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Ludwig's Mother: In Her Own Words

Mises Daily: Friday, December 09, 2005 by

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Introduction by B.K. Marcus:

Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises was not always a free-market liberal. When he matriculated at the University of Vienna, he was one of the many fervent young social reformers whose faith in "government science" had them convinced that carefully engineered interventions from the state could improve the lot of the toiling masses. He was passionate and focused, and determined to make a difference.

Then he read Carl Menger's Principles of Economics. This book made Mises an economist and began his journey to liberalism in the classical sense. Over time, his faith in the state waned as he understood both the damage that intervention does and the benevolence of an unhampered market.

What never changed was Mises's passionate devotion to the welfare of his fellow men and women, including the poorest members of society. This devotion was the legacy of a long-standing tradition of charity and civic leadership on both sides of his family. Of particular significance was the influence of his mother, Adele von Mises.

Menger Tee: $11 What he said: $18

Adele was born June 4, 1858, daughter of Fischel Landau and Klara Kallir. Her family lived in Brody, an almost exclusively Jewish town in the kingdom of Galicia on the border of the Austrian empire. In the late 18th century, Austria made Brody a free trade city for commerce with Russia, and both the Landaus and the Kallirs had done well enough in trade opportunities to become both affluent and influential. At the 1873 elections to the Austrian parliament, two of the three Jewish MPs from Galicia were from Adele's family. The third MP was Adele's future brother-in-law, Hermann Mises.

Adele married Arthur von Mises, the brother of one of her girlhood friends, and followed him to Lemberg, the capital of Galicia, where she gave birth to Ludwig (September 29, 1881) and his younger brother Richard (April 19, 1883). A few years later, Arthur and Adele had a third son, Karl, but he died of scarlet fever when Ludwig was 12.

Jörg Guido Hülsmann, Ludwig von Mises's biographer, writes, "By all human standards, Adele von Mises did an outstanding job educating her two sons. Each did far more than just excel his father. They both turned out to be scientific geniuses: Ludwig in the social sciences and Richard in the natural sciences. Ample administrations of motherly love provided the foundation for their astounding achievements. But there was more. Adele taught her sons to care for others. She taught them to be modest and frugal. She taught them to honor truth and virtue more than the encomiums of the world. She taught them the art of writing. And she taught them always to strive for excellence."

Around 1929, Adele Mises dictated her reminiscences of her girlhood in Brody to a relative. A portion of her memoir appears here with the kind permission of her great-grand-nephew, John Kallir, who translated from the German.

Adele Mises Remembers . . .

A Day in the House of My Parents


Adele Mises, 1858 - 1937

The institution of "Settlements," originating in England, is based on the idea that, in order to help people, one should come to understand their living conditions from personal experience. Thus, volunteers would move from their elegant quarters to the slums to share and observe the lives of their protégés for a while.

For us in Brody, that was not necessary. The entire city was one big Settlement, where rich and poor lived in close proximity.

At that time, Brody had about 18,000 Jewish inhabitants, many of whom lived in very poor circumstances after a brief period of prosperity during the Crimean War. The situation deteriorated further when the Free Trade Zone was abolished in 1879. True, Brody experienced a modest improvement with the beginnings of industry, such as steam mills, spinning mills, and sawmills. None of them, however, was successful, with the exception of the steam mill which our dear father established as a stock company.

The few merchants and bankers who had remained wealthy (even though they, too, had suffered substantial losses) were fully aware of the responsibility to aid their less fortunate fellow citizens. This generosity was apparent even in the design of their houses. There were no locked doors, to be opened only by ringing a bell. Doors and gates stood wide open, everyone had access to everyone. If the door to our dining room was occasionally locked so we could enjoy a quiet lunch, as soon as we heard the bell one of us would run to the door to find out who was the supplicant (as was usually the case).

I remember my aunt Halberstam angrily remarking to her sister (my dear mother-in-law): "You heartless Lembergers" (there was always an antagonism between Brody and Lemberg) "you sit behind closed door and care about nothing at all!" Actually, my mother-in-law also came from Brody and was compassionate and charitable. The accusation was most unjust.

Of course, in Lemberg people had bells and locked their front doors, but the back door to the kitchen remained open just as in Brody. During the ten years I spent in Lemberg, I had plenty of opportunity to come in contact with poor people. True, sometimes things got out of hand, even in Brody. For example, early in the morning before breakfast, someone might burst in with the alarming news, so-and-so had died and there was no money for tachrichim (burial clothes). Then, of course, such deficiency had to be remedied right away!

It would be somewhat of a relief when a child appeared later on, holding a glass and begging for a little maline serp (raspberry syrup) or angemachts (stewed fruit) to refresh a sick person. When those requests were made on a Thursday or Friday, they aroused a suspicion that the angemachts collected in several houses were destined for the Sabbath Kugel, rather than for the refreshment of a patient. Nevertheless, the women of Brody remained tolerant. Only in summer they might complain because they had to make such a lot of preserves to provide enough in the winter.

