Reinach Remembrance Laudatory Speech



Reinach Remembrance Speech, Langemark 16 November 2017

Who was Adolf Reinach? I have been asked this question many times over the nearly 19 years I have studied, translated and written about this man. I could address this question with his biographical details, the events of his life that ultimately ended with his death here in the Flanders region, but that doesn’t really answer the question properly or begin to explain his importance. Many of these details are also in the souvenir booklet we have prepared for you.  (PDF of the booklet can be found below.)

First and foremost, Adolf Reinach was a philosopher in every sense of the word. He discovered Plato while at grammar school and was immediately gripped by the content and style, and it was then he decided on his course of study at university. The analysis of words, expressions, and meaning was very much essential to his approach on any topic. Philosophy informed his other university studies, those being law and psychology. His 1905 PhD dissertation was titled ‘On the Concept of Causality in the Criminal Code’, and it explored the relationship between psychology and law while attempting to tackle the problem of knowing the intentions of law-makers when we only have their words to go by. First a student of Theodor Lipps and later Edmund Husserl, he became a phenomenologist (simply put, a philosopher who seeks to investigate and understand the structures of consciousness and in relation to our experience of the world around us). Here, Reinach utilizes both Plato and Aristotle, and his philosophy becomes elevated: phenomenology provides him with the tools for describing experience, as well as a method, and he sees the door open to a world of entities – social acts like promises, jurisprudence, ethics, etc. He lived this love of Plato and Aristotle right to the end of his life, on this day in 1917.

On the battlefield from 1916-1917, he probed the question of the experience of soldiers at his camp who experienced a forewarning of their death. After overhearing a conversation between a staff sergeant and an infantryman about soldiers who predicted their own death and it happened that same day, he seeks to understand this experience and possibly discover knowledge about it. He isn’t willing to give into superstition, nor is he willing to write off the experience as one resulting purely from stress. He writes,

in me a world ascends, for a long time, long immersed in anything but the suffocating activity of the soldier in war. What are proper forewarnings? … Whether forewarning carries justice or truth in itself, I do not have the means to say; it is impossible to say before I know what its proper essence is…. However, already the desire of the phenomenologist is awakened in me, to single out from the fullness of the appearance the structure, to hold it, to let it sink in and with it, what so far only the word meaning was acquainted with, henceforth it is to achieve intuitively the essence itself.

Through the rough notes, he develops some characteristics of forewarning: 1. It occurs suddenly and abruptly, 2. It has certainty and necessity about it, 3. In relation to the last point, one is helpless and cannot control their demise, 4. The experience is very detailed and specific, and 5. It is individual, personal and unique, and thus it is not accessible to others.

It’s worth noting, in a sort of dark irony, Edith Stein remembers Reinach referring to his closest circle of friends that included herself as “mourners in the first rank” when he visited home on furlough for Christmas 1916. It often makes me wonder if he had a forewarning of his death.

The other rough notes from his days at the Front are on the topic of religion, investigating the structure of religious experience as well as the nature of Das Absolute. These notes relate to the experience of forewarning, in that Reinach calls the experience of God “experience-immanent knowledge” meaning:

To be judged quite differently … is a perception in relation to knowledge of actuality insofar as the latter must always refer back to the perception for its verification. There is, after all, even in the perception a taking-as-real, though not an actual knowledge. Quite otherwise is the taking-as-reality in feeling oneself sheltered by God; logically speaking, the former is the presupposition for the latter. However, no one would draw a logical conclusion from this. It is rather immanently contained in the sense of the experience itself. Here we must separate two aspects: on the one side the knowledge of the being-sheltered, and on the other side the knowledge of the being-there of God, i.e., immediate and mediate immanent knowledge.

When one feels sheltered by God, that knowledge is verified in every moment of feeling ‘being-sheltered’ and is not something that can be called objective knowledge: being-sheltered cannot be known or understood apart from she who experiences being-sheltered; it is a kind of knowledge that only can be known (in the strictest sense) by the experiencer. Hence, like forewarning, the experience of being-sheltered by God is subjective, an individual knowledge disclosed through the feeling of being-sheltered in which I experience myself as in a relationship with God. Not only do these notes help shed light on Reinach’s incomplete discussion of forewarning, but they also help one to understand his religious conversion. During furlough in 1916, Reinach along with his wife converted from Judaism to Protestantism. When reading his explorations and descriptions of being sheltered by God, I cannot help but think that this feeling he describes so beautifully is what got him through his days on the field in Passchendaele and other difficult battles. Until war, there was no mention of religion or God in any of Reinach’s notes.

