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The Breslau Generation - from Breslau to Berlin.

The seven sons had become notable members of the Breslau community. Their children had a strong background for success in both business, and also sufficient affluence to take less business-like career paths if they chose. Their financial well-being seemed guaranteed. It is said that at the golden-wedding anniversary of one of their parents, each of the children found a check for half a million marks under their plate.

So three common features shaped the Breslau Cassirer children's' lives. First, backed by their considerable cultural and financial assets once they had moved to Berlin they flowered in that big and central city of Germany. Second, the freedom and preparation provided by these same things provided the conditions for what has become a striking feature of this and subsequent generations - the large numbers of descendants with higher degrees, and careers in universities. And finally, their lives were shaped profoundly by the two world wars, and in the case of the latter the rising anti-Semitism, the ascendancy of the Nazis, the holocaust, and the war itself which forced their exit from Germany and over the subsequent decade scattered them across the world with very little of their wealth, but still their often formidable capacities.

[Sources for the description that follows, and in some cases more material, may be found by following the highlighted person links]


Ernst Cassirer (a son of Eduard), born on July 28, 1874, in Breslau, was the most prominent of these younger Cassirers who strayed from what had been the traditional Cassirer entrepreneurial career to focus on intellectual pursuits. He was to become one of the most famous European philosophers of his generation.

Prof. Ernst Cassirer

"What we call nature... is a poem hidden behind a wonderful secret writing; if we could decipher the puzzle, we should recognize in it the odyssey of the human spirit, which in astonishing delusion flees from itself while seeking itself."
- Ernst Cassirer

In October 1880 Ernst entered the Johannes-Gymnasium in Breslau and was graduated in the spring of 1892 with highest honours. In the fall he entered university.At Berlin and Leipzig he studied jurisprudence and at Heidelberg, Berlin, and Munich, German philosophy and literature. On 14 July 1899, at the University of Marburg, he successfully defended his doctoral thesis on "Descarte's Critique of Mathematical and Natural Scientific Knowledge".

In 1902 Ernst married his first cousin Toni Bondy (daughter of Otto Bondy and Julie Cassirer). They were to stay together until his death. Toni Bondi has since written a book on "My life with Ernst Cassirer" (mein leben mit Ernst Cassirer, Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1981).

In Imperial Germany, university appointments were rarely given to Jews. In 1906, however, Cassirer was able to obtain the position of Privatdozent at the University of Berlin, a post he held for the next thirteen years. In October 1919 he assumed the chair of philosophy at the newly founded University of Hamburg. In 1930 he was elected Rector of the university. As with every other Cassirer the steady tide of rising anti-semitism fed so effectively by the Nazis, and the consequent increasing repression which were the early tremors of the holocaust, meant that not only was continuation of his position impossible, but it was necessary to leave Germany.

After his resignation from the University of Hamburg in May 1933, Cassirer accepted a position at Oxford University, where he lectured for two years. However, the difficulties of presenting sophisticated arguments in a second language, the foreign to Oxford European philosophic approaches and academic norms (such as speaking ex-cathedra without the expectation of challenge) made this a not very satisfying experience. In 1935 Ernst was offered and accepted a professorship at the University of Gothenburg and in the summer of 1941 Cassirer accepted an invitation to come to Yale University as a visiting professor. The US at the time was much more appreciative of European philosophy, and Ernst stayed at Yale until his death on April 13, 1945. His prolific and erudite writing continues to be of interest and is still cited in contemporary philosophy and social theory. (For more on Cassirer's intellectual work and its development click here (for the Cassirer Society web site) or click here (for the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry); for a complete bibliography of his works click here.)

The above tells us that Ernst was brilliant, but less of the character of the man. Perhaps the nicest account is from his daughter who loved him dearly and to whom he was clearly a loving father. But Anna could also see him without the rose coloured glasses of those who write biographies. Anna and he both loved classical music and she remembers walking down the street, holding hands with Ernst, as they sang a duet from a Mozart Opera.

For all his brilliance, recounted Anna,

My father thought very straight, but something else was missing. He had to write instructions for himself on how to fill a pen. He couldn't put on a tie. He would put milk bottles on the stove. the milk bottles would explode because the hot milk would expand. The direct experience was always missing. He was purely abstract.

Thus, we may conclude, that whatever Ernst's friend Albert Einstein gained from their friendship, it was not a clearer picture of applied physics.


Richard Cassirer (also a son of Louis) was born in 1868 in Breslau and became Professor of Neurology at Berlin University, a position which he continued to hold from 1912 to 1925, the year of his death.

Richard Cassirer

Professor Richard Cassirer by Max Liebermann

Richard Cassirer studied in Freiburg im Breisgau. He received his doctorate in 1891 and subsequently was assistant at the psychiatric clinic in Breslau under Karl Wernicke (1848-1905) until 1893. He then went on a sustained educational tour to Vienna in order to continue his studies, with Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902) and Heinrich Obersteiner (1847-1922) among his teachers. In 1895 he came to the Berliner Poliklinik für Nervenkranke as the assistant to Hermann Oppenheim (1858-1919). With R. Hirschfeld he directed this clinic from 1919 until his death in 1925.

Cassirer chiefly concerned himself with clinical neurology as well as the anatomy of the central nervous system; he investigated the vasomotor-trophical and in this regard succeeded in defining the acroasphyxia chronica. He also investigated the anatomy of the vegetative system, the bulbar and spinal marrow diseases, poliomyelitis chronica, multiple sclerosis, prognoses and indications of the operative treatment of lesions of the peripheral nerves, muscular atrophy, etc. His later years were mainly devoted to writing a new edition of Oppenheimer's textbook.

