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Kate and Herman Hoerlin Collection

Identifier: AR 25540

Scope and Content Note

The Kate and Herman Hoerlin Collection documents the lives of this couple. The core of the collection consists of a copious amount of their letters to each other during their courtship, coinciding with the rise of Nazism; other documentation includes research correspondence and copies of official documents relating to their story as well as correspondence and other papers from their lives in the United States. The collection follows the original order established by Bettina Hoerlin; her detailed inventory is present in Series IV as is a seven-page description of the collection ("The Tietz/ Schmid/ Hoerlin Story") interspersed with biographical details that give an overview of the couple's lives. The collection culminated in the creation of Bettina Hoerlin's book, Steps of Courage: My Parents' Journey from Germany to America.

The first series of the collection contains the correspondence of Kate Schmid and Herman Hoerlin with each other. It includes about five hundred love letters between Kate Schmid and Herman Hoerlin (always referred to as Hoerlin) during their four year courtship, focusing on their relationship but also including details of their work and their efforts to receive permission to marry. Among many other topics mentioned in the letters are the growth of National Socialism in German society and its effects upon their lives, including Kate Schmid's classification as a Mischling and her many trips to Berlin to meet with government and Nazi Party officials regarding her status, permission to marry, and reparations for the death of her first husband Willi Schmid. Kate Schmid's friendships with other leading figures in cultural, intellectual and industrial circles of the time are referenced in the letters, among them Oswald Spengler, Karl Vossler, Peter Doerffler, Oswald Bumke, August Bostroem, Paul Reusch, Curt and Karl Haniel, Felix Hausdorff, William Furtwaengler and Pablo Casals. A smaller number of Hermann Hoerlin's letters to Kate Schmid are also present; they mention other well-known German mountain climbers and Nazi attempts to take over the 240,000 member German Austrian Alpine Club. Included in this series is a bound booklet with preliminary translations of the letters, a brief preface, accompanying notes, and a list of significant individuals. A few letters in this series are from others to Kate or Herman.

Series II: Research Initiatives contains Bettina Hoerlin's accumulated archival research. Included is her own research correspondence with organizations and other researchers as well as copies of official correspondence from German government officials relating to the marriage of Kate Schmid and Herman Hoerlin, the death of Willi Schmid and reparations for his murder.

The third series holds documentation of Kate and Herman Hoerlin's lives in the United States. Much of this material relates to Herman Hoerlin's professional career, such as his time at Agfa Ansco in Binghamton, his search for other employment and his years at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. Documentation of his wartime life includes objections about Nazi sympathizers employed at Agfa Ansco and resistance to working with these individuals, his aid to the U.S. Army by providing mountaineering maps of the Alps, and restrictions placed upon the family as "enemy aliens." This series also holds personal correspondence with Kate and Herman Hoerlin, information on Kate Hoerlin's pension from her first husband, and one folder pertaining to her musical interests, including notes on time spent with cellist Pablo Casals.


  • 1932-1983; 2003-2013
  • Majority of material found within 1934-1955


Language of Materials

The collection is in German and English with a small amount of French.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Readers may access the collection by visiting the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History. We recommend reserving the collection in advance; please visit the LBI Online Catalog and click on the "Reserve" button.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Biographical Note

Käte (also Kaethe) Tietz was born Jewish and converted to Catholicism when marrying the music critic Willi Schmid (Wilhelm Eduard Schmid) in 1921. The couple had three children, Duscha, Hedwig and Thomas. In 1934 Willi Schmid was murdered by Nazis during the Night of the Long Knives ("Röhm Putsch") in a case of mistaken identity. Prior to his death Willi Schmid had been working, along with his wife, as press liaison for the ill-fated 1934 German Nanga Parbat Expedition; following his death Käte Schmid had sole responsibility for this role. It led to her coming into contact with and becoming close to the world-record holding mountaineer and physicist Hermann Hoerlin.