In a letter to his good friends, the Conrads, Reinach said: “I believe that phenomenology can provide that which the new Germany and the new Europe stand in need of, I believe that a great future lies open to it…” and while the exact meaning he had in mind isn’t known, one can see his passion for philosophy and his faith that it could help aid in the post-war rebuilding and mindset.

The second important thing to know about Reinach was that he was a good man, well-respected and adored by all who knew him. In his eulogy for Reinach, Husserl wrote that German philosophy had sustained a severe loss with the death of Reinach, and we see phrases of high praise like “what a wealth of brilliant ideas were at his disposal” and that his writings contained “a wealth of concentrated insights and worthy of the most fundamental study.” Reinach was Husserl’s student, colleague and dear friend, and sometimes his peacemaker. Husserl could be a strong personality at times. One instance of this happened during WWI, when there was a dispute over a manuscript written by Hedwig Conrad-Martius that Husserl took issue with. Hedwig wrote to Reinach on the field about the squabble, and Reinach set to work settling it, and over the course of a few months and some letters to both parties, the issue was resolved peacefully.

When you read the words of his students, the most notable example being Edith Stein, you can feel how much they admired and respected him. Many times Stein says in her incomplete autobiography that the moments spent in Reinach’s study speaking with him or in his seminars were, “impossible to express how much joy and gratitude I felt.” It is important to also note that Reinach supported and encouraged his female students, at a time when many male professors were not in favour of women matriculating and attending classes at university. His respect for women was definitely a part of his core personality and present from an early age, but I also believe his wife, Anna, had some influence here as well. She was a brilliant, well-educated woman. In 1899, she was one of three female students of the newly founded Stuttgart Mädchengymnasium, graduating with a high school diploma in 1904. In that same year, by royal decree, women were granted the right to regular enrolment at University of Tübingen, and she earned her doctorate there in 1907 with a thesis on the spectral lines in magnetic fields in atomic physics. The Reinachs were described by students like Stein as a loving, warm and intelligent couple with a home that was always welcoming. After Reinach’s death, Edith and Anna became very close friends. Because of Anna’s great strength and faith after losing her husband, Edith credits her largely for her own conversion to Catholicism.

The last thing I can say about Adolf Reinach is that he was proud, maybe to a fault, but nonetheless proud to be a German. He and so many German intellectuals immediately volunteered for the army with great enthusiasm when war was declared, even attempting to exercise pressure to be admitted as quickly as possible. In a conversation with Edith Stein and Fritz Kaufmann about his enlistment in the army, Adolf Reinach said, “it is not that I must go; rather I’m permitted to go.” When he was awarded his iron cross, he describes it as the proudest moment of his life and, especially when taking into consideration the difficult times and near-death experiences, it grew more in meaning for him. He was proud to serve his country, even when the things he witnessed were horrific and painful. He witnessed some of his students die in battle, along with thousands of other young talented men. Most letters express a hope that the war would be over soon, and hints of his struggle to survive both mentally and physically. However, he maintains that Germany must win.
In his letters, there is also often surprising optimism, and we see this in his desire to return to classes, making future plans for trips, and of course plans to see his friends again soon. I can only imagine, had he survived the war, that what happened in Germany with the rise of Nazism would have disappointed and hurt him greatly. To see your beloved country adopting an ideology that describes Jews as Non-German and a like plague spread by rats is a slap in the face to your personal identity, your honour, and sacrifices.

I will end with some words from Husserl’s eulogy for Reinach, as I find them most fitting here:

In the war itself he devoted his powers with never failing willingness to the fatherland. But his religious disposition was too deeply afflicted by the monstrous war experiences for him not to have had to venture an attempt at the time of a relatively quiet service at the front to develop his conception of the world (Weltanschauung) in the philosophy of religion. I understand that he in fact made his way to clarity satisfying to him: the enemy bullet struck one who was composed, fully in agreement with himself and God.