Drawing from Wiegert-Pal stain by Richard Cassirer (1910)  

The above somewhat dry biographical sketch, however, does little credit to the ways in which Richard Cassirer's science was in part molded by his history. In particular, it should be remarked that he took a special interest in the impact of war trauma. A fascinating example is readily available in evidence given by Professor Cassirer in the trial of Talaat Pasha. In this trial, Cassirer gives evidence as to the mental state of the defendant Soghomon Tehlirian who is accused of being guilty of having intentionally killed Talaat Pasha on Charlottenburgstrasse on March 15, 1921. But Cassirer argues that Tehlirian was not able to form a conscious sane decision to carry out the murder because of psychosis induced as a result of the massacre of his family and relatives. [For a fuller account click here]

On the occasion of Richard Cassirer's fiftieth birthday Paul Cassirer commissioned the above painting of Richard by the famous painter Max Liebermann. It was painted in 1918 and was presented to the Tate Gallery in London by Hans Cassirer, Richard's son, in 1963.

Kurt Goldstein (son of Rosalie Cassirer ) Kurt Goldstein was born on 6 November 1878 in Kattowicz, Upper Silesia, now in Poland After attending the local public school, he went to the "humanistic Gymnasium" in Breslau. 

Kurt Goldstein

Sketch of Kurt Goldstein

At the universities of Breslau and Heidelberg, Kurt studied philosophy and literature.  He studied medicine under Carl Wernicke, who stimulated his interest in aphasia, graduating M.D. in 1903.  He then became a post-doctoral assistant at the Frankfurt neurological institute, where he practiced comparative neurology in the neuropathological laboratory under Ludwig Edinger.  In 1906, he moved to Königsberg, where he worked in psychiatry and neurology, and became acquainted with the Würzburg school of experimental psychology, which emphasizes "imageless thought".

In 1914, Goldstein returned to Frankfurt as Edinger's first assistant.  He soon established his own Institute for Research on the After-Effects of Brain Injury.  His very productive collaboration with Adhémar Gelb, an experimental psychologist whose strong point was visual perception, also started here.  Goldstein succeeded Edinger in the Neurology chair at Frankfurt.  In 1930, he left Frankfurt for Berlin, where he became director of a large neuropsychiatric clinic and a professor at the university in the department of Neurology and Psychiatry.

In 1933, Goldstein was denounced to the Nazis by an assistant and charged with leftist sympathies and Jewishness.  Together with Eva Rothmann, a former student who was to become his wife, Goldstein went to The United States in 1935, at the age of 56.  He started a new career in New York at Columbia University, the New York Psychiatric Institute, and the Montefiori Hospital.  In 1938, he traveled to Boston to deliver the William James Lectures and from 1940 to 1945, he served as clinical professor of Neurology at Tufts University, Medford, Mass.  He then returned to New York because of his wife's illness. There he lived for a time with his first cousin Betty Falk (ne Cassirer) on Fifth Avenue.

In 1965, Goldstein suffered a stroke with right hemiplegia and global aphasia.  He died on September 19, three weeks after the onset, leaving over 200 publications, mostly in German and English and spanning six decades.  They include work on the relationship between circumscribed cortical injuries and sensory and motor defects, problems of perceptual disturbances and agnosia, cerebella function and its relation to tonus, localization on the cerebral cortex and the problem of aphasia.

Not every child is as well documented as those above and this is probably because, not surprisingly, not every child had quite the same impact. The above were not the only ones of the Breslau generation who took academic paths.

Kurt Cassirer (a son of Max Cassirer) provides an example. He is known to have replicated another theme in the Cassirers by studying art history. He was born in Danzig in 1883. It appears he went to School at the Joachimsthaler Gymnasium in 1902 and then studied art history at the universities of Freiburg, Munich, and Berlin where he received the PhD.  Dr. Adalbert Saurma from the University of Heidelburg has found in the files of the University of Basel Library what appear to be other details (for a Kurt Cassirer born in the same year - 26 Oct 1883 of Prussian nationality - and in the same place). His thesis was on 'Basic notions of aesthetics in the works of french architectual theorists, 1650-1780' ('Die aesthetischen Hauptbegriffe der franzoesischen Architektur-Theoretiker von 1650-1780') and his supervisor ('Doktorvater') was the renowned art historian Heinrich Woelfflin. The thesis was published as an 80 page booklet in 1909, in the year his exam took place.  Historian, Professor Peter Paret, notes that Kurt Cassirer also served in the war as a reserve lieutentant in the Hussars, and received the Iron Cross, 2nd class. Despite this decoration Kurt's son, Henry Cassirer, writes that Kurt passed the four years of war in the army without ever firing a shot.  Kurt seems not to have had an academic career, but in the 1920s was an art dealer in Rome.  Later he emigrated to the United Kingdom, and for a time or perhaps permanently lived in Wales.  He died in 1975.

In the New York Metropolitan Museum is the Francesco di Giorgio lunette "The Man of Sorrows with two Angels", ca.1470. It carries the label, Anonymous Gift, in memory of Kurt Cassirer, 1996 (1996.341). 

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Cassirers: Schwientochlowitz to Breslau;  Music, Publishing and Art; Continuing the Entrepeneurship; Daughters; The Scattered Generations