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Home | Library | Ludwig's Mother: In Her Own Words

Ludwig's Mother: In Her Own Words

December 9, 2005

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.


Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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