Thank you very much for being here with me to celebrate the life (and death) of Adolf Reinach.


Reinach Remembrance

100 years ago today, there was a small and quiet funeral service held in the Göttingen City Cemetery for Adolf Reinach.  It was attended by his widow, Anna, and his closest friends and students, namely Edith Stein (who was also representing Edmund Husserl) and Dietrich von Hildebrand (who gave the eulogy).  The death of Reinach on 16 November 1917 in WWI and this New Year’s Eve funeral event were described in a letter by Stein to Roman Ingarden as difficult days that “have left me incapable of happiness.  At the top of the list of all the things that presently depress me is the fact that I lack the strength to keep my sorrow to myself…” (Self-Portrait in Letters: Letters to Roman Ingarden, p. 88)  While his death affected her terribly, it was the steadfast faith in God that Anna exhibited during her grieving that positively affected the course of Stein’s life. Shortly before her own death in 1941 or 1942, Stein told Johannes Hirschmann, a German Jesuit working in Holland, that it was witnessing Anna’s faith in the months after Adolf’s death that ultimately led to her decision to convert to Christianity.  It is quite amazing to think that both Reinachs were able to exercise such an incredible influence on Stein and in deeply life-altering ways: one academically, and one religiously.

When you read the words of Stein, and also von Hildebrand, Ingarden, and Husserl you can feel how much they respected and admired him, and the profound sense of loss they felt when he died. The published and rough writings convey clearly what a brilliant mind Reinach had, but the sentiments and descriptions of those closest to him tell the story of his character and heart. He was a good man.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Friends of Flanders Fields Museum invited me to hold a remembrance for Adolf Reinach in the Langemark German Military Cemetery on 16 November 2017. Given that I have studied Reinach for nearly 19 years now and that, like his students and friends, he has influenced my academic life in manifold ways and I have come to adore him, I happily and with the greatest sense of honour accepted the invitation. Pieter Trogh, my colleague and friend at the Flanders Fields Museum, set about planning the service particulars, such as the advertisement, invitations to important people, and translating my text into Dutch for the pamphlet attendees would take away. He felt that holding the ceremony at the cemetery at 4:30pm, around sunset, would be fitting. We crossed our fingers tightly that the weather would behave. Pieter and I were also of the same mind that this remembrance should not have a playing of the Last Post, since that’s British and very military, and thus not appropriate for a German soldier who was an academic first and foremost. Luckily Pieter has some very talented and creative friends at the Flanders Fields Museum, and one such fellow – Dries Chaerle – agreed to play a lovely German folk song by Friedrich Silcher called “Morgen muss ich fort von hier” on an autoharp.  I was told that after the remembrance it is tradition that you gather with the Friends of the Flanders Fields Museum at a small local pub for a drink.

The day of the remembrance Pieter and I spent the morning and early afternoon traveling around the Ieper Salient to cemeteries and battle sights.  The weather couldn’t have been better – sunny and not too windy or chilly. We drove over to Langemark with some colleagues from the museum, and upon arriving noticed that the cemetery was somewhat busy, there were small groups walking about and then several landscapers using leaf blowers. We began the ceremony at a far corner of the cemetery to get away from the noise, the landscapers had a contract and couldn’t stop until dark.  There were about 20 people there, most were members of the Friends of Flanders Fields, and then a few colleagues from the museum and someone from the Municipality of Langemark-Poelkapelle too – a bigger crowd than I expected, and they were such lovely, warm people.  The head of the Friends of Flanders Fields Museum spoke, then Pieter read a letter from the German Ambassador in Brussels (he couldn’t attend but sent some lovely remarks about Reinach) and then he introduced me.  I spoke about Reinach for roughly 10 – 15 mins, a mix of some philosophy (keeping it light for a general audience), some bits from Reinach’s battlefield letters, and some comments from Stein and Husserl about his character. I really tried to demonstrate to the crowd why I find him so important and worthy of 19 years of study. (I will share my laudatory speech in a future blog post.) With the leaf blowers now working far enough away, we walked over to the Comrades Grave (where his body is said to be, according to the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge), near the Nachtrag stone where Reinach’s name is listed. Dries spoke a few words about the Silcher song, and then performed beautifully.  Pieter and I then laid some wreaths together at the foot of the Nachtrag stone, one from the Friends of Flanders Fields Museum and one from the Municipality of Langemark-Poelkapelle. Then we concluded the remembrance, chatted a little and shook hands with everyone, and headed over to the pub to warm up.

