Chapter 12   Karl and Elisabeth Friedrichs

In speaking about my parents I shall first say something about my mother, Elisabeth Entel (3).
She had pitch black hair and pale skin. Except for her straight nose, inherited from the Stenger
family through generations, she resembled her mother very much. However, she was very
beautiful while her mother was not.

My mother did not have any higher education since there was no school for girls beyond
elementary school in the small city in which she grew up. So she went to the top grade three
times. She learned some French there, but not much else beyond elementary material; she was
however eager to learn.

Once my
mother was married to my father, (photo 4 months before wedding-MNF) her views
opened greatly, in particular her views about religion. The religious attitude of the family she
came from was basically fundamentalist, but not narrow minded.

As I have found out only recently, my mother has written many articles and small stories for
newspapers. She certainly took a great interest in what was going on in the world. In 1918 she
was deeply affected by the collapse of the Hohenzollern Empire. Still she took a great interest in
the new ideas that then were developed. In fact, she read the work on women, written by the
socialist leader Bebel.

Altogether my mother was a wonderful person, so much so that I do not feel able to tell more
about her in detail.

My father, Karl, was a sturdy person and a very hard worker. As I have mentioned earlier, one
may say that he was born to be a German university professor; but unfortunately, that did not
come about. While he was a practicing lawyer in Kiel, he wrote two books. The second one, on
police law, was highly acclaimed. As a practicing lawyer he was not satisfied with handling cases
in a routine way; he often dug out an old rule of law which was valid but not used any more, to
the annoyance of the judge and the opposing lawyer. In one such case my father had done
something for his client which the opposing lawyer claimed to be unethical. That led to lawsuits,
which went to the highest court in Germany. He was acquitted because of lack of proof. Still his
law practice went down and also his chances for a university career. This happened in 1901,
somewhat before I was born.

My father then took a position as a counselor for an industrial firm in Dortmund, a large city at
the eastern end of the Ruhr area in northwestern Germany. But he did not have enough to do in
this position; so he continued his writing there. The boss did not like that. So my father left and
opened a law practice with another lawyer. During that time, 1905, my brother Wolfgang was
born; my sister Asta was then seven years old and I was four years old.

Asta with 3 other generations         Asta, Kurt, Wolfgang                   Kurt as a Boy

In 1906 my father did something that worked out very well. To describe this I must make a few
remarks about the court system in Germany.

There was one highest court, an appeals court, in Germany, corresponding more or less to the
American Supreme Court. Below that were a number of appeals courts, I call them “higher
courts” for convenience.  In Prussia, there was one such court for each province. The “higher
court” for the Rhineland, in Cologne, was over-burdened at that time; so a new “higher court”
was to be established in Düsseldorf, a large city on the Rhine north of Cologne. My father
moved to Düsseldorf to be a lawyer at the new court. (In Germany a lawyer was associated with
only one court.) For my father it was easier and more natural to handle cases at a higher court
than those at a lower court. The advantage of the move was that he would be new at the new
court just as any other lawyer there. Even so it took my father more than two years before he
was firmly settled there.

My father had rented an apartment on a busy street near the railroad station. I suffered very
much from being cooped up in that apartment. However, every Sunday -  if possible -  the
family made an excursion to the zoo, to some parks, to a large hill outside the city with garden
restaurants, or a boat trip on the Rhine river to an old Roman city, or what I liked best, we took
a short train ride three stations distant to a village called Hochdahl, from which we walked
through woods and meadows down to another village called Neanderthal, or we took the train to
Neanderthal and walked up to Hochdahl. In later years our father often made even larger
excursions with us and our mother. (For many years here in New Rochelle, we adopted a similar
system.) I was very happy about the readiness of my father to make such excursions.

There were some aspects of my father’s character, such as his liberal ideas, which meant very
much to me; but, there were other aspects. He had very original ideas about how one should
behave under certain circumstances. If everybody had understood these ideas, it would have
been fine; but, nobody except I understood them. At times he was quite unreasonable. That
made it often rather difficult for Asta and Wolfgang, and hence also for my mother, but hardly
for me. Since I understood him, I could take it; but, anyway, I was rarely involved.