Over the next four years Käte Schmid advocated for reparations for the death of her first husband and was supported in this process by Fritz Wiedemann, first adjutant of Adolf Hitler. Later, she and Hermann Hoerlin used such connections to receive permission to marry in Germany – as a "Mischling" under the Nuremberg Laws, a marriage with the "Aryan" Hoerlin was rarely allowed, especially by the time they married in Berlin on July 12, 1938. On August 9, 1938 they left Germany on the S.S. Columbus for the United States, where Hermann Hoerlin had secured a position in Binghamton, New York with the firm Agfa Ansco, an American subsidiary of I.G. Farben. The following year they had a daughter, Bettina. During World War II Hermann Hoerlin aided the war effort by providing the U.S. Army with his mountaineering maps of the Alps, including the Berechtesgarden area. In 1944 the Hoerlins became American citizens, and altered the spelling of their first names.

In 1953 Herman Hoerlin accepted a position as a group leader at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico. His research focused on the environmental effects and detection of high altitude nuclear testing. In 1963 he testified before the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy on his research. They later moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Herman Hoerlin died in 1983; Kate Hoerlin in 1985.


1 Linear Feet


The bulk of the Kate and Herman Hoerlin Collection consists of the personal correspondence between Kate Tietz Schmid (later Hoerlin) and Herman Hoerlin in prewar Germany, 1934-1938. In addition are documents pertaining to Kate Schmid's insistence of reparations from the Third Reich for the wrongful murder of her first husband Willi Schmid and to the complexities of Kate Hoerlin's classification as a Mischling under the Nuremberg Laws, including how this factored into Kate and Hermann Hoerlin's efforts to wed when a Jewish/ Aryan marriage was forbidden. Other professional and official documents are included.

Other Finding Aid

Included with this collection was both a detailed (partially item-level) eighteen-page inventory and a seven-page description of the collection with biographical information, both by Bettina Hoerlin. These materials have been retained in the collection and form Series IV.

Related Material

The papers of this collection were used in the creation of the book Steps of Courage: My Parents' Journey from Nazi Germany to America, by Bettina Hoerlin (AuthorHouse: 2011; second edition 2012). The Leo Baeck Institute Library holds a copy of this book. In the book, Bettina Hoerlin describes her discovering at age 14 her Jewish background. Further information on this book may be found at The German translation of this book, titled Courage: Im Schatten des Nanga Parbat 1934, Die wahre Geschichte des Bergsteigers Hermann Hoerlin und einer lebensgefaehrlichen Liebe, is due to be published in March 2014 (Tyrolia Verlag).

Various materials by Herman (Hermann) Hoerlin may be found at the archives of the German Alpine Club (Historisches Alpenarchive der Alpenvereine in Deutschland, Österreich und Südtirol). Such items include correspondence, including of the 1939 Andes Expedition of Hans Kinzl and the 1934 Nanga Parbat Expedition, manuscripts and an extensive photographic collection of Hoerlin's first ascents to the Alps, Himalayas and Andes. This archive also contains correspondence of Kate (Käthe) Schmid regarding the Nanga Parbat expedition and photographs of her and Willi (Wilhelm) Schmid.

Regarding Kate Hoerlin’s connection to Fritz Wiedemann, Hitler's personal adjutant and subsequently German Consul to San Francisco (1939-1941), references can be found in the Yale University archives (Sir William Wiseman Papers, MS 666). This archive focuses on Wiedemann's clandestine anti-Hitler activities in 1940, his post-war detention in Nuremberg and his subsequent exoneration from criminal charges.

Some correspondence between skier Hannes Schneider, the so-called Father of Modern Skiing, and Herman Hoerlin are located at the New England Ski Museum.

Processing Information

The collection was found with original order established by Bettina Hoerlin; during processing this order was retained with the arrangement of the online finding aid following the collection's accompanying inventory. This finding aid's description was written with the assistance of extensive editorial comments by Bettina Hoerlin. Some details from the "Tietz/ Schmid/ Hoerlin Story," written by Bettina Hoerlin and found in Series IV, have been integrated into the collection's scope and content notes and formed the basis for the collection's biographical note.

Guide to the Papers of Kate and Herman Hoerlin 1932-1983, 2003-2013 AR 25540
Processed by Dianne Ritchey
© 2013
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from Kate_and_HermanHoerlin.xml

Revision Statements

  • March 2014:: Links to digital objects added in Container List.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States