Family Papers

  • 33% Completed
  • 28% Needs Review
  • 7% In Progress
  • 31% Not Started
Johanna Arendt was born in Linden, Hannover, Germany on 14 October 1906 to a secular Jewish family, the only child of Paul and Martha Cohn Arendt. The family moved to Königsberg, the capital of East Prussia, when Arendt was three, and her father died of a long illness when she was seven. During World War I, she engaged in intense self-directed study, reading the works of major philosophers, from Kant to Goethe, that she found on the shelves in her father’s library. In 1920, her widowed mother married businessman Martin Beerwald, and Arendt acquired two step-sisters and a new home. Arendt soon left at age fifteen to study at the University of Berlin. In 1924, she arrived at the University of Marburg to study with Martin Heidegger, and went on to graduate study with Karl Jaspers at the University of Heidelberg. Heidegger and Jaspers both had a formative influence in her life and in her thinking.

Arendt met her first husband, Günther Anders (Stern) in 1929 at a New Year’s masquerade dance in Berlin, and they married in September. As the Nationalist Socialist Party gained strength in Germany and Adolf Hitler rose to power as Chancellor in 1933, Arendt fled Berlin. She spent most of the next eight years in exile in France, working with refugee and Zionist organizations. Separated from Stern in 1936 and divorced in 1937, she met her second husband, Heinrich Blücher (1899-1970), in Paris in 1936 and they married in 1940. They were part of a circle of intellectuals and activist friends in Paris that included Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin. As the Third Reich gained influence in Paris, and leftists and Jews were dislocated and interned, the Blüchers successfully fled France with the help of activist organizations and arrived as refugees in New York in 1941. Arendt officially changed her name from Johanna Blücher to Hannah Arendt Blücher as part of her naturalization paperwork in 1951.

The Family Papers hold documentation in English, French, and German, including family correspondence, Restitution from Germany documents, Arendt’s passports and naturalization records, and papers stemming from Heinrich Blücher’s career as an academic, including material related to his teaching at Bard College and the New School of Social Research in New York. The project also includes Martha Arendt Beerwald’s notebook, in German, noting her daughter’s development from 1906 to 1918.

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