It was a wonderful event and I am so grateful to the Friends of Flanders Fields Museum and my colleagues/friends at the Flanders Fields Museum for their efforts and willingness to have this remembrance. Reinach remains celebrated and adored 100 years later. I think Anna, Stein, von Hildebrand, and the others would be happy to know their dear Reinach is not forgotten.

Wo ist Reinach?

Adolf Reinach vor seinem Schreibtisch sitzend (Göttingen). Photo courtesy of Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München/Bildarchiv.

One thing I have found about researching Adolf Reinach is that things are never dull; I could be reading an article of his for the 20th time and suddenly notice something I hadn’t before, or I find a rough note or a letter that isn’t translated yet that deserves to be, or some new story about his life surfaces.  I’ve learned to be flexible – Dead people can hold a lot of secrets and surprises!  Some have mysteries ….

After my recent Passendaele post, I was contacted by a very kind German woman who is associated with the Edith Stein Society (thank you, Mary!).  She had read my post and had a very interesting story to share with me.  According to Edith Stein and Dietrich von Hildebrand, Reinach’s body was returned to Germany in December 1917 at the request of his widow, Anna.  There was a small, quiet funeral service held on 31st December 1917, attended by Stein, von Hildebrand, Anna, and a few others, at the Göttingen City Cemetery.  Stein was asked by Husserl to represent him, and von Hildebrand gave the eulogy.  The grave stone was designed by Adolf von Hildebrand, Dietrich’s father who was a famous sculptor and author.

Reinach’s grave in the Göttingen City Cemetery. Photo taken by Mary Somers Heidhues.

I was completely surprised by this detail, as you can imagine. When I went in search of this story, I found confirmation in a footnote in the book Edith Stein Letters to Roman Ingarden, but prior to this I had never heard this story (in the nearly 20 years I have spent studying Reinach).  The biographical details I had read by Barry Smith, Karl Schuhmann, and then Eberhard Avé-Lallemant mentioned the date he died on the battlefield but never where his body was buried. This has created a very interesting situation, since Reinach’s body seems to be in two places.  Where actually lies Reinach’s body?  The Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission) records show that he is in the Kameraden Grab (Comrades Grave) at the Langemarck German Military Cemetery (as I described in a previous post and with photos) and then there is this personal story of his students that he is buried in the Göttingen City Cemetery.  Where will I visit to place my flowers in remembrance?  I might go to both places, just so I’m covered.

Kameraden Grab at the Langemarck Military Cemetery. Photo taken by Edouard Jolly.

So, my first step was to email the Volksbund, relay this story to them, and see if they can find any paperwork on the repatriation to Germany (and to in the very least to make them aware of this issue).  I am waiting on their response still.  I contacted a friend at the military archives in Freiburg, and he told me they have no record of it – to email the Volksbund.  When I relayed the contents of my email exchange to my colleague Pieter at the Flanders Fields Museum, he was also surprised. He told me that if the Volksbund could find the paperwork, it would also give us other details, such as where he was killed exactly and possibly where he was first buried.  The other source of Pieter’s surprise concerned the repatriation itself: it was not very common that bodies were repatriated, and definitely not common during the war (Reinach’s body would have been moved while the war was still ongoing).  He told me that the Commonwealth Graves Commission commemorates as close as possible to the spot of death, and the French had a law voted in 1920, to give families the choice to repatriate the bodies of their beloved to their place of origin, but for the Germans (as far as he knows) there was not such a regulation.  If Reinach’s body was repatriated, the only reason we both can think of is the influence and network of Edmund Husserl. For example, when his son, Wolfgang, was injured in battle in 1915, Husserl was able to go visit him in the hospital at the Western Front.  This was not a common thing, but a privilege awarded to few.  It stands to reason that Husserl would have used his influence to have Reinach returned home, since he was a brilliant student, close friend, and a phenomenological colleague.  Even with their theoretical differences, Husserl treated Reinach and his wife like family.

