me how she saw them walking at the edge of the grounds, as her father told the cousin sternly that such uniforms were not welcome at their home. The signs were already ominous by the end of the 1920s.

Then, in 1933 when Maria and her twin sister were 14, the Nazis came to power.  Everything changed. Her father was forced to resign his post and was imprisoned and interrogated several times by the Gestapo,but was always let go. Having a Jewish wife, he recognized immediately the danger to the family. Maria and her sister were sent to Switzerland, to Geneva, where her mother’s parents had already fled. And there she stayed for many years, while all of her family managed to escape Germany for London in 1938. (Her mother, Maria said, adapted quite quickly, while her father hesitated until the last moment to leave Germany–not until July 1939–and was never comfortable in exile.) They lost everything, of course; I remember Maria talking about going back to the country house when it was still in East Germany in the 1970s, and finding that their old servants had moved into the house. They were not at all happy to see Maria and her siblings return! As I remember it, none of them ever got any compensation for their property.

In Geneva, Maria received her degree in mathematics in 1940, and another degree in physics in 1941.  Here my memory and the paper trail get a little fuzzy:  she and her sister did eventually get to England, and from there to America, where Maria studied for another degree at Cornell; she received her Ph.D. in mathematics there in 1949. It was around this time that she met her soon-to-be husband  and the love of her life Robert Steinberg, or Bobby as she always called him.  He was an up-and-coming mathematician, a Jewish immigrant from Bessarabia whose family had settled in Canada.  I know that Maria taught for a while at Goucher College, and it may be there that they met, or perhaps at Cornell. Or they may have met at UCLA, where Robert would teach from 1948 until his death this year.  In any case, they were married in California in 1952, and moved into their wonderful little house in Pacific Palisades, when normal academic people could afford to live in this now impossibly celebrity-ridden suburb near UCLA.  (Maria told me how they were inundated with realtors at the door in the last few years, wanting them to sell their house, which had become one of the last remaining original houses in the neighborhood, as McMansions were built all around them.) They were a delightful and formidable intellectual team who shared everything. In 1953, as soon as she could, Maria became an American citizen:


Maria taught at Cal Tech for a while, and then for many years at Cal State Northridge. Bobby, meanwhile, continued at UCLA, becoming one of the leading mathematicians of his time. In her interview for a book on women in the sciences, Maria expressed no bitterness or sense of competition with her husband; she felt that they complimented each other perfectly. They were both so humble and simple in their lifestyles that we never knew how important Bobby was in his field. They loved hiking, and were very active in Democratic politics. They were avid members of the Sierra Club and keen gardeners.  Robert’s obituary is the first time we learned of his accomplishments:


In about 1991, Maria, who had been volunteering at the Sierra Club, found out about the Rifkind Center at LACMA, and offered her services as a volunteer. The then librarian Susan Trauger said that at the time, when she was 72, she vowed she would stop working there when she was 75. She was still at the Rifkind when I started working there in 2004.  She was amazing: at 83 and 85, she still climbed the ladders to shelve books, and typed labels for us. She was invaluable in reading old German letters, as the only one among us who could still read Alte Schrift. And she was a delight to talk to about her life and about politics and life in general, for despite all the travails, she was never bitter and thought she had been extraordinarily lucky in her career and in her marriage.  I know she would have loved to have children, but she told me  it never happened and fertility trials were not successful. She was so excited to see the reproductions of the portraits of her mother and father when the books arrived in the library, and she was always surprising us with her recollections of the famous people who had been part of her life as a girl.  She would take the bus from her home to LACMA, which was a rather arduous trek, and then Bobby would pick her up, still driving into his 90s. They loved doing crosswords together, and she almost always finished the New York Times crossword on her trip to the Museum. She was still riding her bike every weekend until she was in her late 80s.

But things did begin to slow down for both of them as they reached 90, and she stopped her volunteer work. Susan and I did go to visit them at their house, and had simple little meals with them both. They still had cats and their garden, and she still had a few mementos of her German life, including a small drawing of her father by Liebermann. Her twin sister died in 2011, right before our last visit to them. I remember then how she reasserted her firm atheism: “when I’m gone, I’m gone.” Spoken like a true scientist!

We were devastated when we learned, only at the announcement of Bobby’s death, that she had died the year before, on July 7, 2013. We had somehow lost touch in those last years.  And when I went to find an obituary, I only found a small announcement in a science organization’s newsletter (which I can’t even find anymore). She deserved more than that!  So this is for you, Maria: mit Liebe und glückliche Erinnerung. I would be very grateful to hear from anyone who knew Maria, to fill in the gaps, and to add to this memorial to a wonderful woman.

(Update:  I want to thank Marge Murray, University of Iowa, for sending the photo of Maria, which she took in 1996 when she interviewed Maria for her book, Women Becoming Mathematicians [MIT Press 2000].)