The History of the Martin-Buber-House

The house on the corner of Werlestrasse/Graben in Heppenheim was built for the Duchy's chief medical officer, Dr Scotti at the end of the 19th century. In 1916, in the middle of the first world war, the 38 year-old philosopher of religion, Martin Buber moved into the house, together with his wife, Paula, née Winkler and their two children, Rafael (born 1900) and Eva (born 1901), initially as tenants, four years later Buber purchased the house.

The family, which had previously lived in a rented flat in Berlin-Zehlendorf, sought in the Bergstraße, not only more peace and quiet for their work and family life, but following a period of convalesce in the Odenwald, Martin Buber had also grown to love the countryside of the Bergstraße with its pleasant climate. Paula and Martin Buber's study and drawing room were situated on the ground floor of the house as well as the kitchen, dinning-room and morning-room (Teezimmer). Upstairs were the bedrooms, the children’s rooms (later the granddaughters Barbara and Judith's rooms, Rafael Buber's daughters) and the housemaid’s room as well as a small library-room, in which part of Buber's extensive library was housed. Here, Martin Buber produced such significant works as 'Ich und Du' and the first part of his translation of the Hebrew Bible. The large garden, which belonged to the house, was surrounded by a high wall. From 1922 onwards, Buber commuted regularly between Heppenheim and Frankfurt, where he taught at the free Jewish school. From 1923 to 1930 he taught Jewish Religion and Ethics and from 1930 to 1933 was honorary professor for religious studies at the University of Frankfurt. Owing to Nazi persecution, in the Spring of 1938 the family was forced to emigrate to Palestine. The furniture and parts of the library which they left behind, in order to make it possible for them to return to Heppenheim later on, were destroyed on the night of 9th November 1938 in a state-sponsored pogrom. As Buber was unable to pay for the damage caused by this vandalism, the house was ultimately seized by the authorities.

From the beginning of the Second World War, the house was used by the local council and in 1941 passed into the possession of the district council. In the 1970s, the house was due to be demolished, in order to make space for a new building for the regional district council. Following the intervention of two committed Heppenheim residents, the significance of the house for German and Jewish intellectual history of the 20th century was established and it was saved from demolition. On the condition that it should serve the cause of preserving and passing on Martin Buber's philosophical inheritance, in 1976 the house was declared a listed building by the regional government of Hessen. The International Council of Christians and Jews, which up until then, had had its headquarters in London, decided to move this to Martin Buber's House in Heppenheim. Since 1979 the house has been used for this purpose. Since then, the local council in the Bergstrasse has borne the maintenance costs for the house.

As headquarters of the International Council of Christians and Jews, with currently 38 affiliated member organizations in 32 countries all over the world, Martin Buber House serves as a place of work/meeting for academics, students and all those interested in inter-religious dialogue. Important regional and international momentum for a mutual understanding of religions and anti-racist prejudices stems from here. International conferences are organized, world-wide networks for understanding people are established, regional series of lectures and seminars are held and a small borrowing library and records related to the subject of inter-religious dialogue are kept at the premises.

(Translation from German: Rachel Dryden)