With my commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the death of Reinach coming up this November at the Flanders Fields Museum, I can only hope we find the answer to this mystery.  I am hopeful, but with so much regimental and military records lost during WWII I may never have the absolute confirmation I want.

Reinach’s Fronturlaub

hedwigconradmartinus Edmund_Husserl_1900 cropped-100317.jpg







101 years ago today, Reinach took his Fronturlaub, his much deserved vacation from the Western Front of WWI.  According to the Reinach-Chronik Schuhmann prepared, his vacation lasted from the 4th to the 20th of June 1915. Reinach tells Hedwig Conrad-Martius in a letter of his vacation dates and his plans to spend some of it in Göttingen.




To Hedwig Conrad-Martius in Bad Wörishofen

Dear Doctor!                                                                                                       I will get a vacation! On the 3rd, or 4th, or 5th of June! Please send your entire manuscript to Göttingen, Steinsgraben 28. Do you believe that I am glad/joyous? It is now again peaceful for us – but the situation is always changing. I am so glad that you are still in Wörishofen. I always think that the war will be over soon – don’t you? The area here is gorgeous in the spring.

Lots and lots of warm wishes, Your Reinach

The point of telling HCM was not only to share this joyous news and to begin to make plans to see her, Theodor Conrad (her husband and Reinach’s best friend), and other friends, but also to request that she send by post to his home her Jahrbuch manuscript (Zur Ontologie und Erscheinungslehre der realen Aussenwelt, 1916), so that he could read it over, comment on it, and advise her properly.  One could say that during this vacation, Reinach exchanged one battlefield for another – a war of words between phenomenologists. There may have been no bloodshed, but plenty of feelings were hurt and emotions ran hot. Some vacation!

In a later letter to the Conrads dated October 9th, 1915 (the first letter written after his vacation), Reinach recounts his feelings and resolution attempts in this ‘battle’ between Husserl and Conrad-Martius:

10. 09. 1915

To Theodor and Hedwig Conrad-Martius

Dear Conrads!

That you are surprised by my silence regarding a certain point, I understand well. And also you will understand my hesitation from this letter. I was afraid that what I wanted to say would make you sad, and so I put it off again and again. But the truth of the matter is it may not actually make you sad – let alone trouble our relationship -, if we looked at this a little more closely it’s just a trivial point of differing opinions. I think your behaviour in the Jahrbuch matter was not right. I have on hand both yours and Husserl’s letters, and I have carefully read them while in Göttingen. I’ve done so with the warmest prejudice for you, I need not say more. …We all know what Husserl is like. We know his hypersensitivity, as we also know his kindheartedness, his benevolence, and his devotion to his family. We also know that his kindness and benevolence have a razor-sharp edge at the point where he gets personally hurt or with his hypersensitivity he believes himself to be hurt. We have suffered through them all, but we have known that Husserl himself suffers most and regrets it from the heart. And when there are clashes with his character, we have to willingly concede. Only in this case, it seems to me that you failed to be compliant in ways we always agreed to. Concerning the matter, he is not entirely wrong. Your manuscript was pretty difficult to read, and arguably for Husserl’s eyes it was unreadable. The length of your work was further expanded beyond the intended and arranged size. Both are certainly not bad. But Husserl – then well into an irritable mood – had taken it personally and it ever increased his testiness. Here – it seems to me, – given the gratitude and respect that we all feel for him – you should have given in; You know how easy it is to win him over with a few kind words of apology. When he sent the manuscript off to Pfänder, he meant well. He knew Pfänder knew your work and that he assessed it extremely favourably. Now Pfänder has behaved with unfriendliness and impoliteness, which is not new to me about him. This harsh manner is difficult to handle: in short, unfriendliness and condescension and impoliteness. Anyhow, it added fuel to Husserl’s sensitivity that you contacted the co-editors. He saw it as a kind of appeal to a higher authority, and he attaches the greatest importance on being the editor. So, I found him then in Göttingen very bitter and hurt.  We had long discussions and I need only to assure you that I represented you in all things and I sought to settle antagonism whenever possible. The personal differences I take to be not so tragic. Husserl has had these differences with all of us – it all gets worse with this selfsame immoderateness – but nevertheless the actual consequences of this behaviour for our work concern me deeply.