A little while later in the morning, nursing mothers would send their messengers to fetch one of those hearty broths, with a piece of chicken in it, that our dear grandma kept simmering on her stove. The containers could not be used again, for grandmother would not "mix" with anyone else, so new small pots had to be purchased just for that purpose.

Then would appear the unter belfers from the talmud torah to get glimmering charcoal for the fayertops (fire pots) on which the Jischke (women who squatted in the streets)[1] warmed their feet. According to our servants' firm superstition, glimmering charcoal was not supposed to be given out if there was a pregnant woman, or a hen sitting on her eggs, in the household. In my house in Lemberg, that occurred rather frequently.

In the afternoon, a lot of activity went on in our dining room. The dining table was pulled out to its full length, and dresses and shirts for orphan children were altered and handed to poor seamstresses. Occasionally, too, women (Jewish women, of course) who took in boarders would come from the surrounding countryside to have their wards thoroughly inspected — especially their heads! Once, two lovely women presented themselves to ask for a newborn infant. They were mother and daughter. Both had given birth at the same time, but the daughter's child had died. She now took her little brother to her breast, while her mother accepted an unknown baby.

So, you see, the memories of my youth all relate to charitable activities. They occupied our parents' lives so completely that we children naturally became involved with them as well from an early age. Thus, we had a favorite job on Saturday evenings (shabbes z'nachts). Given a few sheets of paper, we had to cut out regular rectangles and line them up on the table. Then mama came with a box of Russian tea and a small, green round-bottomed glass with which she measured exact amounts of tea onto our papers. We folded them into little packages and tied them with string. The same number of papers were filled with bits of chopped sugar (sugar cubes did not exist in those days) and also tied into packages. On Sunday morning, a hospital employee came with a big basket to pick up the tea, the sugar, a sum of money, a pack of stamped cards[2] and a basket of rolls.

The Jewish Hospital had been established and funded in perpetuity by our granduncle Judel Nathansohn. It was equipped and managed according to the best principles of the times, including a rule that patients could be discharged only on Sundays, unless they demanded a different day. The humanitarian reasoning was to allow those poor people a week's time to find a job. To tide them over the first, difficult days, each received, in addition to the tea and sugar, 20 Kreuzer [pennies], two large loaves of white bread, and a voucher for a quarter pound of meat which they usually saved until Saturday when my dear mother would redeem it. At first, this project was supported by voluntary contributions. Later, my dear mother was able to recruit a wealthy benefactor, Reb Schimen Dische, who set aside a fund in his will to cover the costs which, by the way, were not very high.

On Sunday morning, my mother's cousin, Brandele Kallir, distributed these gifts in the hospital. The wife of the parliamentary deputy Nathan Kallir, Brandele was the sister of the present, and daughter of the former, rabbi of Brody. She had no children of her own and was a warmhearted, deeply religious woman. They say people in Brody still regard her grave as that of a saint and pray there for her intercession.

During a period of 50 years, my granduncle Mayer Kallir was honorary chairman of the hospital. Staffed entirely by Jewish physicians, with support from the people, the hospital's policies were extraordinarily humane. For example, they instituted a seemingly quite insignificant little practice not found in any other hospital, as far as I know.

In all hospitals, the cleaning and fixing of wards, beds and patients begins very early in the morning to make sure everything is in good order when the doctors make their rounds. Naturally then, the kitchen only begins to function several hours later, so that the patients receive their breakfast very late, possibly after a sleepless and painful night.

Now in Brody there existed the custom, introduced probably by a particularly humane doctor, to serve each patient as the very first thing, before the attendants turned to other tasks, a glass of "water and milk"; i.e., a mixture of 2/3 boiling water and 1/3 milk sweetened with sugar. This involved hardly any effort and very little cost, while being appreciated by the patients as highly refreshing and mucolytic.

In Vienna, people who've been patients in the very best hospitals told me that the early morning hours are especially disagreeable because all sorts of procedures are performed before they've had a chance to moisten their dried-out throats. I think it would be so simple to introduce this lovely custom everywhere.

One of the most important charities in our native city was a drive quite incorrectly known as the "potato raffle." Weeks before Pesach, the town was seized by feverish excitement. First of all, tickets or "chances" had to be produced: slips of paper with an imprint I no longer remember, plus the year and a number. Since each ticket cost only 20 Kreuzer, huge amounts of raffle tickets had to be sold to achieve a halfway decent return. Tickets were sold not just in Brody but all over the world. Wherever Brody people lived, even if they had emigrated decades ago, in Lemberg, Vienna, Leipzig, Hamburg, London, etc., the familiar little papers would flutter down, to be received and bought willingly. We too, even after long residence in Vienna, still received a great many of those tickets, to be followed a few weeks later by the monstrosities which we had won.