There are other positive aspects. We all, in particular Asta and I, learned very much from his
great store of knowledge. In fact, I got my first inklings of mathematics from him.

In 1908 my father bought a house, I suppose with the help of my mother’s inheritance. It was on
a quiet street near parks, with a rather peculiar backyard. There were large and small trees, a
covered arbor, a pond with goldfish at a rock structure with a waterfall. The walk to school took
me 12 minutes; for Asta it took a little longer to her school

I remember quite well the start of the First World War (1914). The people were extremely
excited and firmly believed that France, Russia and England were going after Germany. I myself
-  I was almost 13 years old -  did not participate in their excitement. I thought that after some
time there would be a stalemate and long negotiations with the result that everything would be as
before. However, I was very enthusiastic at one times namely, when we heard of President
Wilson’s Fourteen Points about self-determination of all people -  I expressed my enthusiasm in a
composition we had to write at that time. The teacher accepted that although he felt differently.
In fact, in our school we had a number of very good teachers, with whom one could speak

During the war years, in particular during the winter of 1916, our bread and butter rations were
extremely small. We mostly lived on turnips in that year. I was always hungry, before and after
meals. My stay on Rügen, and also three weeks in Holland, were vital and so I survived.

My interest in mathematics started in my fourth school year or earlier. (It is true that I could
rarely do long division correctly in the third year, but that is no contradiction,)  In my fourth
year, my mathematical ability was evident. In later years, although we had good teachers, I had
to send quite some time to explain to my fellow students what they had not understood. On the
other hand, I had (and still have) trouble writing compositions and letters.

From spring 1920 on, I went to various universities; in spring 1922 I went to the University of
Göttingen. The mathematics group here was sometimes called the center of mathematics in the

After being here a month or two, I received a letter from my father saying that he had resigned
from his lawyership at the higher court in Düsseldorf.

As my mother told me later, my father got involved with a secretary. Apparently he did not
know how to handle such a situation. The final result was his resignation. He then took a position
as a law counsel for the government of a small city, Ilmenau, in central Germany.

The resignation of my father came at a time when both Asta and Karl-Wolfgang were not very
happy about their studies and ware not certain about their final goal in life, as I was.  They
decided to quit studying and took jobs. This made it easier for my father to keep supporting me.
I am very grateful for that.   If I had to give up my studies of mathematics, I would have been

After my father had gone to Ilmenau, my mother was willing to follow him.
(Photo on 70
Birthday) But first she sold our house. A part of the proceeds were her inheritance, about 30,000
marks before inflation. My mother wanted to invest the proceeds in industrial stocks, which were
the safest investment at that time because of the prevailing great inflation. She, and we children,
understood inflation, but my father did not. He transferred the money on savings accounts or
something like that. Two years later, in the superinflation, it was gone.

Thus the dowry that Carl Baenisch had received in 1804 from his father-in-law, J. Gottfried
Hoppe, of which the principal probably had not changed much, was annihilated in a short time
after 120 years.

About five years after my father had gone to Ilmenau, he gave up his position at that city and
worked independently. He wrote many articles for law journals and did some consulting. From
this he had a good income; it even enabled him to have a nice house built in Ilmenau.

I am now at the end of my story. I shall add only a few remarks about later times.
My brother
Wolfgang had a very good, significant position as translator for English at the main bank in
Germany (West). Unfortunately, he died in 1978. He and his wife, Eva, had two children, Irene
and Michael. They in turn are married and have children, Tilo and Felix, and Martin (
and after
this was written Barbara -MNF
). My sister Asta has had a varied life, as a teacher, diplomatic
code cracker, dietitian, and housekeeper for a large institution.  She died in 1981.  I myself have
attained in my life by far more than I ever could have expected. My greatest achievement, of
course, was to have discovered my wife, Nellie, and to have produced five wonderful children.
Last phrase was hand written addition by Mom - MNF)

Kurt Otto Friedrichs (Adult  Photos)

Go to Appendix 2 - Arndt                                                         Go to main History Page

Go to Appendix 3 - Asta Heiberg                  Go to The Life Of K.O. Friedrichs by C. Reid

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