By November of that same year, Reinach had successfully settled their dispute: Conrad-Martius’ manuscript was accepted for publication in Jahrbuch on the condition that Reinach would write a letter to her, the wording of which would allow Husserl to save face (beard and all). He was reluctant to write the letter – calling it an unfortunate letter – but Reinach knew it would bring peace and prosperity.

(Translation of these Reinach letters was carried out by myself and Dr. Thomas Vongehr in 2015)

His End is Our Beginning

Today in 1917 Reinach died on the battlefield just outside Diksmuide in Flanders, Belgium.

In a conversation with Edith Stein and Fritz Kaufmann about his enlistment in the army, Adolf Reinach said: “it is not that I must go; rather I’m permitted to go.” After Germany’s declaration of war on France in the summer of 1914, Reinach, like many German intellectuals, immediately volunteered for the army with great enthusiasm, even attempting to exercise pressure to be admitted as quickly as possible. He was recruited in his hometown of Mainz in mid-August, and after two weeks of training he was assigned to the Reserve Battery, specifically the 21st Field Artillery Regiment of the 21st Reserve Division under the command of his younger brother, Heinrich. This platoon consisted of two field guns.  By February of 1915, he was fighting in the trenches against France, and later he received the Iron Cross for his efforts during this time.  In a letter to Theodor Conrad and Hedwig Conrad-Martius postmarked 5. 11. 1915, he recounts the event:

Before, my brother and I were with 2 heavy field guns on Hill 191. We lost both the hill and the artillery. But we left the guns only when our infantry was already behind us and we were in danger of being shot at by our own artillery. When we went back to the battery we came across another German battery that was already abandoned by the gunners and we mounted the field guns and shot at the advancing Frenchmen until night fell. There were often terrible hours, in which one settled one’s accounts with life. But this was nevertheless the proudest time in my life. And that’s the reason why my Iron Cross, which I received exactly for days like these, means so much to me.”

After this courageous event, he was promoted to Assistant to the Sergeant Major of the 9th Battery of the 185th Field Artillery, a position more to his liking: “How much nicer it is to be the unit leader in an active regiment, instead of the section leader in a platoon of the Reserve Regiment.”  In a letter to Husserl dated 1. 12. 1915, he mentions he took part in “The Big Offensive” (also known as the Second Battle of Champagne) from 22 September – 6 November 1915.

By December of 1915, Reinach is stationed in Belgium.  In a letter to the Conrads dated 5. 12. 1915 he describes the beauty he is surrounded by.  He really seems to enjoy his 4 weeks in Beverloo, and his Sunday travels to Brussels, Antwerp or Leuven. Even the fighting seems almost enjoyable!  Later, in a letter to Conrad-Martius dated 24. 10. 1916, he writes:

Because all the components of the new-formation come from the Battle of the Somme, partly from the Battle of Verdun, and so at the moment we have calm, a large, nice, quiet town on a wooded hill with a wonderful view at our feet. I have very pleasant comrades, tolerable superiors and capable subordinates, and feel very comfortable. With the French we have tacit but strictly followed agreements.  To shoot in the mornings is considered impolite. Shooting time for respectable people is from 3 – 6. During nighttime you have to be quiet. Calibers larger than 9 or at most 12cm are frowned upon – it is delightful! Also the trenches are so peaceful that you believe that you have been relocated to the base.”

The last letter the Conrads receive from Reinach was dated 12. 11. 1917.  It was a very brief letter, the shortest he ever wrote to them and it contained a photograph. It said,

I am the man with the belly.”

4 days after this letter was posted Reinach died.

"I am the man with the Belly"
I am the man with the Belly

(Sincerest thanks to Dr. Thomas Vongehr for this picture and his assistance with translating the WWI letters between Reinach and the Conrads.)