After the tickets came the roundup of prize donations. At first, they were supposed to be "products of female skills." But people became lazy after a while and began to donate other objects, especially faferkes, miniatures made of porcelain, inkwells, ash trays, figurines — and of course not those charming Meissen dolls found in many homes as souvenirs from the Leipzig Fair, nor products of the Vienna Manufacture, but rather awful junk of unknown origin.

Yet even the handmade prizes displayed a truly grandiose lack of taste. I, too, have them on my conscience; as, for example, a paper lampshade depicting a ghastly bird with a glass eye, which I had ordered from Lemberg. This prize object found its way back to Lemberg. My brother-in-law Max, who had been present at the purchase of the eye, kept teasing me about it for many years.

Another time I donated green curtain tassels, which I had wound artistically around a thick pencil and which also looked quite hideous. The guilty party in all those crimes was our handicrafts teacher, the wife of dear Mr. Löwissohn, who combined outstanding technical skills with a catastrophic absence of taste. Unfortunately, only the latter was passed on to her pupils. The result of all this was that most of the lucky winners donated their prizes in the following year, so that the same objects appeared as prizes year after year. As another result, when old Brodyers come face to face with something particularly tasteless, they're apt to exclaim: "Aha! The potato Raffle!"

Mises Tee: $11 What he said: $20

Now, when all those lovely things had been assembled, a house had to be selected for the drawing of the Raffle. This was an important social event, which took place in the home of one of the committee members, including our house on one occasion.

The last drawing I remember was in the home of Dwoirale (Deborah) Minz, the grandmother of my present-day family physician. Mrs. Minz was socially very ambitious and her display accordingly ostentatious. At the head of the tables loaded with prizes stood two urns, from which two festively dressed children had to pick the rolled up tickets and hand them to Mrs. Minz. She was very excited, her face was purple, her spectacles were crooked and her announcements were garbled: "Number 2300! And the winner is . . . number 12!" We couldn't stop laughing, but she noticed nothing because she was so excited!

But of course all that was intended for a good purpose: to provide potatoes for poor people, whose Pesach meal consisted of little else other than matzo. In the weeks before Pesach families received 1/8, 1/4 or 1/2 Koretz (korzec, a Polish measure) of potatoes, depending on the size of the family. A few days before Pesach the potatoes were unloaded in warehouses and then the distribution could begin. Here again, the children were enlisted. Of course, only the girls; the boys couldn't miss school and their mothers were busy in the kitchen. Barricaded behind massive tables in the entrance of the warehouse, we would receive the vouchers and announce the proper amounts to the "carriers." Occasionally, there'd be trouble. Some recipients might feel discriminated against or question our ability to read; perhaps it should have been 1/4 and not 1/8? By and large, though, it went smoothly; the people were grateful and they rather liked us. I can remember only one unpleasant incident. In a time of steeply rising prices, bread that had been rolled rather than kneaded was made available at cost. With my two girl friends, Mathilda (later my sister-in-law) and Sophie (later Strisower), I sat in front of the store when a bunch of sinister fellows attempted to storm the place and steal the bread. The hefty carriers standing behind us quickly restored order; only we were a little bit scared.

During another time of shortages, my dear father instituted the distribution of so-called "Rumford soups." Much later, in Vienna, I came across a recipe for those soups which he must have obtained somewhere in Germany. The ingredients were barley, peas, beans, potatoes, etc. cooked in a big kettle out-of-doors. Once there was an accident; the thermometer attached to the kettle broke, the mercury ran into the soup, which had to be discarded, setting up a big outcry among the hungry people.

I also learned to distinguish between a shortage and a famine. According to Jewish law, it is permissible to eat rice and beans on Pesach in times of famine. One time, when prices were extremely high, the town council of Brody wanted to take advantage of that law to feed the poor. A rabbi was consulted, who refused to give his permission. A famine, he explained, exists only when no food at all is available at any price. But if food was just more expensive it would be wrong to replace it with unlawful products just because they were cheaper. He was not inclined to make things easier or cheaper for the rich and, of course, he had his way.

Translation © John Kallir, 1999.


John Kallir, a native of Vienna, was the founder of Kallir, Philips, Ross, a leading advertising agency specializing in the pharmaceutical field. He holds a Master's Degree in modern history from Columbia University. Now retired, he is associated with the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. Send him mail. Comment on the blog.

B.K. Marcus works for the Mises Institute.

1. The "women who squatted in the streets" were probably street vendors who squatted behind their wares. Ed.

2. "Stamped cards" probably refers to vouchers of some sort. Ed.

Other Sources:

ShtetLinks Site for Brody.

The Last Knight of Liberalism, forthcoming biography of Ludwig von Mises, by Jörg Guido Hülsmann.