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Volume 24, Number 12
December 2004

Memories of Mises
Hans F. Sennholz

I must have been in my third or fourth semester of political science and law at Marburg University in 1947 when I first heard about Professor Ludwig von Mises. I did not hear about him in my lectures but was made aware of him in my conversations with fellow students. They highly recommended his book Theorie des Geldes und der Umlaufsmittel (The Theory of Money and Credit) for presenting the only rational, theoretical discussion of money. As the only Mises book in the university library it commanded a long waiting list of several weeks before it finally reached me. I had to return it a few days later to be passed on to other students on the list.

Having earned a doctor’s degree (Dr. rer. pol.) at Cologne University (1949), I decided to continue my education in the United States which enjoyed the highest prestige as the primary power that had overwhelmed Nazi Germany. Both degrees, I was convinced, would open all doors in Germany. I had my eyes on politics which I planned to enter after a brief career in journalism. I left Germany in December 1949 as a frequent contributor to the Cologne Rundschau, the biggest daily in West Germany. During my first year in New York (1950) German newspapers continued to publish my lengthy reports about American political and economic life, and the Staatszeitung in New York published my reports about economic and political conditions in Germany. I may have been the first German reporter in the United States after World War II.

Soon after my arrival in New York I searched for a graduate school that offered a PhD degree in economics. I visited Columbia University, Fordham University, The New School for Social Research, and New York University, exploring location and transportation and collecting school catalogues. Perusing the NYU Graduate School of Business Administration catalogue, I discovered to my surprise that Professor Ludwig von Mises was a  "visiting professor" offering a course and conducting a seminar. I had found the university of my choice. It took me five years to earn the degree, supporting myself and paying my way as a full-time accountant in Wall Street (White and Weld which later merged with Merrill Lynch).

 

Professor Mises had come to the United States in 1940 and joined the faculty of the Graduate School in 1945. At that time he had already published his Bureaucracy (1944) and Omnipotent Government (1944) and undoubtedly was laboring on his magnum opus, Human Action (1949) which built on its German-language predecessor Nationalökonomie. He was 65 years old when he gave his first lecture at NYU; he gave his last in 1969, at the age of 88.

 

When I first attended his seminar beginning in the fall of 1950 I was surprised to meet several eminent attendees who were seeking his knowledge and wisdom but were not working toward a NYU degree. There were Henry Hazlitt, Percy Greaves, George Koether, Murray Rothbard, and occasionally senior staff members of The Foundation for Economic Education, such as Bettina Bien and Mary Homan. In time, Bettina Bien was to become Mrs. Greaves and Mary Homan Mrs. Sennholz; the only other degree candidate was Louis Spadaro who was to receive his PhD a few months after I received mine in June of 1955. Israel Kirzner and George Reisman were to follow a few years later.

Professor Mises’s classes were rather popular with some 80 to 100 students in attendance twice a week. He was known and liked as a friendly easygoing lecturer from Vienna whose classes counted in fulfillment of degree requirements. The school readily granted some 600 Master’s degrees every year; many candidates chose Professor Mises’s classes. In my conversations with a few I was surprised that they either did not understand the gist and message of the professor’s lecture or readily brushed them aside as a reflection of the personal experience of a refugee professor from abroad.

I don’t know whether Professor Mises’s lectures and seminar discourses would have made me an Austrian scholar. At that time my eyes were on Wall Street and the fortune I intended to earn there. I was confident that, in the long run, thorough knowledge of money and credit, of the trade cycle, and the effects of government intervention would yield fame and fortune. Toward that end, knowledge of Austrian and especially Misesian theory would be useful and profitable. But I never intended to make such knowledge and teaching my life’s work.

Professor Mises himself provided the first and strongest impetus. Soon after I appeared in his classes and he had accepted me as a candidate he introduced me to a friend and admirer, an eminent industrialist, Frederick Nymeyer of South Holland, Illinois, who was eager to publish great Austrian books not yet available in English. Professor Mises had pointed him toward the scholarly writings of his own great teacher Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk (1857–1914) whose three-volume masterpiece, Capital and Interest, was accessible only to German readers.

It needed a translator and publisher who would introduce it to the wide English-speaking world. Frederick Nymeyer was the eager publisher and I was elected to be the translator. As I had never been a translator I had serious doubts about my linguistic ability to translate some 1,200 pages of scholarly text from my mother tongue into a foreign language. Surely, I had had three years of English in high school and had learned more since then, but I surely was no translator of scholarly sentences, half a page long, written by a former Secretary of Finance of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. But Professor Mises persisted in his advice, which I began to understand only several years later. I conquered the tome, translating two pages a day, earning a $10 fee per page. It made me a lucid English writer and, above all, an Austrian economist—which may have been Professor Mises’s intent all along.

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Hans F. Sennholz is the 2004 Schlarbaum Laureate. This is an excerpt from his acceptance speech (full text is available at http://www.mises.org/fullstory.aspx?Id =1653).

 

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